The purpose of this "blog" is to make my essays that have been
published online accessible in one place. Current essays are on
top and older pieces farther down, though they are not presented
in strict chronological order. The postings or "blog archive" list
serves as a kind of index. Since most of my essay links were posted
at once in May of 2009, click "2009" under the blog archive column
and a list of essays will appear. Each essay is briefly described and a
link provided.

My formative writing experiences were as a grassroots organizer
and activist in campaigns to make polluters accountable. I wrote
newsletters, pamphlets, press releases, op-ed pieces, and statements
to be read at hearings, debates, and panel discussions. I did hundreds
of interviews for outlets as diverse as NPR, CBS, BBC, and CNN.

During this time I was also a library manager and administrator.
Although one might not suspect so, the role of the librarian and
the role of the activist share much in common. Effective activists
provoke public dialog. Effective librarians invite such dialogue.
Although they employ different methods, the ends are the same.

Eventually, I wrote two books about my political adventures,
Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West (Verso,
1999) and Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the
American Land(Island/Shearwater, 2004).

We spent the last two centuries learning how Nature can create wealth.
We will spend the next century learning how Nature creates health.
Ultimately, as we learn to live in reciprocal and sustainable
relationship with the ecosystems that sustain us, we will replace
the cultural language of wealth that both expresses and guides our
behavior today with a new language of health.

I am not talking here about mere words. I mean the way we see the
world, the way we express our values, and the way we make choices
together. The difference between those two ways of seeing and being
in the world are profound.

Wealth says more; health says enough.
Wealth says accumulate;
health says flow. Wealth says compete and win; health says
reciprocate, integrate, reconcile. Wealth says manage and
measure; health says jam and dance. Wealth assigns value; health
assumes it. Wealth adds, subtracts, and divides; health makes whole.

To learn this new language, we begin by listening. When we translate
what we learn into behaviors, we are practicing what I call ecological
citizenship. Ultimately, the health of our natural/physical
environment is directly related to the vitality of our civic
environment. And if you dig deeper, environmental crises are
also about our disconnection from nature and from each other.
And so we confront not only entrenched powers and their
destructive interests, but a culture that enables us, even
encourages us, to think and feel and act as if we live apart from
nature. As I try to explain in the essays that follow, nature is
embedded in us as we are embedded in the ecosystems that sustain us.

Chip Ward

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Dance, Don't Drive" and Other Recent Essays

“Dance Don’t Drive: Resilient Thinking in a Turbulent World.”

I get tired of telling people I write about "the environment." Recently someone asked me what I write about and I answered, “hubris, humility, resilience, and folly.” A blank stare and an awkward silence followed - not quite the response I was looking for. Hopefully, the following essays illustrate my point.

"Dance Don’t Drive: Resilient Thinking in a Turbulent World is first up. It’s an abridged version of a keynote speech I delivered at a conference on sustainability organized by the Stegner Center at the University of Utah’s Law School in March of 2010. Wrap-up keynote speeches are supposed to be upbeat and this one is, though it is hard to be optimistic about the inevitability of economic and social collapse. Until we find the humility to see ourselves as bounded by the limits of a finite natural realm that includes us, we have no hope of living sustainably. Since what is unsustainable eventually fails, we need to learn how to build resilient communities and economies that can survive when the culture of faster-bigger-more fails. Citizens across the world have begun this important work – “transition” towns, “post carbon” projects, and “relocalization” networks are being built from the grassroots up. Unlimited growth for growth’s sake without regard to ecological context is folly, plain and simple. I may escape the consequences of our wasteful ignorance and hubris, but my grandchildren will not. Hopefully we will shed our self-destructive habits and reconnect ourselves to the living communities that sustain us before it is too late.

The first link is to an abridged version of my speech was published at The Catalyst Magazine, a magazine based in Salt Lake City that is run by friends. It's a great example of how a local publication can serve a community and achieve excellence. Thanks Greta and John. The second link is to a more complete version published by the University of Utah's "Environmental Law Review." The University printed many copies for distribution at conferences and so on.

A substantially edited, expanded, and improved version of this is being published by the University of Utah and printed in a booklet in the spring of 2012. the link to the booklet at Amazon is here:

I have reprinted the opening paragraphs of that newer version of Dance, Don't Drive below the links to the Catalyst and Law Review versions that follow because they are the most direct statement I have written about the subject of sustainability.

Note: if you are unfamiliar with the web format at the Catalyst site and how to navigate this page, go to the icons at the top of the text and find tools for enlarging the type. The little hand icon can be used to move the page after you enlarge it.

Catalyst version:

Law Review version:

New introduction:

"The fundamental contradiction of our time is this: we have built an all-encompassing economic engine that requires constant unending growth - a contraction of even a percent or two is a crisis - but we are embedded in ecosystems that are indeed limited. There is only so much fertile soil, so much fresh water, so many fish in the ocean. The atmosphere can only absorb only so much CO2 and stay benign. You can get around this contradiction for awhile by conquering your neighbor’s habitat after you have used up your own, by extending your natural resources through technological advancement, or by stealing from the future by using up soil, minerals, and water that your grandchildren will need. But there are limits to those familiar and largely successful strategies, too. At some point humans discover that they do not live outside the boundaries of a natural world and, as it is with every other species, if you overload the carrying capacity of your habitat, you crash."

"When I am told that industrial civilization as currently configured is “unsustainable,” I think the statement is so plain and bloodless that it anesthetizes the listener. You could say, accurately enough, that a bus full of children that is careening madly down a steep road that dead-ends at a cliff is on an “unsustainable path,” too, but that description hardly conveys the horror that is likely to unfold unless that bus is stopped. Our civic discourse about sustainability needs to be reframed to convey its importance, the consequences we face, and the choices we are making. "

"Occupy Earth: Nature is the 99 Percent, too"

The Occupy Wall Street movement inspired many of us who have been on the barricades for years and waiting for others to wake up and join us. This essay was a response to Occupy's main theme, the glaring and dysfunctional disparity between the so-called 1 percent and the 99. It was my way of bearing witness and I was proud that it was distributed at Zucotti Park by a local Utah-based group, Peaceful Uprising. The essay appeared first at my friend Tom Englehardt's site, and went out far and wide from there. The link is to the version at

"After BP, the Age of Precaution?"

The ecological and economic catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico that followed the accident on BP's deep sea oil rig is, hopefully, a watershed event in our understanding of the consequences and limitations of our carbon-based industrial way of life. I wrote an essay for about the meaning of the disaster. The original title is above. Writers don't always get to have the titles they choose - that's negotiated with editors and I've never been too pleased with what Alternet's editors do to my titles. Still, I am thankful for the coverage.

Throughout my work as an organizer/activist, I confronted again and again a regulatory regime based on the notion that risks from technology can be adequately assessed by hired "experts." Most risk assessments were woefully inadequate even by their own minimum (and delusional) standards. The bogus risk assessments justified all sorts of dubious projects that endangered people and creatures who live downwind and downstream from them. I named the first grassroots organization I co-founded Families Against Incinerator Risk because the acronym was FAIR. It spoke to a theme we repeated as we organized: risk is not a math problem to be solved by distant experts, but is a question about who is put at risk and for whose benefit, about whether the distribution of risks, liabilities, costs, rewards, and benefits is FAIR. Those are political questions that should be answered in an open, inclusive, and informed civic dialog. Based on my hard experiences with our current risk assessment regime, I believe a paradigm based on the precautionary principle is a better model.

"How the Peaceful Atom Became a Serial Killer"

The tragic nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima facility in Japan was another wake-up call that tells us that nuclear power is not the answer to our energy crisis. My essays on nuclear power can be found further down at this blogspot in the "older posts." I put this one up front because it is my most recent essay on the subject and because the catastrophe at Fukushima is ongoing. Consider this testimony from someone who spent many years on the frontlines of struggles to keep nuclear utilities from rolling over impoverished people and remote communities in the American West. Friends and neighbors are "downwinders." The essay speaks for itself. The link is to the copy at Mother Jones. As is the case with most of my writing, the essay first appeared at and went across the web from there.

"How the West Was Lost" or "Fire's Manifest Destiny"

Another recent essay, this one solicited by my friend/mentor Tom Englehardt for his web site and out from there to scores of other sites. Epic wildfires are becoming routine in the West as the weather becomes more extreme and unpredictable on a globally warming planet. This piece generated a surprising volume of hysterical hate mail. I was labeled a "warmist," a term I had not heard before. My critics called me a clueless idiot or a clever conspirator, depending on if they saw me as a conscious agent of the global warming hoax or a mere "sock puppet" of the real conspirators. I am no stranger to hostile responses. I encountered plenty of that while organizing campaigns to make polluters accountable. But in those cases, jobs and profits were at stake. In this instance I had only offered observations and opinions about forest fires. I suspect that my critics understand intuitively that admitting humans have altered the very climate of the planet we live on and then deciding to do something about it means that an entire way of life and way of looking at life is threatened. Ideas about the necessity and value of economic growth, of progress and success, are challenged as soon as we get it into our heads that the earth is finite and has a carrying capacity that cannot be indefinitely violated. Here is the essay as it appeared at Huffington Post:

"The Big Bad Wolf Makes Good: A Yellowstone Success Story"

Over the years I have researched and written about conservation issues, I have been inspired by the conservation biologists I have met. They are devoted to both the rigors of science and also to the health and integrity of the ecosystems they study. In Yellowstone, they put forward a bold experiment that worked - a cherished and unraveling American ecosystem is being restored. Sadly, outside of Yellowstone, uncivil and hyperbolic discourse has muted the valuable lessons we could be learning about the ecological role of large "charismatic carnivores." Ranchers understand that restoring wolves to Western landscapes requires change they don't want. Hunters understand that the days of fat elk and easy hunting are over. But do the rest of us understand what is at stake?

A shorter version of this essay appeared in the Los Angeles Times. From there, it went to the Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Kansas City Star, Denver Post... In its original and complete form, it appeared first at and then to the usual online sites that my essays go to - Huffington Post, Truthout, Mother Jones, Atlantic Free Press, and dozens of others, even the CBS web site. Although I appreciate the broader audience I got from the LA Times, I prefer the full version and the link to that at Tom Englehart's blog is below.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Red Snow Warning and Welcome to Glenbeckistan

Welcome to Glennbeckistan

Civil discourse in America is breaking down and I confess I contributed. Sadly, sometimes there is no polite way to confront rude and hyperbolic voices. Racism need not be tolerated, period. Homophobia, the same. Violence must be confronted. These are not mere partisan differences. They must be called out.

I wrote the essay, “Welcome to Glennbeckistan Where the Tea Party Rules and the Tea-hadi Roam,” in an afternoon. The Utah State Legislature had just finished its 2010 session. I was thinking about how glad I am that I no longer go “up on the Hill” to lobby for libraries or environmental health as I did for so many years, an experience I compare to being trapped in a phone booth with Elmer Fudd’s evil twin for two months. I jotted down a morning-after list of what the legislators did this year and ended up venting my bad feelings about that on paper.

I gave it to Tom Englehardt who pruned it well and put it out on his web site, From there it went to the usual – Huffingtonpost, Alternet, Truthout, Common Dreams… It was clear right away that I’d struck a nerve. It got a huge response and was e-mailed widely. That should have pleased me - all writers want a bigger audience - but it didn’t.

Here’s the thing. I have spent months working towards deeper insights on important topics and writing to convey how ecological principles matter. Read “Too Big to Fail” or “Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys” below, for examples. The response I got was positive and strong, but modestly so. So I kill just one afternoon transferring my bad attitude to paper and the response goes through the roof. What is the meaning of that? Is it that dissing and sarcasm pay? I hope not.

I got mostly positive feedback but when Beck fans responded through comments at web sites where it appeared and in letters to Tom, the vitriol was thick. Name-calling instead of reason is big these days. Rush and Beck and Hannity have become superstars by name-calling. My favorite response was “you think we’re dumb but you don’t know anything because you are a government sycophant dickwad.” I rest my case.

The question of the day is what does the Tea Party movement mean? Here’s my short answer. People are hurting and struggling. They are losing jobs, homes, and dreams. While they drown in debt, bankers and brokers are rescued. The rich still take their millions in bonuses. The economy is rigged. Distrust and fear reign. Anger, outrage, and resentment are understandable. Unfortunately, they can also be incoherent and that is the case today.

