The purpose of this "blog" is to make my essays that have been
published online accessible in one place. Current essays are on
top and older pieces farther down, though they are not presented
in strict chronological order. The postings or "blog archive" list
serves as a kind of index. Since most of my essay links were posted
at once in May of 2009, click "2009" under the blog archive column
and a list of essays will appear. Each essay is briefly described and a
link provided.

My formative writing experiences were as a grassroots organizer
and activist in campaigns to make polluters accountable. I wrote
newsletters, pamphlets, press releases, op-ed pieces, and statements
to be read at hearings, debates, and panel discussions. I did hundreds
of interviews for outlets as diverse as NPR, CBS, BBC, and CNN.

During this time I was also a library manager and administrator.
Although one might not suspect so, the role of the librarian and
the role of the activist share much in common. Effective activists
provoke public dialog. Effective librarians invite such dialogue.
Although they employ different methods, the ends are the same.

Eventually, I wrote two books about my political adventures,
Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West (Verso,
1999) and Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the
American Land(Island/Shearwater, 2004).

We spent the last two centuries learning how Nature can create wealth.
We will spend the next century learning how Nature creates health.
Ultimately, as we learn to live in reciprocal and sustainable
relationship with the ecosystems that sustain us, we will replace
the cultural language of wealth that both expresses and guides our
behavior today with a new language of health.

I am not talking here about mere words. I mean the way we see the
world, the way we express our values, and the way we make choices
together. The difference between those two ways of seeing and being
in the world are profound.

Wealth says more; health says enough.
Wealth says accumulate;
health says flow. Wealth says compete and win; health says
reciprocate, integrate, reconcile. Wealth says manage and
measure; health says jam and dance. Wealth assigns value; health
assumes it. Wealth adds, subtracts, and divides; health makes whole.

To learn this new language, we begin by listening. When we translate
what we learn into behaviors, we are practicing what I call ecological
citizenship. Ultimately, the health of our natural/physical
environment is directly related to the vitality of our civic
environment. And if you dig deeper, environmental crises are
also about our disconnection from nature and from each other.
And so we confront not only entrenched powers and their
destructive interests, but a culture that enables us, even
encourages us, to think and feel and act as if we live apart from
nature. As I try to explain in the essays that follow, nature is
embedded in us as we are embedded in the ecosystems that sustain us.

Chip Ward

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Red Snow Warning and Welcome to Glenbeckistan

Welcome to Glennbeckistan

Civil discourse in America is breaking down and I confess I contributed. Sadly, sometimes there is no polite way to confront rude and hyperbolic voices. Racism need not be tolerated, period. Homophobia, the same. Violence must be confronted. These are not mere partisan differences. They must be called out.

I wrote the essay, “Welcome to Glennbeckistan Where the Tea Party Rules and the Tea-hadi Roam,” in an afternoon. The Utah State Legislature had just finished its 2010 session. I was thinking about how glad I am that I no longer go “up on the Hill” to lobby for libraries or environmental health as I did for so many years, an experience I compare to being trapped in a phone booth with Elmer Fudd’s evil twin for two months. I jotted down a morning-after list of what the legislators did this year and ended up venting my bad feelings about that on paper.

I gave it to Tom Englehardt who pruned it well and put it out on his web site, From there it went to the usual – Huffingtonpost, Alternet, Truthout, Common Dreams… It was clear right away that I’d struck a nerve. It got a huge response and was e-mailed widely. That should have pleased me - all writers want a bigger audience - but it didn’t.

Here’s the thing. I have spent months working towards deeper insights on important topics and writing to convey how ecological principles matter. Read “Too Big to Fail” or “Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys” below, for examples. The response I got was positive and strong, but modestly so. So I kill just one afternoon transferring my bad attitude to paper and the response goes through the roof. What is the meaning of that? Is it that dissing and sarcasm pay? I hope not.

I got mostly positive feedback but when Beck fans responded through comments at web sites where it appeared and in letters to Tom, the vitriol was thick. Name-calling instead of reason is big these days. Rush and Beck and Hannity have become superstars by name-calling. My favorite response was “you think we’re dumb but you don’t know anything because you are a government sycophant dickwad.” I rest my case.

The question of the day is what does the Tea Party movement mean? Here’s my short answer. People are hurting and struggling. They are losing jobs, homes, and dreams. While they drown in debt, bankers and brokers are rescued. The rich still take their millions in bonuses. The economy is rigged. Distrust and fear reign. Anger, outrage, and resentment are understandable. Unfortunately, they can also be incoherent and that is the case today.

At this point, the tea party is mostly a noise. A tune may follow but I can’t hear it yet through the cacophony. My essay underlined the sour notes. Let’s hope we don’t take out our anger at bankers and brokers on our innocent fellow citizens or vulnerable scapegoats.

If you are not already a Democrat or an Obama fan, where do you go with your anger, fear, and hunger for an alternative to the dysfunctional and unfair system that is oppressing you? Not the Republican Party which is ideologically and programmatically bankrupt. Since Reagan in 1980 they have preached the virtues of an unfettered “free” market and railed at the sins of big government. That philosophy crashed along with the ponzi-economy in the fall of 2008. So what are their big ideas for rebuilding an economy that will rescue the millions of Americans who lost homes and jobs? More tax breaks for the rich? How about those risky new financial instruments that facilitated the bubble and collapse? Even less regulation? The Republicans have become a party of “no.” That’s not substantive enough for most folks.

A void will be filled – enter the Tea Party movement. Most tea-partiers hold both political parties responsible and loathe both. To the extent they identify with any party, it is the Republican party and the "movement" has been funded by billionaire right-wingers, the Koch brothers, and recruited from the Republican base. But there is also a strongly anti-incumbent current. Republicans who encourage them should be wary. In Utah, they are making grassroots challenges to well established incumbent Republicans, like Senator Bennett, who by national standards would be considered quite conservative. They are driving the party rightward. The 2010 legislative session I wrote about expresses that dynamic.

Here is a foreword about Utah politics that is important to know. Utah is peculiar. It was settled and developed by Mormons whose history is dramatic. The Mormons started in the east, thrived at Nauvoo in Illinois, but were eventually driven out. They were persecuted and their charismatic leader, Joseph Smith was assassinated. They arrived in Utah as political refugees with their backs against the wall of the Great Basin Desert. If that’s your history, you are good at circling the wagons but not so good at inviting dissent or entertaining diversity. With unity comes conformity and obedience. The result is a one-party political system where Republicans utterly dominate. All sorts of checks and balances, give and take, and feedback are missing. The political culture gets distorted by that.

Nevertheless, if you want to see where the Republican-Tea Party alliance could go, Utah is exhibit A.

This essay became a chapter in a book, Dangerous Brew: Exposing the Tea Party's Agenda to Take Over America (2010) edited by Don Hazen and Adele Stan and published by Alternet.

The Ruins in Our Future: The End of Welfare Water and the Drying of the West

Also titled "Red Snow Warning," this essay was first posted at and went across the web from there. Tom Englehardt asked me to do a piece on the widespread drought in America's West that was at once personal and also "big picture." Westerners like to boast they are independent free-thinkers who loathe government intrusion. This is a myth. Western agriculture and cities were only possible because of massive federal aid in the form of dams, pipelines, reservoirs, and so on. Eventually, the water-carrying infrastructure became an industry with its own vested interests that kept the construction projects coming until every water source was not only tapped, but tapped out. Rising temperatures and less snowpack will show us that we have overshot the carrying capacity of our arid environment. Not only do we have to get by on less water, our water is coming to us as rain instead of snow, is coming down from mountainsides sooner and not lasting as long. This will be disruptive to cities, agriculture, and ecosystems. The sooner we catch on to these critical changes, the sooner we can figure out how to conserve water, conserve stressed habitat, and curb development that adds to our water-using burden. A problem that is not acknowledged cannot be solved. This is the motive for much of my writing: to raise awareness about developing issues, to question assumptions that may not, in fact, be true, and to provoke discussion.

Another essay on the Tea Party phenomenon can be found below. I was asked to explain what is happening to an English audience.

Too Big to Fail: Ecological Ignorance and Economic Collapse

Too Big to Fail: Ecological Ignorance and Collapse

The era of faster/bigger/cheaper/more is coming to an end as we have overloaded the earth's carrying capacity and are now experiencing the consequences. If we are going to find ways of living sustainably and surviving our own self-destructive behaviors, we will have to become ecologically literate and then practice what we learn. Our fixation on growth has to go. In this essay, I offer a perspective on growth that is unconventional but undeniable - all complex adaptive systems go through phases, from growth to consolidation to collapse and then regeneration. So, as Tom Englehardt says in his introduction, let's not recover from the collapse of the economy, let's regenerate. Not more of the same, but more sane.

After the Green Economy, Green Security: How to Build Resilient Communities in a Chaotic World

After the Green Economy, Green Security: How to Build Resilient Communities in a Chaotic World

A friend who has advocated green jobs and a green economy for several years said he felt a bit disoriented when President Obama endorsed his vision in his own agenda for the nation's future. The greening of the economy was the cutting edge, he said, so where do we go next? This essay is my answer.

As the recent swine flu outbreak hinted, global commerce could be shut down in a global pandemic and, if so, we will quickly learn that our food and energy come from far away. Pandemics are just one possible disruption on a planet troubled by climate chaos and ecological collapse. Security in the face of those inevitable challenges and the chaos that will follow will be redefined as a matter of local resilience. This theme is a continuation of the emphasis on resilience found in an earlier essay, "Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys," found below.

This essay became a chapter in the book How the West Was Warmed: Responding to Climate Change in the Rockies edited by Beth Conover who assisted John Hickenlooper (mayor of Denver, governor of Colorado) on environmental issues. The link is to the piece as it first appeared at that also includes my introduction to the essay.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Evolution of John McCain: Why He Picked Sarah Palin, Carbon Queen

Although Sarah Palin is the specific subject of this essay, written in the heat of the presidential campaign, the broader topic is the deep anti-environmental bias of fundamentalist Christian zealots like Ms. Palin. It can be read as a companion to an earlier essay on Bush's "Holy War" on nature (see below). Again, does man have "dominion" over nature or are we embedded in the natural/physical world as that world is also embedded within us? Context matters.

The essay went far and wide across the Internet. The essay appeared first at The link below is to a site called "AfterDowning Street" that frequently reprints my work.

Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys: The Case for Resilience

What if the organizing principle of Western Civilization - efficiency -- is a big misunderstanding? Short-term efficiency - maximizing output and minimizing input over the next quarter - may bring us faster, bigger, and more for awhile, but is ultimately unsustainable and leads too often to catastrophe. Why not think about long-term resilience instead?

This essay began when I noticed how few bees appeared in the spring and talked to friends across the country who noticed the same alarming absence. As I looked into what happened to the bees, I discovered that bee-keeping had become an industry, that we humans have seized a key ecological service - pollination - and reshaped it to be more convenient and profitable. The consequences have been dire.

Michael Pollan, a writer I greatly admire, read this and I almost got a book deal because of his interest. I pulled the plug on that project when it became clear I couldn't do it my way. The link to the essay is from a version that appeared originally at

What They Didn't Teach Us in Library School: The Public Library as an Asylum for the Homeless

This essay made more of an impact than any other I have written. A shorter version appeared in the L A Times when the full version appeared at From there it was re-published widely across the World Wide Web, reprinted in paper format here and there (including in Germany), and is widely cited and debated. I often do radio interviews after my essays are published - this one got me on "Talk of the Nation" on NPR. Martin Sheen quoted it in a speech and his son, actor-director Emilio Estevez, bought film rights and is working on a script for a movie based on the essay and related journal entires I gave him. I was offered book deals to write more on this and turned them down.

The purpose of writing the essay was to get closure by bearing witness to what I had experienced and learned. I wrote it while staying at the Mesa Refuge in Pt. Reyes as a guest of Peter Barnes. I didn't allow it to get published until I retired from my library career because I didn't want my colleagues to deal with any more controversy than I already created as an environmental advocate/activist. The names of homeless library users were changed to protect privacy.

The genesis of this one was very personal. As Asst. Director of the Salt Lake City Public Library, I dealt with chronically homeless people on a daily basis for six years. I learned a lot about the plight of the homeless and was frustrated that so many compassionate and well-informed friends knew so little about homelessness, namely that there are working poor people who become temporarily homeless and then there are chronically homeless people who live more or less permanently on the street. In my experience, most of those people are untreated mentally ill. Casting them out and onto the street is not only immoral, it is excedingly expensive and ineffective public policy.

The original title was "Outcasts Inside." It was often published as "How the Library Became the Heartbreak Hotel," Tom's over-title in the link below. I have linked it to the version where it originally appeared. My thanks to Tom Englehardt, legendary editor and personal mentor, for his help on making this one happen.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does: or, What if the Crown of Creation is a Dunce Cap?

This essay started off as a humorous take on the subject of non-human intelligence, especially as related to swarm behaviors. If we are going to find our way through the mess we're in and avoid ecological catastrophe, we must drop the hubris. It is a chapter in an excellent book, Environmental Ethics, edited by David Keller who is a professor at Utah Valley University. The link is to Catalyst Magazine where it first appeared.


Michael Pollan read my essay on bees and resilience (above) and suggested to his publisher that I expand it into a book. That book (long story here, not particularly interesting) ended up in limbo for months before I finally pulled the plug. In the meanwhile I got bored and amused myself by writing a series of "mini-riffs," short essays I shared with friends. I have included four samples below.

Mini-Riff: Saving the Planet One Word at a Time

If I told you just two short decades ago that I liked to Google blogs, you would have wondered if I had overdosed on baby-food and lost my adult vocabulary, so strangely unfamiliar would those terms be back then.

“Come again?” you might say.

“Ya know, surf the web on my laptop,” I’d reply and your confusion would deepen.

