Border Patrol

One of the challenges of working for a local magazine is deciding what to do when international events threaten to eclipse every other story. Neither Terrain’s mission nor its budget would have one of us tromping through the Middle East, reporting environmental stories overseas.
But you don’t have to get on an airplane to be a war correspondent: the US war on terrorism has very real environmental effects at home. In this issue, Joe Eaton reports on an astonishing move by the Department of Defense, buried amid the headlines about war in Iraq. Should the Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative pass, the military will be allowed to dump explosives or run tanks in desert tortoise habitat, with impunity. Collateral damage isn’t limited to the Middle East.
From the vantage point of California, it’s clear that collateral damage isn’t just a military fact, either. In Earlimart, three hours north of Los Angeles, pesticides doused on potato fields have been drifting onto nearby schools and homes, raising alarms about public health. Lisa Stapleton’s “Catching Drift” shows how pesticide laws ignore a basic fact of nature: that the lines we draw on land do not contain the air above them.
Borders — whether they’re between elementary schools and agricultural fields, or between the war in Iraq and the war on environmental protections here in California — seem to serve a psychological need more they do the truth. It’s much easier to live in wartime if you can convince yourself that war’s effects are confined within other borders, thousands of miles away. But if making borders is a human drive, so is crossing them.
This spring, trade representatives from around the world are meeting to talk about the GATS treaty — another event eclipsed by war talk. GATS is the latest scheme whipped up by the World Trade Organization, which wants goods and services to flow easily, without tariffs or regulations, between countries. This time, it’s US resources that may be at stake: after years of exporting globalism, Americans will find themselves on the other side of the equation. We tell that story in “When Water Goes Global.”
Back in California, we have a history of ignoring the boundaries set by nature; we’ve built our cities where we want them to be, not where nature’s given us the resources to put them. “Were it not for a century and a half of messianic effort towards [the manipulation of water],” wrote Marc Reisner in Cadillac Desert, “the West as we know it would not exist.” Vanessa Gregory’s “From Rice to Riches,” shows how these efforts persist — and, as a result, how the lay of California may change.
Change is afoot at Terrain, too. In May, we welcome our new editor, Linnea Due, a veteran reporter and editor who comes to Terrain from the East Bay Express. We’re eager to see what comes next. The terrain ahead is wide open.

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