About a year ago, on March 26, 2012, Sandra Steingraber, an environmental writer and activist against natural-gas fracking, wrote a public letter titled “Breaking Up with the Sierra Club.” Breakups are never easy, and the letter, published on the website of the nature magazine Orion, was brutal from the start: “I’m through with you,” Steingraber began.
Few U.S. communities can match the eco credentials of the quaint college town of Bellingham, Washington. Nestled between the glacier-tipped peak of Mount Baker and the rugged coastline of the Puget Sound—the “Salish Sea” as locals prefer to call it—the area is a magnet for hikers, climbers, and kayakers. The town boasts a vibrant local-food scene, with two summer farmers markets and a pair of organic grocery stores. The City of Bellingham and the surrounding Whatcom County government get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, a practice that earned both recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Leadership program. The Natural Resources Defense Council has dubbed Bellingham one of its “Smarter Cities” for the town’s commitment to reducing its ecological footprint.
Marlene Orr lives in Ft. McKay, Alberta, a tiny hamlet of two First Nations groups at the center of Canada's tar sands deposits, the largest petroleum reserve outside of Saudi Arabia. Ft. McKay is ground zero for tar sands extraction; the giant Syncrude and Suncor mines are to the south, Total E&P's source is to the west, and Shell's mine lies to the north of town, on the far shore of the Athabasca River.
With the country mired in two major wars and millions of Americans unable to find work, improving rail lines, conducting road repairs, and building bike lanes might rank low on the list of national priorities.
But here's the thing: Global climate change isn't going to wait for the U.S. to get out of the recession, and the federal transportation bill, up for reauthorization this year, offers a prime way of tackling it. At a time when unemployment seems fixed at 10 percent, it also offers an opportunity for the Obama administration to make headway on the jobs front.