“Do what on your what?”

I might follow with examples of favorite sites like Wikipedia, YouTube, EBay, and Yahoo. At this point you would be humoring me with a nervous smile while you scanned the horizon for an escape route in case my incoherent demeanor was a sign of some dangerous underlying psychosis. If I ran on about how I collect tunes on my iPod or if I asked to take a photo of you on my cell-phone to download onto a Blackberry, you would be sure I was a deluded babbler (later: “First he went on about playing with his lap at some sort of wicked hootenanny -- Hooray or something like that -- and he said he kept music in a peapod. When he wanted to make a picture of me with some telephone in his skin so he could rub it on a strawberry…well, that’s when I got out of there. ”).

It is the case, of course, that the language of the present could not be understood in the past because we invent words to express what we learn as we go along, words that capture and convey new knowledge, realizations, perspectives, and technologies. Logically enough, words that are invented to name new things and activities follow what they describe. But words can also shape new behaviors -- pull them from mind into being. Words like “baptize”, “market,” or “democracy” help create what they describe. Words can merely light up what we are passing by or they can illuminate the path ahead.

If we can so rapidly acquire the new skills and understandings that we have gained by adopting computers and the WorldWideWeb into our worldview and our daily lives, then why can’t we also become ecologically literate and just as conscious of those other world-wide webs that enfold us? We could also acknowledge nature’s operating systems in our shared language. We could see how the ecological services we ignore or take for granted enable that close relationship we have with our technology that we express through our new Internet jargon. I mean, try e-mailing without food, water, and air and chances are “help!” is all you’ll want to say.

Hopefully, not too many years from now if I use terms like ecotone, threshold, keystone species, resilience, disturbance, biodiversity, nutrient cycle, and complex adaptive system, others around me will instantly and easily understand me, even if I am riding in a subway with strangers. This is more likely to happen if we consciously use such terms and teach the concepts they describe.

Take evolution, for example. When we think "evolution" we probably see in our minds-eye that iconic illustration of an ape, then a Neanderthal, then another hairy but less stooped caveman, and then, finally, a modern homo sapiens walking in a line, one after the other, getting upright as they go. That familiar illustration highlights the aspect of evolutionary theory that pinches the nerves of Christian zealots who prefer a creation scenario like the one painted on the roof of the Sistine Chapel -- a grandfatherly God tagging a look-alike Man with life, finger to finger. But man’s common ancestry with primates is just a thin slice of what evolutionary theory is all about.

Evolution is about connection and relationship -- not just the linear connection of one species evolving into another (speciation), but about how species fit and fill niches created by one another, about how they interact and exchange energy and information, how they both compete and cooperate, and how all of them -- from microbial soils to migrating birds -- form dynamic communities that, in turn, are also connected to one another, web within web within web. Pull one thread of that awesome tapestry and you tug at all the others, so precaution is wise. Evolution’s intelligence is opportunity, synergy, and reciprocity that relentlessly play out over millions of years. Its scope and complexity are both humbling and inspiring.

The teaching of evolutionary science in schools, then, is not a sidebar issue. Evolutionary insights are the seedbed for the ecological sciences that have taught us, for example, the value of biodiversity in the resilience of stressed ecosystems and the important role that keystone species play in keeping ecosystems vital. If you do not accept and understand evolutionary theory, you are likely to also reject the need to protect biodiversity. Saving owls and restoring wolves may strike you as the crazy idea of extremists. You are also less likely to recognize when a natural system, like the earth’s climate, is getting pushed across tipping points or why you should care. Blind to the damage and having no eye for habitat integrity, you are ecologically illiterate -- awash in a sea of chaos you cannot fathom, unable to read the signs and navigate through the trouble ahead.

So, if you want a revolution, teach evolution.

New terms are invented and used, memed and spread. Some catch, some don’t. Once widely caught and shared, they influence how we see our world and how we behave. So, if you are already ecologically literate and know that vocabulary, then use it, share it, explain it, teach it, and spread it, especially among others who are not yet ecologically aware. Be bold - help everyone on the subway car learn and talk about what you already know. If you are not yet ecologically literate, get there soon. And keep learning and listening and sharing…maybe, just maybe, we can save the planet one word at a time.

Mini-Riff: Happy Dirt Day to You!

What we dismiss as dirt – common and plain – is actually quite unique, complex, variable, and vital. Soil is composed of decomposed blade, leaf, stone, root, bone, carcass, carapace, and flower – millions of tiny components that express the geology, biology, and land use history of that place. A spoonful of soil from any one location will be different from a spoonful of soil from any other location. Soil samples taken from the same place will change over time, too. Living within that mixture of debris and detritus is a universe of micro-organisms as variable as their environments, so many tiny species that we have counted but a slim fraction of them. A spade of rich garden soil may harbor more species than the entire Amazon Basin nurtures above ground. The bacteria in an acre of soil can outweigh a cow or two grazing above them.

