“Information is the currency of democracy,” said Thomas Jefferson, who, as the oft-cited father of democracy, presumably knew whereof he spoke. Alas, a couple of hundred years later, it seems more accurate to say that currency is the currency of democracy. Here at the height of the Information Age, information about the workings of our democracy is increasingly tough to come by (think of the Bush administration stonewalling about Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force) and increasingly hard to trust (think of the staggering consolidation and centralization of media control).

To counter those trends and conduct a little Jefferson-style democratic action, Grist offers this special edition on the environment and electoral politics. At a time of military conflict abroad, a lackluster economy, and menacing threats to education, Social Security, health care, welfare, and civil rights, the environment might seem low on the priority list. Yet if there’s one thing about which Democrats and Republicans agree, it’s that the environment is the Achilles’ heel of the Bush administration. As a result, environmental policy could become a critical swing issue, influencing the outcome of the 2004 elections — and without a doubt, the outcome of the elections will influence environmental protection for years to come.

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Environmentally minded voters need to know what the playing field looks like — and they need to know that their votes could turn the election. As Mark Hertsgaard points out in his article for this special edition, card-carrying environmentalists (that is, those who belong to environmental organizations) don’t vote at any higher rate than the rest of U.S. citizens. If they did, say some, Al Gore would be president today, and both chambers of Congress would now be led by Democrats. (And, who knows, maybe the Green Party would be looking better and better.)

Thus, this special edition of Grist: to help our readers figure out how politics can affect the environment — and vice versa. If you haven’t made up your mind about third parties or you’re wondering which candidate drives an SUV or you simply want a healthy dose of green election info, read on. Here’s what we’ve got to offer:

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  • Interviews with Democratic candidates. Who’s got the best voting record on environmental issues? Who’s never heard of a worm bin? Who’s the vegan? Check out Grist‘s exclusive interviews on the environmental politics of the contenders for the Democratic ticket in ’04.
  • Unified Field Theory, in which journalist Mark Hertsgaard argues that, by causing greens to collaborate with other progressive activists, President Bush just might be the best thing that ever happened to the environmental movement.
  • Two pieces on the Green Party — pro and con. The party’s own Robert Franklin argues that fielding a Green presidential candidate is critical not just to the environment and the upcoming elections, but also to the future of democracy in America. Meanwhile, author and columnist Norman Solomon argues that running a Green candidate will jeopardize the credibility of the party and divide the left at a time when the stakes of losing are terrifyingly high.
  • What’s Good for the Michigander Is Good for the Goose, in which writer Keith Schneider posits that the Democrats could win in 2004 by studying how environmental politics influenced the outcome of the 2002 gubernatorial election in Michigan.
  • Off the Grid, or Off the Mark?, in which Umbra Fisk, Grist‘s advice columnist extraordinaire, answers nagging political questions from enviros. (Is Bush’s Texas ranch really off the grid? Is there an eco-friendly country that might accept a wave of environmentally outraged ex-pats?)
  • Whatever Floats Your Vote, an index of intriguing facts about voters’ eco-beliefs and candidates’ environmental records.
  • Local Flavor, a region-by-region roundup of green issues on state and local ballots in 2003 and beyond — because it ain’t all happening inside the Beltway.
  • Only Connect has links and election resources aplenty.
  • Finally, we encourage all readers to sign up for our weekly dispatch on politics and the environment, and we remind you to get out there register to vote.