At this point, the tea party is mostly a noise. A tune may follow but I can’t hear it yet through the cacophony. My essay underlined the sour notes. Let’s hope we don’t take out our anger at bankers and brokers on our innocent fellow citizens or vulnerable scapegoats.

If you are not already a Democrat or an Obama fan, where do you go with your anger, fear, and hunger for an alternative to the dysfunctional and unfair system that is oppressing you? Not the Republican Party which is ideologically and programmatically bankrupt. Since Reagan in 1980 they have preached the virtues of an unfettered “free” market and railed at the sins of big government. That philosophy crashed along with the ponzi-economy in the fall of 2008. So what are their big ideas for rebuilding an economy that will rescue the millions of Americans who lost homes and jobs? More tax breaks for the rich? How about those risky new financial instruments that facilitated the bubble and collapse? Even less regulation? The Republicans have become a party of “no.” That’s not substantive enough for most folks.

A void will be filled – enter the Tea Party movement. Most tea-partiers hold both political parties responsible and loathe both. To the extent they identify with any party, it is the Republican party and the "movement" has been funded by billionaire right-wingers, the Koch brothers, and recruited from the Republican base. But there is also a strongly anti-incumbent current. Republicans who encourage them should be wary. In Utah, they are making grassroots challenges to well established incumbent Republicans, like Senator Bennett, who by national standards would be considered quite conservative. They are driving the party rightward. The 2010 legislative session I wrote about expresses that dynamic.

Here is a foreword about Utah politics that is important to know. Utah is peculiar. It was settled and developed by Mormons whose history is dramatic. The Mormons started in the east, thrived at Nauvoo in Illinois, but were eventually driven out. They were persecuted and their charismatic leader, Joseph Smith was assassinated. They arrived in Utah as political refugees with their backs against the wall of the Great Basin Desert. If that’s your history, you are good at circling the wagons but not so good at inviting dissent or entertaining diversity. With unity comes conformity and obedience. The result is a one-party political system where Republicans utterly dominate. All sorts of checks and balances, give and take, and feedback are missing. The political culture gets distorted by that.

Nevertheless, if you want to see where the Republican-Tea Party alliance could go, Utah is exhibit A.

This essay became a chapter in a book, Dangerous Brew: Exposing the Tea Party's Agenda to Take Over America (2010) edited by Don Hazen and Adele Stan and published by Alternet.

The Ruins in Our Future: The End of Welfare Water and the Drying of the West

Also titled "Red Snow Warning," this essay was first posted at and went across the web from there. Tom Englehardt asked me to do a piece on the widespread drought in America's West that was at once personal and also "big picture." Westerners like to boast they are independent free-thinkers who loathe government intrusion. This is a myth. Western agriculture and cities were only possible because of massive federal aid in the form of dams, pipelines, reservoirs, and so on. Eventually, the water-carrying infrastructure became an industry with its own vested interests that kept the construction projects coming until every water source was not only tapped, but tapped out. Rising temperatures and less snowpack will show us that we have overshot the carrying capacity of our arid environment. Not only do we have to get by on less water, our water is coming to us as rain instead of snow, is coming down from mountainsides sooner and not lasting as long. This will be disruptive to cities, agriculture, and ecosystems. The sooner we catch on to these critical changes, the sooner we can figure out how to conserve water, conserve stressed habitat, and curb development that adds to our water-using burden. A problem that is not acknowledged cannot be solved. This is the motive for much of my writing: to raise awareness about developing issues, to question assumptions that may not, in fact, be true, and to provoke discussion.

Another essay on the Tea Party phenomenon can be found below. I was asked to explain what is happening to an English audience.

Too Big to Fail: Ecological Ignorance and Economic Collapse

Too Big to Fail: Ecological Ignorance and Collapse

The era of faster/bigger/cheaper/more is coming to an end as we have overloaded the earth's carrying capacity and are now experiencing the consequences. If we are going to find ways of living sustainably and surviving our own self-destructive behaviors, we will have to become ecologically literate and then practice what we learn. Our fixation on growth has to go. In this essay, I offer a perspective on growth that is unconventional but undeniable - all complex adaptive systems go through phases, from growth to consolidation to collapse and then regeneration. So, as Tom Englehardt says in his introduction, let's not recover from the collapse of the economy, let's regenerate. Not more of the same, but more sane.

