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Hope’s Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land
Chip Ward
Washington, DC: Island Press/Shearwater, 2004
400 pp., $27.00, hardcover
ISBN: 1-55963-977-6

Chip Ward, a librarian and environmental activist and writer in Utah who focuses on preventing hazardous waste from being unsafely dumped or incinerated there, has written a book aimed at offering “three visions for healing the American land.” Considering the Bush administration’s reactionary politics, he has set himself a large task. One of the three “visions” he offers is simply to remind grassroots activists and professional environmentalists to take a cue from environmental scientists. Looking at the world from an ecological perspective, shrill headlines fade behind the strong sound of the earth’s free rivers and vast, tidal seas. Such things will outlast the damage we do, even if civilization as we know it does not.

Ward, in the first vision-section of his book, sketches the science of conservation biology that compliments the insights of deep ecology. These disciplines foreground the “intrinsic value of nonhuman life and a profound understanding of connectivity” of all things on earth. From rivers and dolphins to humans and ants, affecting any one species will have foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences on entire ecosystems. This sense of interconnectedness will ring a bell for environmentalists— and Ward remind us that it is not just particular environmental battles that are being fought, but a battle of mindsets.

Conservation biology such as pioneered in the book Conservation and Evolution (1981) by Otto Frankel and Michael Soule have changed the way science is considered today, and some of this discipline’s discoveries propel the most recent wave of environmental activism. This new environmental activism has moved from defensive concepts of 1970s such as clean air and clear water, writes Ward, to restorative concepts of the 1990s, such as reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone and breaching dams. Understanding, for instance, that species at the top of the food chain helps to shape the overall healthy habitat, and therefore their extinction creates ecosystem imbalance, is part of the science the drives the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. This new conceptual analysis, if communicated correctly, would at least engage the mindsets of Western ranchers and others who habitually, even understandably, view wolves solely as destructive predators.

The book’s second section focuses on the science and activism of dam decommissioning, and particularly on the origins and ongoing battle to drain Utah’s Lake Powell and restore Glen Canyon. The damming of Glen Canyon was justified because Lake Powell was meant to serve as a reservoir providing insurance for the Colorado River water-supply, but it has backfired. A 1990s Sierra Club study using U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data has shown that the evaporation rate from the desert-located Lake Powell is greater than water-loss would be from a free-flowing river. The evaporation rate of the lake matches all the water flowing into it, defeating its purpose as a reservoir. Lake Powell has been dropping in water level, and Chip Ward shows that scientific research done by Utah and national environmental groups has been able to thread into the public dialogue and change the terms of debate. This is the most successful chapter in marrying Ward’s practical and theoretical vision of creating an ecological future. As Ward notes, “the rate of dam decommissioning in the United States has now overtaken the rate of construction.”.

Ward does not pretend that science will change the minds of entrenched economic interests such as the resort industry on Lake Powell, or of international corporations like Bechtel and Kellogg, Brown & Root that are involved in everything from aiding U.S. troops in Iraq, to privatizing water supplies in accordance with IMF and World Bank policies. This global dam-building drive has its own vision: to dam free-flowing rivers for electrical-generation and transform free water in rural Africa and the Americas into a river of fee-generating services. Ward’s third section on the nuclear industry, and his discussion of how nuclear radiation is irreconcilable with life on earth, is his most plainspoken in painting the some of the opposition as simply malicious in its approach to human and non-human life.

In the early days of nuclear weapons testing in Utah, the Pentagon’s reaction to the danger of downwind radiation on rural Mormon communities was to dismiss concerns because Mormons are a “low-use segment of the population.” Pentagon internal statements such as this can be found in Carole Gallagher’s American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War. Ward’s call to abolish the nuclear industry in favor of conservation, alternative energy, and energy tools of the future is all too relevant,for the Bush administration is pushing a reluctant Congress to authorize the development of new “bunker-busting” mini-nukes. Such research and development like will coincide with the resumption of nuclear-testing .On the bright side, Ward notes that even ex-Republican Utah governor and anti-environmentalist Mike Leavitt has worked to keep radioactive waste out of Utah because of the waste’s known toxicity. Ward’s overall message is that deep science, combined with sustained activism, can mobilize a critical-mass of people to affect change.

Ward’s book is mediation on the mosaic of environmental activism and science during the last three decades. It is informative, especially for activists and scientific specialists who may be looking for a generalist’s larger picture. In the end, as Wild Earth editor Tom Butler tells Ward, “Science can help us achieve our conservation goals but at the end of the day, it’s an ethical choice. You see the world either as a community or a collection of commodities. Community or commodity—that’s the difference.”

— GREGG MOSSON is a Baltimore-based writer and activist who holds a Master's from the John Hopkins Writing Seminars.

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“We are a part of everything that is beneath us, above us, and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.”
– Traditional Teaching of the Haudenosaunee Indians (Iroquois)

“The story of my people and the story of this place are one single story. No [one] can think of us without also thinking of this place. We are always joined together.”
– Taos Elder referring to Taos Blue Lake

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