Environmentalism as Homeland Security


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.


November 26, 2015
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration