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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Now, More Than Ever

Air Date: Week of

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Former Living on Earth editor, Peter Thomson has an essay on why environmental stories still matter in the post September 11th world.


CURWOOD: Like many Americans, environmental journalist Peter Thomson has spent most of the past few weeks trying to get a grip on reality, and he's decided that not everything has changed since September 11th.

THOMSON: First, I wrestled with the reality that, yes, thousands of people were murdered right in front of my eyes in New York, in a neighborhood where I used to live and work. Since then, I've been trying to get a fix on what life is going to be like in our suddenly dark new world. As a journalist who has spent more than a decade covering the environment, I found myself wondering whether what I do even matters anymore. Who cares if we're going to make the planet unlivable in another 100 years? Tomorrow, a plutonium-filled suitcase might explode in the street. Tomorrow, poison might fall out of the sky. Suddenly, creeping problems like climate change and ground level ozone don't seem quite so threatening. But as the smoke of the attacks clears, I'm starting to see that the environment is still part of what matters, if only because it's part of this life-changing event.

In the days following the attacks, amid our shock, grief, and fear, we took refuge in the things we care about most: our families and friends, and the natural and human environments that we love. And now, we're going to war to protect these people and places from terrorism. I think that as we rub the dust of the World Trade Center from our eyes, we'll recognize that we still need to save what we love from destruction at our own hands as well: from the smog and congestion that are choking our communities, the sprawl that's chewing up our countryside, the atmospheric pollution that's changing the very nature of the world around us.

In the weeks since September 11th, we've also slowly begun to examine why some people hate us so much and how we might change that. This isn't capitulation to our enemies; it's just common sense. And any honest reckoning with this question will lead us, in part, to our insatiable appetite for the rest of the world's resources, especially oil.

Bin Laden and his cohorts are enraged about the thousands of U.S. troops staged in the Muslim holy land of Saudi Arabia, about the strangulation of Iraq by American sanctions and bombers, about our support for Israel against many of its Arab neighbors. And to a large degree all of these facts stem from our need to maintain access to the Middle East's oil. In other parts of the world, the U.S. backs repressive regimes and harsh economic policies in the name of stability and open markets, which often mean the freedom for U.S. companies to extract timber and minerals with little regulation.

So, activities which often degrade the environment around the world make us enemies around the world as well. This is why the environment still matters, even in our stark new reality, and why it shouldn't fall off our nation's list of priorities. By reducing the harm we cause to the natural world, we'll also reduce the threats to us from abroad, and we'll affirm what makes life here at home worth living and maybe even fighting for.

CURWOOD: Commentator Peter Thomson edited Living on Earth for many years and is currently a freelance producer based in Boston.




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