Soil is not a thing, but a living process as the chemicals, nutrients, enzymes, bacteria, microbes and so on interact with one another and reconfigure over time. Soil, of course, becomes food if you add seeds, sunlight, and water. As important as that is, food is just one of soil’s blessings. Working together, the soil’s tiny creatures break down organic matter, store and recycle nutrients vital to plant growth, renew soil fertility, filter and purify water, degrade and detoxify pollutants, and control plant pests and pathogens. Without these fundamental ecological services, forests would wither and die, food webs would collapse, plants could not pull carbon from the atmosphere, and life on earth would eventually cease.

Our bodily communion with the physical world around us means that we carry the salt of the seas and the power of a star in our blood, but also perchlorate, lead, and dioxins because what goes into the soil can be incorporated into your cells. The boundaries we assign to “things” like uranium and kidneys are temporary, even arbitrary.

It is easy to dismiss process and relationship while embedded in a materialistic/reductionist culture that tells us that soil is not a living community, not the very ground of your being and not the genesis of your own flesh and blood, but merely a medium that props up trees and plants – a “dirty” and lowly thing not worthy of regard, let alone reverence.

Stones turn to dust, dust becomes soil, soil becomes food, food becomes you, and you sit on a stone and think about how very different you are from a rock. To paraphrase Wendell Berry, until we are conscious of what we are, we will not change what we do.

Mini-Riff: Bison Bones

Here’s a sad old story told new. An unexpected twist has been added.

We all know the tragic story of the American Bison. Buffalo hunters slaughtered them for their hides, left the precious meat to rot and the bones to scatter. The hide-scalper’s greed was encouraged by those who understood that an effective way to turn proud warriors into reservation derelicts was to pull the ecological rug out from under the Western tribes, though at the time they didn’t call it that. And then, of course, greed was joined by its’ favorite companion, reckless ignorance – passing travelers shot bison from railroad train windows for mere amusement. Very sad. Tragic, really. A shame.

But wait, there’s more. Settlers eventually moved across those empty and haunted killing grounds. They built farms and tilled the soil. The ploughs of the farmers in Kansas clogged with old bison bones. It was a problem first but then the farmers discovered they could collect the bones and sell them to fertilizer mills that would grind them up and sell them in bags and barrels, ship them here and there. In pre-chemical America, bone meal was a favorite plant food. The remains of the great bison herd were thus reduced to dust and the dust was churned into the soil of grain fields, fruit orchards, and home gardens across the nation.

For several years the essence of bison could sometimes be tasted in the succulent meat of a tomato, in the horn hardness of a cherry pit, or in the rich marrow of a summer melon. Bone became fragrant hedge and green blade. Bone became the flowers given by boys to blushing maidens. The real Ghost Dance was this fading of form, this morphing whisper as beings become bones and bones become food, seed, beauty, life.

Amazing, those noble bison. Even after death they surrendered one more generous and life-affirming gift to the very people who killed them.

Mini-Riff: What if Everything We Know is Wrong?

We take for granted that the cornerstone beliefs from ages ago were eventually proved wrong and then abandoned. That’s progress. But do we imagine that when a physician in the Middle Ages applied leaches to sick people to extract “bad humours” he did so confidently and was respected, believed, and obeyed by his fellow citizens? Or skip ahead to the Nineteenth Century when science had made astounding progress. Phrenologists were quite sure they could predict criminal behavior by measuring a person’s skull and they were praised in their day for their cutting edge studies. In every age, the prevailing empire of belief was widely accepted, followed, and honored without hesitation, doubt, or equivocation no matter how flawed it was eventually found to be.

How far back in history do we have to go to find evidence of such wrong-headed hubris? In the 1950’s our knowledge of how the world works was so advanced, that we even harnessed the atom, the building block of matter. Confidently and with authority, uranium miners, downwinders, atomic GIs, and weapon workers were told that the low doses of radiation they received were harmless, maybe even beneficial. In the meanwhile, forest fires were suppressed, keystone predators were hunted and eliminated from the land, and DDT was applied without protest to the crops we ate and the front lawns where children played. Lead was added to gasoline. We built so many nuclear weapons that we could destroy life on earth many times over. Ships loaded with old rusty chemical weapons were scuttled and sent to the ocean floor. Engineers were busy draining the Everglades and re-routing its flow through canals. Emotionally distressed patients were lobotomized.

