This issue of Terrain goes to print on the eve of what will likely be the largest show of anti-war sentiment since Bush’s infamous “axis of evil” speech morphed the war on terrorism into a renewed war on Iraq. This time, environmentalists will lead the march in their own contingent of bicycles and alternative fuel vehicles, making the case that being a patriot in this country isn’t just about wearing a flag on your t-shirt, or even exercising your First Amendment rights, it’s about doing what you can to make this a safer, healthier country to live in.
For a while there, it looked like the war on Al Qaeda and then the war on Iraq might completely eclipse some of the grimmest maneuverings yet of the Bush Administration: the steady undermining of years of environmental protections, from slashing aid at Superfund sites, to pushing for offshore oil drilling on the California coast, to loosening emissions standards for cars and power plants and ending many habitat protections. How much of this could pass unnoticed while Americans looked to the Middle East?
Well, a lot of it could, and will. But something’s bubbling up from beneath. Recently, a coalition of Christian groups banded together to launch the What Would Jesus Drive campaign, making the case, we hope, to millions of Christians that reducing auto emissions is “about loving your neighbor.” Meanwhile, the Detroit Project is pooling money for network TV commercials showing the link between terrorism and American oil addiction. At a gas station on I-5 last month, a woman raved to me about her new hybrid car. “My friend got one,” she said, “and I liked hers so much that I sold my car and bought one just like it.” So what if automakers, bowing to the oil industry, refuse to market their alternative fuel cars? Little by little, environmental awareness makes its way into the common consciousness. As well it should: We all share this air, drink this water, and pay the consequences of the oil we consume.
Just as Americans need to make the connection between the wars we wage, and the way we consume, so we need to be making those kinds of connections on a local level. That’s where Terrain comes in.
For the past five years, that’s where Laird Townsend has come in. He leaves the rest of us at Terrain with a mandate: Find the global story within every local one. Make the connections, always.
Dig out all your old copies of Terrain and you’ll have in your hands a library: hundreds of thoughtful, exhaustively reported stories of environmental happenings in northern California and beyond — told with wisdom and compassion.
Looking through those Terrains, you’ll notice something else. Terrain sticks with the story.
In Laird’s first Terratorial, he described a story from that issue of Terrain about “how one group, PUEBLO, has found allies in fighting a medical waste incinerator in Oakland.” The article, by then-board member John Dury, chronicled a community’s fight to shut down a dioxin-spewing medical waste incinerator run by Integrated Environmental Systems (IES). Like most Terrain stories, it took a local issue and teased out the universal one: When the regulators charged with protecting our air and water fail to do so, what’s a community to do?
This quarter, we’re hearing about IES again. Only now, we have a victory to report: A year after shutting down the East Oakland incinerator Dury wrote about, Stericycle, which has since bought IES, has been forced to close another medical waste incinerator on the Gila River reservation in Arizona. The places have changed, but the Big Questions haven’t. When can we say truly that waste has been taken care of? What does it take for a community to reclaim control over the air it breathes?
Other stories in this issue strive to make those same connections between the local issue and the broader implications. Residents of two overcrowded Oakland neighborhoods hope to see a contaminated brownfield blossom into a badly needed park. It’s a local story, but with far-reaching implications: When polluters fail to clean up their mess, who’s left holding the bag?
Another story, this one from the wilds of northern California, asks the question: How far are Californians willing to go to bring back native species? Or, as author Jim McCarthy puts is, how wild do we want our Wild West to be?
As John Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Make the connections, always.
Laird Townsend, Dan Rademacher, Ron Sullivan, Mary Vance, the Editorial Board, and the rest of the Ecology Center have all helped to make this transition and this issue possible. Thank you!

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