Backing Bidder 70

The tactics may have evolved, but direct action is back among today’s environmental activists, who feel like the national green groups with their major donors and loyalties have let them down. Environmentalists are in a particularly tough spot, writes author Christine MacDonald in this issue’s cover story. Global warming skepticism is rife and green activism has been turned largely to political hand-shaking and watered-down victories. Coupled with more apathetic organizing thanks to debates and petitions that have moved online, the environmental movement has overall lost its teeth.

But that’s starting to change. Take Tim DeChristopher, also known as “Bidder 70,” an economics student from the University of Utah who decided to singlehandedly disrupt a federal auction for oil and gas leases back in December 2008. He won bids on 14 parcels representing more than 22,000 acres before officials caught on. His action ultimately saved significant acres of Utah’s red rock desert bordering multiple national parks, but DeChristopher was charged with two counts of interfering with an auction and falsifying information on bidding forms, and faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and fines of $750,000. His trial date is set for June 21, 2010.

“We have to throw ourselves into the gears of the machine that threaten our survival,” DeChristopher told E, by way of explanation. “That’s how we show that we’re telling the truth.”

DeChristopher and others feel the urgency of climate change and all it implies—from toxic water and polluted air to rampant disease and oversized storms—and they’re convinced that lobbying Congress to pass regulatory legislation is not going to solve the crisis in time. MacDonald talks to a host of activists young and old—including seminal figures like tree-sitter Julia “Butterfly” Hill and industry whistleblower Erin Brockovich—about how people were once moved to action, what went wrong and how they’re finding inspiration again around causes like mountaintop removal coal mining and limiting carbon dioxide pollution.

In the second feature, E senior writer Jim Motavalli takes a look at the H1N1 virus, and how threats remain, even as the number of reported cases have sharply declined. He examines where our public health system fell short—particularly in communication—and how the issues that brought us that virus, including growing populations, animal factories and worldwide travel, remain.