Dearest Beloved Readers,

Another turn of the seasons (still four, at last count) has brought us together again on the eve of Earth Day, the moment in the sun for the environmental movement, the fifth anniversary of Grist, and the second anniversary of my ability to freely pontificate into your inbox. It’s been a nice, quiet year here in the stacks, though there was a phase upstairs of eating only grapefruit that took quite a toll. (I do so much heavy lifting of reference volumes — The Encyclopedia of Niggling Concerns; Paper Products: A Comprehensive Bibliography — that, alas, I couldn’t safely participate in the Grapefruit Challenge.) I’ve enjoyed your electronic company and am constantly amazed at your level of concern about and commitment to environmental issues.

Now it’s time to raise the stakes. Soon enough, Earth Day will be but a memory and Election Day will loom near. In anticipation of that day, I want to spread the bounty of your letter-writing prowess to the general voting public, and so I write you today with a friendly challenge: a contest that brings our two years of honed epistolary experience to the world outside of Grist. It’s time to take on other publications. Are you up for the challenge, dear readers?

Do you have the write stuff?

A year ago, in the renowned Cheer Us Up the Weather Is Godawful and We’re at War Contest, we challenged readers to come up with a new word that would capture the essence of the anti-environmentalist. A perspicacious Texan, Alice Veley, supplied us with the fabulous pollutocrat, a newly minted insult designed to be hurtled at those who recklessly disregard or dismantle environmental protections. The sole prize proffered to Ms. Veley was the dissemination of the word — no Prius, no polar fleece, no reused tennis trophy. We were all to spread the word about The Word and thus enrich and enliven environmental discussions.

Well, I just Googled pollutocrat, got only 18 hits, and was asked if I meant to search for plutocrat. Talk about falling down on the job. How can we inspire confidence in reader contests if our follow-through is so pathetic? We can’t! And what is more fun than reader contests? Nothing!

Now, I can only draw three conclusions from this embarrassing failure: One, I hardly used the word myself and hence provided little leadership. Two, it’s not a good word: obviously erroneous, since the hordes of Grist readers who voted it to first place cannot be wrong. Three: Perhaps only Grist is fun enough to use the word, the sole publication willing to throw open its pages to exciting linguistic newcomers.

Due to this egregious situation, faith in reader contests has fallen by 24 percent in the last quarter. Action must be taken. I hereby pledge to use the word pollutocrat in this space at least twice per month for the remainder of 2004, however much I have to contort my prose to do so. But I cannot morph the English language alone, my friends. Thus, for a second time, I call upon you to join me in this task, and to motivate us all, I propose a contest.

This contest shall be known as The Pollutocrats Must Not Prevail Letter to the Editor Contest. And this time, there are Prizes. Several of them, tangible and otherwise. More important, the PMNPLTTE contest ups the ante in our dedication to the environment, testing your ardor, your prose, and your persistence. Indeed, this fabulous contest sets the readers of Grist on unprepared editors as unto sleeping villagers awakening to the baying of a pack of eco-hounds. The pollutocrats must not prevail, my hounds. We must spread the alarm to the electorate. Are you ready?

1. The Challenge: Write and send one or more letters to the editor that use the word pollutocrat. The letter(s) can address the environmental issue of your choice — national politics, local concerns, environmental justice, toxic chemicals, cars, whatever. The same letter or different letters may be sent to as many publications as you wish. Admissible publications include almost everything: newspapers, newsletters (e.g., of national organizations, hometown churches, schools), Internet publications (excluding blogs and other personal journals), radio, academic journals, magazines, etc.

Stop the presses.

2. The Victor: For each separate publication of a letter, contestants will be awarded one point. Only published letters will count toward your final score. The winning contestant will be the one with the most points. We will also accept team entries, but only if the team has a really good team name. Publishing a letter in a forum you own or edit is a dirty trick, so please refrain (although if your name is, say, Arthur Sulzberger or David Remnick, we might just look the other way).

3. Proof: Contest participants are responsible for verifying publication by providing copies of published letters via web links or U.S. mail. (For letters aired on the radio, please send us a link to the radio show or any other creative form of verification you can think of.) Send postal mail to:

Pollutocrats Contest
Grist Magazine
811 First Ave., Suite 466
Seattle, WA, 98104, USA

Be sure to have your name, email, and phone number attached to copies of the published letter. Email links with “I’m published!” in the subject line. Verification of publication must be received by Grist by July 22, 2004, upon which date we will determine the winner.

4. This is Hard!: Yeah. Five published letters would be a triumph. But you guys have written me more than a thousand letters filled with passionate environmental opinions. You’re knowledgeable, articulate, and involved. No reason for me to hoard all that good juju; it’s time to turn that energy toward raising the profile of the environmental voter beyond the pages of Grist. It will be hard, but we’re going to do it together. (See No. 5)

5. Resources: For ideas on letter topics, look no further than Grist itself. For letter-to-the-editor guidelines, read the small print in publications, or call the publication in question. For helpful tips on writing successful letters to the editor, check the sites below. Feel free to send in your letters to us as well, if you’re willing to share, and we’ll display a few diverse samples.

6. Fabulous prizes: The first-place winner(s) will receive a reused sports trophy, redecorated to reflect the contest theme by none other than acclaimed basement trophy artist Umbra Fisk. The winner will also be able to submit three questions that I will answer in a future column. That’s right: three questions of your choice and me dedicated to gamely researching the answers. Grist also reserves the right to whimsically award redecorated trophies to contestants who exhibit incredible verve and imagination, and also to publish all letters that are sent to us. On completion of the contest, Grist will also — finally — award a reused trophy to Alice Veley, pollutocrat coiner. Also, we’ll put a fabulous selection of contestants’ letters up on the site for your own future letter-writing inspiration.

Admittedly, this is a complex and challenging contest. But we live in complex and challenging times, which require creative — not to say desperate — responses. And, frankly, I want to see what my dear readers are capable of. Can you rise to the challenge, or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Yours truly,
Umbra