That was just fifty years ago, a mere blink of history’s eye. But we’ve learned so much since then. After all, we have even unlocked the mystery of DNA and can create new life forms in our labs. We have acquired God-like powers to alter the web of life. Yes, I’m sure all that other ignorant nonsense is behind us and we’re on the right track now…

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I once reviewed books for The Washington Post (for Book World magazine, now defunct).
I have included two essay reviews here from The Catalyst Magazine.

Book Review: How to Cross the Ecological Abyss

How to Cross the Ecological Abyss

This is a review of Bill McKibben's book Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future and Peter Barnes's Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons. I have appeared with McKibben at a workshop/reading at Middlebury College in Vermont and got to know Peter in his role as host of the Mesa Refuge, a writers retreat I stayed at in California. The challenges we face in building a resilient and sustainable world are huge but there are lots of answers and positive directions as found in these brilliant books.

Book Review: How The Food Industry Pimped My Breakfast

Perils of Nutritionism, or How the Food Industry Pimped My Breakfast

This is a review of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and Claire Hope Cumming's Uncertain Peril. Claire and I shared a writer's retreat, The Mesa Refuge, in Point Reyes, California, while she was writing her book. I try to use humour as a way of drawing the reader into the topic. You decide whether that worked...


Whose Nuclear Renaissance Is This? and Why Nuclear Power is Not an Energy Solution

Whose Nuclear Renaissance is This?

This was an op-ed piece I wrote for the Los Angeles Times. In the winter of 2010, President Obama endorsed billions of dollars in loans and subsidies for new nuclear power plants as part of a package that could make his energy agenda palatable to congressmen beholden to the nuclear industry for campaign largess. The part of the piece that gets quoted often is my comparison of the credibility of the nuclear industry over the first 50 years of its existence :

" Let me bring the choice we are making down to earth. Say you’re buying a car. The salesman has a long history of telling lies, covering up mistakes, and breaking promises. He is trying to sell you a car that doesn’t exist yet, so he’s not sure what it will look like. It is likely to cost at least two and maybe three times what it says on the sticker. It will almost certainly take him much longer to deliver it than he says it will. The fuel for that car – let’s call it a battery – wears out constantly, is deadly-dangerous and will be for thousands of years. You have to store that stuff in your basement because nobody wants it and there’s no place for it to go. Oh, and some powerful and distant authorities will tell you when and where you can drive it. Still interested?

Whose nuclear renaissance is this?"

Why Nuclear Power is Not an Energy Solution to Global Warming

This essay was written for Catalyst Magazine and is reprinted at the HEAL Utah (Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah) website at the link below. HEAL Utah grew from Families Against Incinerator Risk (FAIR) and I co-founded both grassroots organizations. HEAL has won numerous campaigns to keep Utah from becoming a nuclear dump.

The shysters who propose building a massive new set of nuclear power plants tout them as "emissions free," ignoring the large carbon footprint from mining and processing uranium and from building a massive and complex infrastructure for both power generation and waste storage. They also gloss over the intractible problems of a dangerous and long-lived radioactive waste stream. Plus nuke plants are exceedingly expensive. Plus their governance is inherently distant, undemocratic, unresponsive, and inaccessible. Well, read the essay and you'll get the full picture...

Faux Nuke Test - Divine Strake

Pentagon Fireworks Deferred: Divine Strake, Hellish Repercussions

Adding insult to injury, the Pentagon planned to blow up at the Nevada Test Site enough explosives to imitate a small nuclear weapon and send a huge mushroom cloud of unknown chemicals and possibly radioactive dirt upwind from American citizens who have lived downwind before. In the 50's and 60's, more than a hundred open air tests of atomic/nuclear weapons were conducted in Nevada and the whole nation got dosed with radioactive fallout. Subsequent "underground" tests leaked plenty more radioactive fallout. People in Utah got the worst of it and many also got sick and died. I described this in my first book, Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West. The latest test, designed to imitate a new class of "bunker-buster" nuke weapons the military wanted to create, was called off after considerable protest. The essay is still relevant even though the military seems to have surrendered its plan to make mini-nukes because it reveals a mindset that still exists and an infrastructure that still exists.

This one, as usual, appeared at and then went wide and far. This link is to a web site that republishes most of my essays.

Uranium Frenzy

Big Bad Boom: Radioactive Deja Vu in the American West

This one is actually fairly recent but I chose to group it with others about the nuclear industry. Uranium, like oil, is a finite resource and as the nuclear industry expands, it becomes more precious. The American West has seen a rush of oil and gas development and uranium may be next. Even if the market for our uranium stalls, the exploration process alone is ecologically damaging as explained in this essay. The link is to the original version.


Posted below are some of my earlier essays that I wrote after the publication of Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land. They mostly cover the same ground, explaining and applying the fundamental insights of conservation biology and trying to locate humans within a broader ecological context. Some early essays never made it online. One favorite, "I Used to Stomp on Grasshoppers Until Oysters Made Me Stop," was published in a book, The Landscape of Home edited by Jeff Lee (2006).

The Holy War on Nature

Left Behind: Bush's Holy War on Nature

This essay may seem dated as the first part describes the awful, even hostile, environmental record of the Bush adminsitration, but it is also about the theological/cultural underpinnings of those policies. The Republican base today still shares those fundamental beliefs, and so it is still current in that way. It found a wide-ranging audience on the Internet and obviously struck a nerve.

I have often said that environmental issues are really about democracy, and that the health and vitality of one's physical/natural environment are directly related to the health and vitality of one's civic environment. That's true. To be effective, environmental advocates must build a democratic culture so that the decisions we make about what we allow into our air, water, and soil - decisions that get translated into flesh, blood, bone, and experience - are made in ways that are open, inclusive, informed, and accountable. But in a deeper sense, these issues are also cultural. Do you believe we humans were given dominion over creation to use as we please, or do you see humans embedded in nature as nature is embedded in us?

The essay first appeared at but the link is to the essay as it appeared at The Nation.

Rewilding America

Rewilding America: The Froggy Love-Tunnel Vision Quest

As Tom writes in his introduction, included in the link below, this essay could be the Cliff Notes to my book Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land. The book tells the story of the development of a new scientific school of thought called conservation biology, and of the visionary thinkers who are trying to translate its ecological insights and principles into real world projects by planning continental scale conservation projects over a hundred year time span. Tom asked me to envision America a hundred years hence if their efforts succeed, then write about where we are today and how far we have to go. The link is to the original version as it appeared at

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"It's Not Just Eskimos in Bikinis"

"It's Not Just Eskimos in Bikinis: Climate Helter-Skeltor in the Lower 48"

This early essay was published at after Tom Englehardt asked me to look at climate chaos outside the Arctic areas where it gets the most attention. It is about how timing in ecological relationships is so important. Hibernators have to wake up when the food is ready for them to eat, pollinators need to be there when the flower blooms, and migrators have to get where they are going when their food is also there on time. Many species are moving north or moving up in altitude as their traditional habitats grow warmer. These kinds of shifts in nature happen all the time but in much longer time frames in the past than today. Whether speices can adapt new behaviors and adjust so quickly is the key question. Let's hope extinction is not the answer.

This is the version that appears at Common Dreams.

"From Charismatic Carnivores to Slithery Serpents"


"From Charismatic Carnivores to Slithery Serpents: How Predation Keeps Nature Whole"

This is another early essay published at It touches hard on a subject I wrote about in my book Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land - the key role that large predators like wolves and lions and bears play in regulating food webs and keeping the ecosystems they serve healthy.

Again, it was published widely across the Internet as well as in Utah's Catalyst Magazine. The version posted here is from, a favorite place of mine for finding provocative stories and perspectives.


"The mental habit of the West is one in which being is posited as a being and called God; in which process is arrested in substyance and called material reality; and in which mind is the made into an organism without and environment and called the self." William Irwin Thompson

One of the primary reasons we damage the very ecosystems that sustain our lives is that we tend to think of the world as a storehouse of commodities rather than a web of communities that is complex and dynamic. Learning how systems behave is a key to changing our destructive, ultimately self-destructive, behaviors. Donella Meadows "Places to Intervene in a System" is a good summary of a "systems thinking" approach to the world (Google the title and you can find summaries on the web). Here is a link to her classic essay"Dancing with Systems" that is easier to read and assimilate. http://www. Roger Lewin's Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos is a good introduction to "complexity science." Try also James Gleick's book Chaos: Making a New Science.

Books and essays on deep ecology can also be useful for challenging assumptions and seeing the world through a biocentric rather than a contemporary anthropocentric perspective (Google and explore).

Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World by Brian Walker and David Salt is a good introduction to resilience thinking, another new perspective on how the world works. It is easier than most books on the subject but not that easy. Unfortunately, I do not know of a good book on the topic for lay readers.

Two books that helped me escape my culturally inherited mechanistic/linear worldview were Fritjof Capra's The Turning Point and Morris Berman's The Re-Enchantment of the World. Both seem rather dated to me now and both authors have written newer books, especially Capra, to explain a way of seeing the world that incorporates systems thinking, complexity science, chaos theory, and ecology. But both books are a good place to begin if you sense that the way life unfolds on our planet is not only more complex than we thought, but perhaps more complex than we can think. The complexity/biocentric way of seeing and being in the world is also a humbling and awesome experience. Hubris has always been an underlying drive of industrial civilization - consider the books I am suggesting as at least an healthy antidote to that.

A book that profoundly changed my way of seeing the world is Overshoot by William Catton. An excellent summary is at a web site I highly recommend even though it has been discontinued, Rachel's Democracy & Health News at . The archives are still very valuable. Type in 998 in the search box and you'll get the summary of Catton's main point, that we have drastically overshot the carrying capacities of the earth and are stealing from the future. According to Catton's thesis, living in unsustainable relationship to the planet is not only self-destructive and foolish, it is immoral since we are condemning future generations to dire struggle for the basics (*water, soil, energy) that we will not leave them.

Let's get practical - what do we do about our destructive habits? If you go to the same web site above, , you can also find "What We Must Do" by Peter Montague. Peter has been at the forefront of the precautionary principle and Rachel's (named after famous environmentalist Rachel Carson) is his web site. His final essay is a great summary of the principles and criteria for ecologically sustainable policies and law.

When I wrote Canaries on the Rim, I hoped it would be an introduction to more thorough books on the subject of how the closestr link we have with the natural/physical realm is our own flesh and blood. Sandra Steingraber helped me understand the ways that the chemicals our industrial world produces cross biological boundaries and make us sick and vulnerable. Her books are Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment and Having Faith: An Ecologists Journey to Motherhood. Other authors who write well on pollution/health issues are Joe Thornton, Mary O'Brien, and Carolyn Raffensperger.

Of course, our dependenc on thousands of synthetic chemicals and our production of toxic wastes can't be separated from our constant and ever-accelerating drive for more stuff. A recent book that makes an excellent case for why we must move from the prevailing philosophy of "more is better" and the assumption that unlimited growth is possible is Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben. An author who also makes a compelling case for being a member of a community rather than a mere consumer is Wendell Berry. Google his essays or go to to get summaries of his books.

Food, of course is central to how environment and body mix. Eating, says Michael Pollan is an ecological act. His two books, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto are highly readable and enlightening. My friend Claire Hope Cummings has written an excellent book, Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds.

Some folks who have concluded that our economy is unworkable and will be brought down by unrelenting greed, materialism, the end of cheap oil, and the disturbances of rapid and unpredictable climate change. Civilization as we know it will collapse and that's inevitable. the goal, they say, is a "long descent" (Google John Michael Greer) or "transition" to a new way of living in the world. Two recent articles describing this movement are "The End is Near! (Yay!)" by Jon Mooallem in a recent New York Times essay at . Another essay "The Transition Initiative" by Jay Griffiths describes the same movement and can be found in the July/August, 2009, issue of Orion Magazine at

Another hopeful slant on the crises we are enduring, is Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest: How the Larget Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming. Hawken's recent commencement address, "Healing or Stealing?" is also worth reading and can be found at

Rebecca Solnit is a friend and mentor. When I was writing Hope's Horizon, she was writing Hope in the Dark: Untold Stories, Wild Possibilities, a book I often recommend to those who feel overwhelmed by all the bad news. Rebecca and I referred to ourselves as the "hope posse." Her most recent book is A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, another glimmer of hope in a darkening landscape.

Back to a more philosophical slant, two books I liked for an inspirational understanding of my place in the cosmos are The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram and The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature by David Suzuki.

Other favoritre authors and formative authors in my mind are William Irwin Thompson, Wendell Berry, Fritjof Capra, Theodore Roszak, Morris Berman, Susan Griffin, Paul Shepard, Jerry Mander, and Chellis Glendinning.

More recently, I read anything by Bill McKibben, Mike Davis, Rebecca Solnit, Tom Englehardt, Tim Flannery, Jonathan Rowe, Peter Barnes, Derek Jensen, Thomas Homer-Dixon, Steve Trimble, Terry Tempest Williams, Amy Irvine, and Jared Diamond to name just a few of the great writers now helping us through the maze of disconnection, dysfunction, and misunderstanding.

Home, Home on the (Radioactive) Range

"Home, Home on the (Radioactive) Range"

Shortly after my book Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land was published, Tom Englehardt published this essay, "Home, Home on the (Radioactive) Range," at his web site, Tom is a friend and mentor, a well-respected editor, and a incisive commentator on all things political. I met Tom through Jonathan Cobb of Island Press who edited Hope's Horizon. In fact, Tom is largely responsible for coming up with the title that went through many changes. Tom and Jonathan are close friends.

The essay can be read as a kind of update on struggles and campaigns to keep Utah from becoming a radioactive waste dump that I described in Hope's Horizon and in my earlier book Canaries on the Rim. I think this essay was my first foray into the World Wide Web.

The essay was republished at many web sites, including Common Dreams. The link to that iteration of the essay is at