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Letter from the Editor

An Open Mind

Politics, especially in presidential election years, is often a corrosive, acrimonious affair. Debates rarely bring an exchange of ideas, but rather vituperation, insinuation, and partisan disdain -- "dialogue" at the level of, say, Crossfire or Hardball. And yet there are times when politicians surprise us by shedding predictable alliances or by abandoning stale ways of thinking and pondering the world in a fresh way.

John McCain is a fine example of this good sort of unpredictability: a maverick, an independent thinker, and at times refreshingly nonpartisan. Writer Bill McKibben, in this issue's cover story, takes a closer look at the senior senator from Arizona and his conversion into a powerful advocate for curbing global warming. McCain was persuaded by listening to people whom he didn't, as a matter of habit, generally agree with: environmentalists. During his run for president four years ago -- made especially memorable by his campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express -- groups of citizens and activists persistently confronted him with challenging questions about climate change. Eventually, somehow, the message got through, and the senator, upon his return to Washington, began asking some tough questions himself.

The famously tenacious McCain, implacable champion of campaign finance reform and now cosponsor with Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) of the Climate Stewardship Act, is just the kind of guy you would want fighting for so important a cause. How he got there is, if not downright inspiring, then at the very least encouraging. And who better to tell the story than McKibben, a gifted writer whose book The End of Nature, when published 15 years ago, first brought the issue of climate change to wide public attention.

The ability to bridge a seemingly vast ideological chasm is also chronicled in Rick Bass's article about Canada's stunning Muskwa-Kechika, a 15.5-million-acre spread of wilderness in northern British Columbia. In that remote territory, an unlikely coalition of miners, oil developers, environmentalists, hunters, native tribes, and politicians sat down in one room to fashion an agreement that could accommodate all the parties' distinct needs and desires. Participants in the process ultimately created a wilderness preserve that balanced the need for unspoiled, wild landscape with the economic (and political) realities of the world's hunger for oil, gas, minerals, and profits. The process itself, Bass reports, was uplifting and, again, even inspiring. The grand scheme has come tantalizingly close to fruition, but the old sectarian impulses -- plain greed, actually -- have sprouted up again, like weeds, threatening to take down the whole masterly edifice of enlightened compromise.

Which proves once again that provincialism -- the rigid attachment to one's own narrow point of view -- is ultimately the number-one enemy of progress in any form. But at least in this issue of OnEarth, we provide a glimpse of what is truly possible among disparate people who see things differently but haven't forgotten how to open up their minds.

Douglas S. Barasch

Meet Captain Climate
Paradise Lost?
6 Brilliant Megawatt Ideas
Hell on Wheels

OnEarth. Spring 2004
Copyright 2004 by the Natural Resources Defense Council