FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Environmentalism as Homeland Security

by CRAIG AXFORD

My family moved from Massachusetts to Utah County when I was 5. I couldn’t articulate at the time the impression the 11,000-foot peaks of Mount Timpanogos and Mount Nebo and the rest of the Wasatch Front made on me. As a boy used to roaming the beaches of Cape Cod, I was immediately impressed.

Eastern forests of second growth maples and oaks obscured my view beyond a hundred yards. The desert valleys and forested mountains of Utah offered views for distances I hadn’t imagined, and could not comprehend even as I beheld them. It did not take long for me to fall in love with Utah.

Within two years I dragged my father along for a hike up a small canyon at the base of Timpanogos just south of the “G” printed on the slope behind Pleasant Grove. Dad was not an outdoor type, and we returned after sunset late at night to find the search and rescue assembling near our home with mother in tears, anticipating the worst.

Our late return worried me far less than it had my mother. Dad was just glad the hike was over.

Needless to say, all hikes were done with my older brother in the future, and included trips to the summit of Timpanogos, with its commanding view of the valley below. I had found a home, and my love for my home eventually led me into environmental activism.

Naively, I assumed others shared a similar response to limestone and granite mountains, spruce, fir, and ponderosa forests, and red rock canyons with ancient images of bighorn sheep and hunters chiseled or painted into their walls.

The Cold War was raging, but I had no awareness of the nuclear bomb testing still going on below ground in Nevada, upwind from the wind-swept hillsides I loved to explore. Cancer was something that naturally happened to older people, and I was sure my family and friends were immune to it for years to come.

No one spoke of the chemical weapons stored even closer to home, and the open-air tests conducted by the military at Dugway were either unknown to my family or were not discussed because these were considered a military necessity, given the Communist menace lurking on the other side of the globe.

The idea Utah could be a target was as unimaginable to me as the mountains had been to the Massachusetts boy when he arrived a few years before.

In high school a new term entered my vocabulary, “downwinder.” The cancer death of former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson was linked to this word, and it was then that I learned what it meant. Within a matter of years I heard of several family members and friends who had experienced thyroid problems, including cancer. All were older, but none were much older than my parents. By the time I married and began to raise a family, the stories were more numerous and legislation was making its way through Congress to compensate the “victims” of nuclear testing.

The natural beauty of my home was subject to other assaults as well. A visit to the Targhee National Forest in southeastern Idaho exposed me to my first timber clearcuts, and an article about a Utah legislator regarding his proposal to reduce the penalty for poaching mountain lions — an animal long ago extirpated in the East — raised my ire. My home was not only a target, but was being taken for granted by those elected to serve it.

For me, environmental activism is an act of homeland security. I am one of a small percentage of Americans lucky enough to have put down roots. My wife and I bought a home shortly after we married, and while we have discussed moving, the Intermountain West has always been the focus of those discussions. In all likelihood we could never leave Utah for long.

Proposals to ship high-level nuclear waste just down the highway from my home, or to accept hotter radioactive waste at the Envirocare facility, also just off Interstate 80, are proposals I take very personally. Reading Forest Service descriptions of old growth as “decadent” trees that must be removed to save the forest from the natural processes that created it make me angry.

Environmental activism for me is about protecting my home. I don’t want one more generation of Utahns, including my daughter, to live unwittingly downwind. I don’t want the public lands we all own to be lost to the chainsaw, the oil well or industrial tourism.

Securing the homeland to me means passing at least some of what makes Utah beautiful and unique on to my daughter, and ensuring not one more species is lost. And perhaps a few, like the wolf, can even be restored.

CRAIG AXFORD ran for congress on the Green Party ticket. He works for the Utah Environmental Congress.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail