We’ve spent much of our lives working for environmental change — for a response to global warming, for the preservation of biodiversity, for wild places, for family farms. But this winter, we’re working for Howard Dean for president — backing him in the confident hope that his victory will mean that the deep environmental principles of the American people will finally prevail over the narrow special interests that for too long have dominated our country.

Deaning America.

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Photo: John Pettitt, DeanForAmerica.com.

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It’s not that we’re against the other contenders for the Democratic nomination. Several of them have fine environmental records, and all of them would be a major improvement over the incumbent, who has allowed and encouraged the destruction and degradation of our air, water, and land.

But with the unprecedented Dean campaign, we sense a new possibility for a deeper democracy. This campaign has come from nowhere — not with spin, not with TV commercial blitzes, not with focus groups and catchy slogans. It’s come through the sheer hard work and devotion of hundreds of thousands of Americans, a political force like nothing we’ve seen in many years. Just consider the amazing fact that he has raised more than $40 million, and that the average contribution is under a hundred bucks. That speaks volumes about the new chapter he’s writing in American politics.

And imagine what it would mean to have a president who offered real attention not to the high and mighty, but to normal people with normal problems. For environmentalists, it would mean that the natural tendency of people to support a healthy planet for the sake of their children might finally prevail. Poll after poll shows that our fellow citizens consider global warming a serious problem; that we want more wilderness and protected land; that we favor protecting small farmers, not corporate agribusiness giants; that we’re sick and tired of acid rain and mercury pollution; that we can’t stand the constantly growing epidemic of childhood asthma. We want windmills and solar panels; we want abundant, enduring fisheries and forests. And we want international cooperation to solve the truly global problems like climate change that threaten every town and every business.

And yet, in the Washington of the moment, those overwhelming wishes of the American people matter less than the demands of lobbyists, who continue to vandalize our public lands, spew toxins into our atmosphere, and run our family farmers out of business.

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That has to change. And we’ve concluded that the blast of clean air coming from the millions of Americans that constitute the Dean campaign is the best chance for that change. This democratic impulse seems to us an almost ecological imperative; something marvelous, and inevitable, blooming through the cracks in the concrete that the powers that be have poured over our political landscape. And it offers the best chance for beating George Bush. Howard Dean’s straight talk will make the president’s shabby half-truths and deceptions look all the shabbier.

It’s not just that Dean did good things for the environment while he was governor of Vermont — protecting undeveloped land, spurring energy conservation. It’s that when Howard Dean decided to run for president, he also decided to place his full trust in the American people. We want to return that trust in full, and play our part in this emerging experiment in democracy.

This piece reflects the opinions of its authors and should not be taken to constitute an official endorsement by Grist Magazine, its staff, its board, their psychotherapists, or their aestheticians. We’re so neutral we’re pH-balanced. We make Switzerland look quarrelsome.