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Letter from the Editor

Let's Face Facts

The first step toward a solution is recognizing there's a problem.

In this issue's cover story, we alert you to a serious problem that you may not be aware of: Our environment is pervaded by hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of man-made chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, so named because they interfere with the endocrine system, the hormones that regulate our metabolism, sexual development, fertility, and brain function. Scientists are now discovering that these synthetic chemicals can mimic, block, or otherwise alter the activity of hormones in animals and humans alike. These compounds can be found in food cans, baby bottles, and cosmetics; in the air, in farm fields, and in streams; in cattle and birds, in polar bears in the Arctic, and in us, even in breast milk. In both wildlife and laboratory studies, researchers have observed malformed sexual organs, impaired sexual reproduction, gender reversal (female fish, for example, that develop male sex organs), and behavioral abnormalities.

When Theo Colborn, a pioneering researcher, first placed this issue on the public radar in 1996, she was mocked as a fringe scientist obsessed with a phantom hazard. But during the past 10 years, her dogged research has inspired many other scientists, who collectively have uncovered a chemical time bomb that we must urgently address.

It is impossible not to feel urgency about many things these days. An environmental magazine like ours has to work hard not to get trapped by the Chicken Little syndrome. The key is this: Articles like Daly's should spur us to action, rather than tempt us into despair. Still, the first step is to acknowledge that there is a problem.

So the sky is not falling. But it is getting warmer. Only during the last year has it seemed that we as a society have begun to grapple in earnest with the greatest environmental challenge of our lifetimes. Even if you were not directly hit by Hurricane Katrina, Rita, or Wilma, you could not help but realize that something large and portentous was happening. Climate change -- in the form of warmer oceans that generate fiercer storms -- has suddenly become, for many people, less a matter of theory and more a matter of firsthand experience. We all live now in a post-Katrina world.

Can we still change the course of events? The answer is always yes, and action sometimes comes from unexpected quarters. Read, for instance, in Living Green about the construction of the world's greenest skyscraper, now being erected in midtown Manhattan to house the new Bank of America headquarters. Or read in Frontlines about new initiatives in fuel efficiency being advanced by giant retailers like Wal-Mart and the trucking fleets that carry their goods. Or read Elizabeth Kolbert's interview with Mindy Lubber, the president of Ceres, a coalition of large investors that is helping awaken corporate America to the economic consequences of climate disruption.

Even the direst problems can be solved if we face facts. That's the mission of OnEarth magazine -- to convey information rigorously but, whenever possible, with beauty, wit, and poetry. That may be why, for the second year in a row, we have been nominated for the Independent Press Awards -- this time not just for Environmental Coverage, the award we won in 2004, but also in the category of General Excellence. Further encouragement, we think, to keep our eyes wide open.

Douglas S. Barasch

Bad Chemistry: A Special Report
Forecast: Dry and Brutal
Mammoth Mystery
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OnEarth. Winter 2006
Copyright 2005 by the Natural Resources Defense Council