After the Green Economy, Green Security: How to Build Resilient Communities in a Chaotic World

After the Green Economy, Green Security: How to Build Resilient Communities in a Chaotic World

A friend who has advocated green jobs and a green economy for several years said he felt a bit disoriented when President Obama endorsed his vision in his own agenda for the nation's future. The greening of the economy was the cutting edge, he said, so where do we go next? This essay is my answer.

As the recent swine flu outbreak hinted, global commerce could be shut down in a global pandemic and, if so, we will quickly learn that our food and energy come from far away. Pandemics are just one possible disruption on a planet troubled by climate chaos and ecological collapse. Security in the face of those inevitable challenges and the chaos that will follow will be redefined as a matter of local resilience. This theme is a continuation of the emphasis on resilience found in an earlier essay, "Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys," found below.

This essay became a chapter in the book How the West Was Warmed: Responding to Climate Change in the Rockies edited by Beth Conover who assisted John Hickenlooper (mayor of Denver, governor of Colorado) on environmental issues. The link is to the piece as it first appeared at that also includes my introduction to the essay.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Evolution of John McCain: Why He Picked Sarah Palin, Carbon Queen

Although Sarah Palin is the specific subject of this essay, written in the heat of the presidential campaign, the broader topic is the deep anti-environmental bias of fundamentalist Christian zealots like Ms. Palin. It can be read as a companion to an earlier essay on Bush's "Holy War" on nature (see below). Again, does man have "dominion" over nature or are we embedded in the natural/physical world as that world is also embedded within us? Context matters.

The essay went far and wide across the Internet. The essay appeared first at The link below is to a site called "AfterDowning Street" that frequently reprints my work.

Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys: The Case for Resilience

What if the organizing principle of Western Civilization - efficiency -- is a big misunderstanding? Short-term efficiency - maximizing output and minimizing input over the next quarter - may bring us faster, bigger, and more for awhile, but is ultimately unsustainable and leads too often to catastrophe. Why not think about long-term resilience instead?

This essay began when I noticed how few bees appeared in the spring and talked to friends across the country who noticed the same alarming absence. As I looked into what happened to the bees, I discovered that bee-keeping had become an industry, that we humans have seized a key ecological service - pollination - and reshaped it to be more convenient and profitable. The consequences have been dire.

Michael Pollan, a writer I greatly admire, read this and I almost got a book deal because of his interest. I pulled the plug on that project when it became clear I couldn't do it my way. The link to the essay is from a version that appeared originally at

What They Didn't Teach Us in Library School: The Public Library as an Asylum for the Homeless

This essay made more of an impact than any other I have written. A shorter version appeared in the L A Times when the full version appeared at From there it was re-published widely across the World Wide Web, reprinted in paper format here and there (including in Germany), and is widely cited and debated. I often do radio interviews after my essays are published - this one got me on "Talk of the Nation" on NPR. Martin Sheen quoted it in a speech and his son, actor-director Emilio Estevez, bought film rights and is working on a script for a movie based on the essay and related journal entires I gave him. I was offered book deals to write more on this and turned them down.

The purpose of writing the essay was to get closure by bearing witness to what I had experienced and learned. I wrote it while staying at the Mesa Refuge in Pt. Reyes as a guest of Peter Barnes. I didn't allow it to get published until I retired from my library career because I didn't want my colleagues to deal with any more controversy than I already created as an environmental advocate/activist. The names of homeless library users were changed to protect privacy.

The genesis of this one was very personal. As Asst. Director of the Salt Lake City Public Library, I dealt with chronically homeless people on a daily basis for six years. I learned a lot about the plight of the homeless and was frustrated that so many compassionate and well-informed friends knew so little about homelessness, namely that there are working poor people who become temporarily homeless and then there are chronically homeless people who live more or less permanently on the street. In my experience, most of those people are untreated mentally ill. Casting them out and onto the street is not only immoral, it is excedingly expensive and ineffective public policy.

The original title was "Outcasts Inside." It was often published as "How the Library Became the Heartbreak Hotel," Tom's over-title in the link below. I have linked it to the version where it originally appeared. My thanks to Tom Englehardt, legendary editor and personal mentor, for his help on making this one happen.