By Pam Linn

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Change we can believe in, I hope

Whew! Thanks be that 2008 has run its course. So much sadness for so many people in so many places. Whatever our political persuasion, it seems we’re all looking ahead, hoping our new leaders will solve at least some of the problems facing our country and the world.

While they try to agree on a stimulus package to reboot the ailing economy, we’re reminded of how connected we are to the rest of the world. The meltdown of our financial markets triggered similar crises in Europe and Asia where foreign societies around the globe financed our wanton ways, inadvertently buying our toxic paper bundled to be virtually indecipherable.

The onus falls not only on deregulation, as some believe, but on the agencies that gave Triple A ratings to these seriously insecure securities. On the plus side, people are returning to old fashioned thrift, the quaint ideas of our grandparents, that saving some part of your income to pay for the things you want is the best way to avoid personal financial meltdowns at the hands of credit card companies and our ailing healthcare system.

Those of us who care deeply about our environment have been holding our collective breaths until George the W, and his appointees to agencies pledged to protect our health and environment, all leave town. What they’re leaving behind is the shambles of neglect and deliberate plundering of public lands to benefit a few.

Nonprofits that strive to thwart this political impulse are seeing fewer donations as more of us give to local food banks and Habitat for Humanity. Newsletters from environmental groups hail the year’s accomplishments.

Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense, Audubon, EarthJustice, Nature Conservancy, Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, all want money. Many seemed to have banded together in lawsuits to block administration policies denying climate change, keeping wolves and polar bears off the Endangered Species List (because listing offers at least some protection of their habitat), opening oil and gas leases on some of the West’s most awe-inspiring landscapes.

Marine mammals have fared somewhat better, with NRDC members urging the establishment of a network of underwater parks protecting 20 percent of waters off the California coast. And across the Pacific, creation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary will protect 70 percent of America’s coral reefs and 7,000 marine species in a remote 140,000-square-mile chain of islands.

After years of obstruction, NRDC has won some legal protection for whales and other marine animals from Navy low-frequency active sonar systems. A separate lawsuit challenging the Navy’s mid-frequency active sonar off the Southern California coast was heard by the Supreme Court in October with a decision expected in 2009.

While I applaud these successes, I got a different prospective from Yellowstone National Park’s director, who spoke recently to docents and volunteers at Museum of the Rockies. She suggested that people donate directly to park foundations, because defending against lawsuits by environmental organizations costs the park service so much money and time. Good point. But it seems the Bush administration hasn’t responded to anything but legal challenges in its quest to drill everywhere.

Anyway, if I donate to all these organizations, I won’t have enough to support National Public Radio and PBS, my major media outlets. Nor will I be able to subscribe to the The New Yorker, The Week, National Geographic and High Country News.

HCN’s year-end roundup ran stories on Bush’s environmental legacy. “As the Interior Turns: An eight-year soap opera in which federal officials screwed the environment, the taxpayers and each other;” “(Un) clearing the Air: Westerners will breathe the legacy of Bush’s Bureau of Land Management;” “Up in Smoke: Obama administration will inherit a beleaguered Forest Service;” “Not so Dead on Arrival: The unlikely success of the Clinton Roadless Rule;” “The Sick and Tired West: Bush weakens public health.”

The centerfold features suggestions on what the next president might deliver on environmental issues by key Westerners. Carl Zichella (Sierra Club, Sacramento) urges Obama to curb climate change with wind and solar energy. Jon Marvel (Western Watersheds Project director, Idaho) says to create transparency and make conservation the primary goal of public-lands management. Courtney White (Quivira Coalition director, Santa Fe, N.M.) follows author Michael Pollan’s urging to reform food. Mark Dowie (journalist/author, Inverness, Calif.) says to restore various offices of “scientific integrity” cut by Bush. Eric Smith (political science professor, UC Santa Barbara) advises Obama to prepare to compromise and “settle for what we can do.”

Unfortunately, the global economic meltdown may get in the way of serious environmental progress. Even though Obama may have the opportunity to undo some last-minute rule changes Bush may make on his way out the door, he may just have too much on his plate.

I guess we’ll have to be patient and hope for the best. My limited donations will go to the HCN Research Fund, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Yellowstone Association and Foundation, NRDC (to follow through and hold their feet to the fire), and if there’s any left over, Defenders of Wildlife. In lieu of dollars, the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Museum of the Rockies and Bozeman Public Library will get my sweat equity.

Volunteering is a major benefit of retired folks, even when their 401Ks aren’t as robust as they once were. My hope is with Obama. He’ll have to work out the details.