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Letter from the Editor

Death and Rebirth

There's been talk lately about the "death of environmentalism." Federal policy is moving in reverse. People are dangerously complacent about global warming. Yet in state governments, world capitals, and even corporate boardrooms there are signs of progress. Lest anyone feel tempted by despair, I offer this issue of OnEarth as an antidote.

Exhibit one is our story about the Black Triangle, a 12,000-square-mile region in Central Europe that was given up for dead. Decades of industrial pollution and political neglect despoiled the area's once-thriving forests and sickened its residents. But over the past 15 years, the Black Triangle has been restored to health. How? Resources -- political will, scientific data, economic muscle -- were brought to bear, and the problem was, to a remarkable degree, solved. Job done. Next case.

Other examples of rebirth, of hope, abound within these pages: Alexander Gorlov, a Russian-born engineer who helped build Egypt's Aswan Dam, has designed a kinder, gentler water turbine that could revolutionize hydropower and potentially supply almost limitless amounts of clean energy. An entire country -- Iceland -- is on the road to becoming the world's first hydrogen economy. Author Gary Paul Nabhan describes an initiative in the American Southwest -- one of scores around the country -- that encourages consumers and producers of local crops and livestock to create a new model of food distribution and economic growth that nourishes everyone: farmers and ranchers, chefs and restaurant owners, grocers and schoolchildren.

At first glance, at least one article in this issue -- our cover story on the boreal wilderness of Manitoba -- looks like bad news. For decades Manitoba Hydro has brought environmental ruin to the Canadian province's First Nations. Now the giant hydroelectric utility wants to build yet more dams and power lines, which would slice through the heart of a proposed 10.6 million-acre World Heritage site. As Alex Shoumatoff discovered, the great folly of these new hydro projects is that they are unnecessary: There is no proven demand for the power that they will generate. But here's the good news: First Nations activists and environmental organizations in Canada and the United States are battling Manitoba Hydro and have won the provincial government's support for the World Heritage designation -- a hopeful sign, indeed.

Obviously, there are endless challenges ahead. But these stories reveal some of the tools we can use to build a more enlightened future: sustained grassroots activism, public-private partnerships, bold political leadership, technological innovation -- not to mention an unflagging faith in the beauty and splendor of the natural world. Environmentalism will never be dead, any more than love, altruism, or beauty will be.

On another note: The front section of the magazine -- renamed "Frontlines" -- has rededicated itself to providing you with an entertaining, provocative mix of news, interviews, profiles, and other savory morsels. We believe in evolution.

Douglas S. Barasch

Who Owns This River?
Who Owns This River?
Europe's Black Triangle Blooms
Alexander's Marvelous Machine

OnEarth. Spring 2005
Copyright 2005 by the Natural Resources Defense Council