tried to take the New York City subway from the Port Authority bus terminal to Twenty-third Street the other day. But I stopped to get a cup of coffee. By the time I got downstairs, a young policeman was locking up a double bank of glass doors, sealing off the subway entrance.
"What's happening?" someone called.
"I don't know," said the policeman, cheerfully. Those caught behind the glass stared grimly out at those of us who had just escaped a half-hour or more stuck in a motionless subway system -- and also, I thought, suddenly aware of the air I was breathing, the faint chance of something worse.
These kinds of shutdowns are not rare anymore in the subway. If anything suspicious is found on a platform, doors are locked and the station is evacuated. Trains are stopped so that the drafts they create can't whisk a bioterrorism agent through the subterranean tunnels. Thankfully, all the alarms so far have been false. Subway officials say the incidents have even served as useful opportunities to test their emergency plans.
This is what life is like after September 11, in New York, in D.C., in the airports, in so much of the country. We have the lasting grief of the bare sky where the twin towers used to be. We also have new regimes of caution, a new uncertainty clouding our everyday safety. But in this changed world, where we are all groping our way to understanding and readjustment, environmentalists can find hope and take some pride in the fact that environmentalism is one of the answers. We need the conservationist point of view not just for all our old, strong reasons -- preserving nature, protecting human health -- but also for a host of new ones.
Chemical plants look more vulnerable today? Environmentalists have been working on low-toxic alternatives for decades. Dependence on Mideast oil seems even dicier than before? Enviros have a raft of energy solutions. International cooperation, alternatives to nuclear power, the kind of government responsiveness and emergency planning exemplified in New York's subway system: Environmentalists have championed them all. They have even reduced the threat of anthrax spreading through new buildings, thanks to years spent fighting for construction standards that promote better indoor air quality.
In this issue, OnEarth brings you some green perspectives on living with terrorism, by several of the nation's leading environmental writers and experts. Noted illustrators and poets have contributed their reflections. We hope you'll use these pieces to inform your own thinking -- and in turn the thinking of your elected representatives. From corporate security to Afghan relief, the nation is making weighty changes in the wake of the terrorist attacks. You, the people, can make sure that environmental values help guide those changes.
Kathrin Day Lassila