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Letter from the Editor

It was purely by coincidence that my family and I found ourselves in Moab, Utah, the setting of one of the feature stories in this issue. One afternoon, months before I learned of my selection as OnEarth's new editor, a friend showed my wife pictures from a recent trip to Utah. After she looked at shots of red buttes towering over the banks of the Colorado River, and snowcapped mountains rising, incongruously, out of the fiery desert, our next vacation was pretty much decided. To someone like me, accustomed to New England's forested mountains, dense woods, and green valleys, the blazing-red canyon expanses and subtle desert blooms of Utah seemed almost to belong to another planet. Our friend assured us that upon encountering Utah's jaw-dropping beauty, we would be saying, over and over again, "Oh...my...God," and she was right.

Apparently, not everyone responds to the landscape in just this way. Our stay in Moab overlapped for a couple of days with the Easter Jeep Safari, an annual ritual in which thousands of Jeep enthusiasts from around the country tear across the spectacular terrain in their all-wheel-drive vehicles, engines gunning, wheels spinning, exhaust spewing. At around the same time came another assault from much larger forces. The Bush administration, working stealthily and efficiently, struck an agreement with Utah governor Michael Leavitt to open millions of wilderness acres to mining and drilling projects. Leavitt is now Bush's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

The struggle between those eager to exploit the land and those hoping to gently husband its resources rages everywhere; it is a signature conflict of our time.

We at OnEarth want to capture these stories in all their urgency and vividness. For this issue, we dispatched writers and photographers to journey through the Congo rainforest to investigate poaching and its impact on Africa's wildlife; visit a rundown block in West Oakland, California, where activists established a small organic farm; peer into the steel-and-glass warrens of Wall Street investors, where author William Greider found, surprisingly, the inklings of a new kind of environmental movement; and, of course, explore the fragile and threatened desert soil of Utah's wilderness. Other authors simply visited places in their imagination, as did Sharman Apt Russell in her luminous rumination on clouds. Her essay inaugurates a regular feature in the magazine, "Open Space," where distinguished authors will regularly contribute short essays on their relationship to the natural world.

You'll detect more changes in upcoming issues -- new columns and new authors -- but most of all I hope that you'll notice a renewed passion for beautiful prose, arresting images, and provocative points of view. I want you to wander through the magazine and have a splendid time, because whether you are reading about what's going right or what's going wrong, whether you get inspired or enraged, I hope you'll be reminded of how extraordinarily wonderful it is to be living on earth.


Douglas S. Barasch








OnEarth. Fall 2003
Copyright 2003 by the Natural Resources Defense Council