reprinted from Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2004

Bush Versus the Environment
Anchor Books/Random House, $12.00 paper, ISBN 1-4000-7521-1

Hope's Horizon:
Three Visions for Healing the American Land

Shearwater Book/Island Press, $27.00 cloth, ISBN 1-55963-977-6

Robert Redford, Robert Kennedy, Jr., and many others have called the Bush administration the “worst ever on the environment.” As the November elections near, books, articles, and web sites voicing similar sentiments are popping up like dandelions in a chemical-free lawn. Here are two books to help you navigate through the coming months–the first might fuel your Bush-bashing fires, the second might inspire you in a different direction.

Start with Robert S. Devine's Bush Versus The Environment and be ready to flip the pages faster than an Alaskan caribou running from a north slope drilling rig. Devine introduces us to the dirty, disgusting side of American environmental politics taking place in the Washington beltway. It's about money, power, and votes, and Devine roots out all three with skill, determination, and what could only be called "chutzpah." This book is a little like a car wreck–it churns your stomach, but you can't help but slow down and stare.

In six solid, engrossing chapters, Devine describes what Redford and Kennedy are calling the Bush administration's "war against the environment," starting with the "rollback" of environmental legislation created by many previous presidents (both democrat and republican). After this overt rollback, the Bush administration becomes more covert and uses eco-spin control to achieve its aims. According to Devine, misnomers such as the "Healthy Forests Initiative" and the "Clear Skies Initiative" have allowed corporate loggers and polluters to literally take the reigns of our national environmental policy. Similarly, using the phrases "limiting regulation" and "streamlining," the Bush administration has created policies based on inexact science and questionable economic analysis to push its agenda.

In some cases, Devine says, the Bush administration simply doesn’t enforce the government’s environmental regulations. In the most egregious cases, the very people who ran companies that fought against the Clinton administration's policies have now been appointed to Bush's team to run our national environmental policy. Hiring all of his friends and supporters, none of whom are environmentalists, Bush now has "the fox guarding the henhouse." Devine cites specific names and examples to argue his point.

Green voters will like this book, but anti-green voters should read it, too. Bush Versus the Environment will help them understand why greenies hate Bush; it will also help republicans understand what Bush should do if he hopes to derail a growing criticism and capture environmental votes in November.

Whereas Bush Versus the Environment may leave you reaching for a bottle of Maalox (or a big jug of red wine), Chip Ward's Hope's Horizon offers a non-medicinal elixir. Devine suggests that your November vote may be critical, but Ward takes it one step further, highlighting specific environmental actions and the activists who bring them about.

Hope's Horizon tells three strong stories. The first is about the Wildlands Project, a Vermont-based conservation effort that works to connect wild landscapes across North America. The second concerns the Glen Canyon Institute and its effort to drain Lake Powell in Southern Utah. The third is about antinuclear activists–specifically Native American tribes and other groups connected to nuclear waste disposal conflicts in the Utah dessert.

The strengths of this book emerge when Ward joins with and interviews the activists who started the environmental groups. He spends a fair amount of time with Michael Soule of the Wildlands Project and Rich Ingebretsen of the Glen Canyon Institute, as well as other activists on the Utah nuclear front. These individuals explain how they first "connected to nature" and how their life trajectories then followed passionate pursuits.

The groups and movements started as small schemes, from one person's simple idea or nonchalant thought. Given time, passion, and extraordinary commitment, each has now grown into an office (or more), with a staff and a reasonable annual budget as well as an important environmental pursuit. Hope's Horizon tells us not to deny those crazy thoughts we have about changing the world. In fact, those thoughts are what change the world–they are the first green sprigs of a flower pushing through the spring soil. "Water them," Ward seems to say. "Watch them grow."

Seasoned environmentalists might be familiar with much of the material covered in Hope's Horizon. Ward starts from near zero on all three issues, providing background that has been conveyed more strongly by other authors in other books. But near the end of Hope's Horizon Ward discusses much of his own work with the antinuclear movement and other Utah efforts. And here, again, the prose and story perks up. This book would make a good gift for someone who is learning about the environmental movement and might be inspired by personal, compelling stories of change.

Together, these books speak to the larger issue of what's wrong with our democracy and what needs to be done to fix it. The problem is money and the power it buys. The solution is people–on the ground, ragingly optimistic, and relentless.

REVIEWER: Gary Wockner, ( is an ecologist and writer in Fort Collins, CO.