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Sierra magazine
More Readers Spout Off Web only!

"Cool Schools"

My Sierra magazine just arrived, and I was pleased to see that the University of Washington was ranked #2 out of the top 20 green universities in the country. It is the only one that has no individual score of less than 7. However, the only mention of our campus in your article (not to mention a complete lack of mention of our cousin Evergreen) is a quotation from a senior career counselor buried under environmental studies.

I imagine Sierra thinks we are so good that we don't need any reinforcement, but one wonders why there are several colleges mentioned that aren't even on the list, and one might even perceive a bias toward California and the Ivy League.
Julia Herschensohn
Professor and Chair, Department of Linguistics
University of Washington
Seattle Washington


The "Cool Schools" on your web site fails to include a key piece of information: How were schools chosen to be included on the list? It's clearly not a list of the "greenest" schools, since many received poor grades, but there are quite a few omissions, most notably that only five out of eight of the Ivies are rated. What criteria were used to decide which schools to include, and what can Sierra Club members do to get their schools included in the future?
Scott Kelly


I would really like to know how you can rate the UC system in such a high standard in your cool school lists. UC Regents have made many arbitrary decisions that effectively remove students' ability to reduce transportation, energy use, unsustainable development, habitat loss, species loss, etc. At UC Berkeley this last year the UC Regents and Berkeley president cut down a stand of old-growth oak trees so that they could build an office building directly on a fault!

UC Irvine is continuing to build unsustainably on their Irvine campus, with no EIS or EIR, stating it is state property so they do not have to account for environmental impacts such as the loss of burrowing owl habitat, white tail kite habitat, the utter loss of three endemic wildflowers, and the destruction of three different riparian areas and the loss of community by removal of the heritage stables and farm.

UC Regents have also outlawed the use of bicycles on campus at UCI and most other UCs, except in nonessential pedestrian areas. You can get to campus, but not across campus. Motorcycle parking was almost completely removed at UCI several times over the past 5 years. As of now it is less than 10% of the motorcycle parking that was present in 2003. in any given parking lot on UCI there are less than 5 motorcycle parking spots, and yet the fees for motorcycle parking are almost double that of cars.

UC Regents have restricted the use of native plant landscaping at all UC schools! This is a sensationalistic response to wildfires in the state of California, not a response that a center for higher learning should make. All research shows that native plants do a better job in reducing water use, chemicals and fertilizer use providing small habitat islands for animals such as birds and butterflies, provide better carbon sequestration rates in landscaping, and huge strides in this area in natural habitat, as well as better protection if maintained properly during wildfires where exotic species tend to lend more fuel for conflagrations. This is a huge part of what makes a school green. I would recommend the inclusion of this type of datum into any list of green schools!
Reginald I. Durant
Director of Restoration
Back to NativesRESTORATION
Irvine, California


In "My School's Greener Than Your School," the student report from CU Boulder on Transportation, Dan Omasta reports that "in 1991, CU's student body became the first to voluntarily tax itself to offer each student a bus pass for local transit agencies." Be that as it may, when I arrived at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in the fall of 1973, I learned upon enrolling that the student body had already arranged for unlimited rides on the county transit system to be included in registration fees--no separate pass. You just showed you registration card to the driver. (One time I caught a county bus to Big Basin, hitched a ride into the state park, hiked through the redwoods down Waddell Creek to the beach, and caught another county bus home--all on my registration card.) On campus a propane-powered Minibus named "the Bananaslug" carried students on a route through central campus--or if you were in a hurry, you could walk.
John Leech (A.B. Cowell College, UCSC)
Edmonds, Washington
Sierra Clubber since my parents went on a Sierra Club trip before I was born...


Whoever prepared the chart showing the results of your "Cool School" survey would not make the honor roll in math class. The "score" is not the total of the category marks. Giving UC Boulder a "score" of 100 gives the impression that school is perfect, when other schools rated higher in 5 of the 8 categories. Your footnote mentions a "variety of factors" causing discrepancies. Why not just give the actual total of the marks? Sierra Club members are known for hugging trees, but we also embrace numerical data being presented clearly.
Marie Skillman
San Diego, California


My name is Michael Ryan and I am a dean at South Seattle Community College and a member of our Seattle Community College District's Sustainability Initiative. I came across your listing recently of the top 135 colleges, and while the list is admirable, I think it misses the boat a bit on the work of community colleges like Lane, Broward, and the Seattle Community College District, among others.

There are some CC's on your list, but they tend to get overshadowed by the larger universities. If you are planning a future list focusing on green community colleges, where we train not only in sustainable pathways for degrees andjobs, but also implement sustainable practices on our campuses, I would love to see about providing you whatever information you require for us to be "graded" for your lists.

In our district alone we have converted many of our own utility vehicles to electric, we have converted our lawn mowers and weed whackers to run on biofuel, we have started on-campus composting for our on-campus sustainable garden, we have carbon-sequestration test plots, are working with biochar as a soil additive, and practice integrated pest management practices. We are now working on converting our own biofuels and offer only compostable materials in our campus dining services. At our North campus we are installing solar and wind systems. At our South campus we are working on rain collection, green walls and green roofs, solar charging stations for electric vehicles, and so on.

Anyway, please let me know if you are planning another article and I'd be happy to help point you in the direction of some colleges you may want to grade, and provide you with as much information as you'd like on our own district processes.
Michael Ryan
Dean of Hospitality & Service Occupations
South Seattle Community College
Seattle, Washington


We at DePaul University are disappointed that your rating system gave no credit to our strong administrative commitment to sustainability initiatives over the past decade in your September/October 2009 issue. DePaul has long empowered staff to implement green practices at the local level and, in particular, holds our facility management staff accountable for doing so in their performance reviews. This leadership has resulted in expansion of bicycle facilities, solar lighting on our Quad and a campus recycling effort that removes 90 to 100 tons of recyclables from the waste stream monthly, among numerous other activities.

DePaul is a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Challenge and has completed in excess of $5 million in energy-related projects in the new millennium, focusing mainly on lighting and hvac system retrofits. We have engaged in several efforts to support alternative forms of transportation, including purchasing hybrid vehicles for our Public Safety car fleet and contracting with the "I-Go" program to make shared hybrid vehicles available on campus for faculty, staff and students. We have applied for and won major grants from the state of Illinois, the city of Chicago and others to further our sustainability efforts. We have focused on green initiatives during our annual budget planning processes and for the past 10 years have spent approximately $500,000 annually on environmentally friendly initiatives around campus.

We are very proud that the newest building on campus, the Msgr. Andrew J. McGowan building, opened last winter as a new home for the departments of chemistry and environmental science and which has recently been certified Gold LEED. This is the first academic science building in Illinois to receive this certification, a significant achievement given the intensive energy needs of such buildings. This success represents years of planning and collaboration among our facility operations department, science faculty and environmental consultants who developed an effective plan to use locally harvested and manufactured products in construction, reduce the building's energy consumption by a third and limit water usage significantly though a variety of features inside and outside the structure. And we will continue these efforts. As we plan new buildings and begin retro-commissioning existing buildings on our 111-year-old campus, we are committed to practices that will allow us to qualify for additional LEED certification.

These successes and many others demonstrate DePaul University's firm commitment to sustainability. I can assure you that it represents a dedication to the environment that exists at DePaul in the executive office and throughout the university community. DePaul University, its students, faculty and staff will continue working together to find more ways we can help the environment. We hope Sierra will recognize these efforts in the future.
Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M.
President, DePaul University
Chicago, Illinois


While reading the article about environmentally conscious colleges and universities, I was very surprised not to have seen Connecticut College, in New London, on the list of top green schools. I am sure it must have been overlooked as a potential candidate because the green initiatives at the school are bountiful. As a student, I have been involved with many of these initiatives and have become conscious of the many ways that the college attempts to raise student consciousness about the importance of renewable energy, sustainable, healthy agriculture and transportation.

The student-run organic gardening club, SPROUT manages a 7,000-sq.-ft. garden, which produces food for the main dining hall. All the organic wastes from dining services are cycled into large composting machines, which then produces compost to fertilize the SPROUT garden and local farms. "Spokes People," the college's bike shop repairs old bikes that may have otherwise been thrown out and allows students to borrow these bikes free of charge. The Renewable Energy Club hosts several events during freshman orientation to raise awareness about energy usage as well as providing incoming freshmen with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. An independent study project last year resulted in the installation of a small wind turbine at the entrance of the campus which will hopefully lead to a larger system to supplement the school's power needs.

CC also offsets all of its energy usage with renewable-energy sources as a result of a student designed funding initiative. I hope that Connecticut College will not be overlooked in any future articles, as we would certainly like to share what we are doing with others as well as collaborate in other college green initiatives. Thank you for bringing consciousness to the ways we can develop more healthy relationships with the environment in our educational institutions and, as always, in our own lives.
Michael Meade
Connecticut College, '10
Sustainability Major


Good report on the 10 coolest schools in Sierra magazine. But it also got me to thinking about something else, the lottery. Why the lottery? Well I was in a conversation with a guy at work who gets discouraged by all the times environmental associations ask for money. "I wish I could do more," I said. He said, "Yeah, I need to hit the lottery." "I hope you do," I said. But what I didn't tell him is that for myself I've quit playing. I'm getting tired of shelling out losing dollars to scholarships, for younger people, who don't appreciate what the older suckers have done for them.

So if the problem remains that organizations like Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife need money from people to fight for the environment? Why not start their own lotteries? I would feel better about losing money in the lotto if it were for protecting, wolves or polar bears. Or perhaps funding an environmental scholarship?
Dave McElhaney
Albuquerque New Mexico


Your assessment of Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) as among the least "Eco-Enlightened" U.S. universities was poorly researched. The presence of the Coal Research Center on our campus reflects the unfortunate coal mining legacy of our region. It does not define the environmental efforts being made on our campus. Your focus on one research center at the expense of our vast sustainability efforts is both disingenuous and unfair to the many students, faculty, and administrators that have worked tirelessly to make SIUC more environmentally responsible. The SIUC Board of Trustees recently passed a Green Fee that students will pay to support on-campus sustainability programs.

Students recently started the Local Organic Garden Initiative of Carbondale (LOGIC) to bring locally grown organic foods into our residence halls. These are only a few of many changes that have been made at SIUC in recent years. While we recognize that there is a lot of work to do, your assessment of our campus was strongly negative and ultimately hurts our efforts. Until the magazine prints a retraction of this assessment, I will no longer support the Sierra Club or promote the Sierra Club among my peers.
Justin T. Schoof
Assistant Professor
Department of Geography and Environmental Resources
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, Illinois


I'm not a member but I support and endorse the Sierra Club's work. Except when the Club is mistaken, as happens here: SC released its list of the "greenest" colleges, citing reasons each was chosen: Yale and the majority of the top ten were chosen because they reduced their respective carbon footprints by switching to wind and solar power for some of their energy. In so doing, Yale and the others significantly worsened their impacts on global warming. Switching made them a lot less green: According to UN climate data, the two worst greenhouse gases are also the fastest proliferating in our atmosphere. They last hundreds of years and, unlike carbon dioxide, they can't be extracted from the air.

DuPont and its shadow companies produce nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) for making solar panels. According to the UN, it is the second-worst gas (listing its global warming potential at 17,200 times as bad as CO2, with a 740-year atmospheric lifetime. It is also the fastest growing. It may actually cause more climate change than #1 SF6 (discussed below), but those rating the gases count its enormous ozone-layer destruction in its favor: It destroys so much ozone that it would cause global cooling if not for enormous global warming: In other words, its GWP would actually be much worse without these dubious "bonus points" for destroying ozone. NF3 is so dangerous that until recently it was hidden, only made in China. Then it spread to Korea.

Now, if the Sierra Club and everyone else just goes along with the program, its manufacture is coming to North Carolina, the state with the crookedest governor. Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) has twice as high a GWP as NF3: 34,900. It and its byproducts produced during decay are increasing about as fast as NF3. Sulfur hex is used to insulate high-voltage switchgear and transformers. An individual windmill can be clean, if it uses clean materials, but wind farms cannot be clean, because they use tons of SF6.

Its degradation byproducts include horrible greenhouse gases and a horrendous chemical weapon that kills without leaving a trace or a mark. Here I'll quickly list some of those deadly byproducts and details: (1) S5CF3 or Trifluoromethyl sulfur pentafluoride's GWP is 17,700 and its atmospheric lifetime is 800 years; SO2F2 or Sulfuryl Fluoride - GWP 4,780 - AL 630, this is considered the second-fastest growing greenhouse gas; (3) Sulfur pentafluoride/Disulfur decafluoride or S2F10 is the weapon of mass destruction I mentioned - for many decades the US military stockpiled it, but claims it no longer does; (4) Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a short-lasting weak greenhouse gas still much stronger than CO2 - it's insignificant compared to the other behemoths discussed here. The Sierra Club shouldn't feel so bad about being duped: Greenpeace fell for it too, and the Nation, and Mother Jones, and LinkTV.

In fact, environmental organizations and progressive media have unanimously endorsed the solar-and-wind corporate propaganda. Apparently, none of them has even checked out where solar and wind power come from or looked up the statistics. So, Sierra shouldn't feel bad about being fooled - we all were fooled before doing our homework. No, the Sierra Club should instead feel terrible if it hasn't the courage to buck the status quo. Please, do the hour or less of research it takes to know I'm telling you the truth. Then please, if you can muster the courage: Publish the truth about solar v wind. If the world followed Sierra Club's implied recommendation to replace all fossil fuel usage with SF6 & NF3 immediately, all of Earth's glaciers would melt today and humans would soon be extinct, because we were a perfect fit for the climate solar & wind power destroy.

I've written a short booklet that examines each of the greenhouse gases and the mitigation thereof, self-published this week. It's about the length of a Sierra magazine article. My booklet is titled "How to Halt Global Warming This Week AND Pull the Carbon Back Out of the Air." Subtitle: "The Science is in. We have the Technology." It is designed to equip laymen to teach other laymen the facts: What the greenhouse effect is; the greenhouse gases; the fossil fuels and their alternatives; the sources and uses of energy; the solution; appropriate charts showing such aspects as who profits from each destructive process; and a timeline of the history of greenhouse gas generation. I hope you'll use my article or do your own expose on the solar-wind scam. But please, please, stop promoting SF6 & NF3, buck the corporate propaganda, do your homework, print the truth.
Norman Bie
North Amherst, Massachusetts


"All Worked Up"

Thank you for cheering the green economy in "All Worked Up." I was a little disappointed, however, to see the role of organized labor largely absent from the discussion. Many of the building blocks of the green economy are skills our union trades people have been training on for decades. For example, electricians do everything from installing solar photovoltaic to energy-efficient lighting retrofits. Additionally, union apprenticeship programs provide career pathways out of poverty by connecting trainees with good jobs that pay well and have family healthcare and pension retirement benefits. Many in the construction industry are unemployed, struggling to pay mortgages and other critical expenses. Let's put them back to work and heal the planet at the same time!
Micah Mitrosky
Environmental Organizer
IBEW Local 569
San Diego, California


"A Short History of Bright Ideas"

In your otherwise informative article on renewable energy, you grossly understated solar cell efficiency. Current silicon cells average about 12% to 14% efficiency, with many higher. See PV Buyer's Guide, Home Power Magazine, December 2008-January 2009, p. 78, for a comprehensive efficiency listing. Thin film cells are up to 10% and rising. And laboratory efforts such as the one described below blow those numbers away . . . but in the lab. We're getting there. Please don't go backwards on solar by understating where we are!
Bruce Plenk
Tucson, Arizona


I found it very disturbing that geothermal wasn't mentioned in the September/October issue's article.
Mike


On p. 42 appears: " . . .the world's first [2008] commercial tidal power generator." Alas, not so. From Wikipedia or elsewhere: "The Rance tidal power plant (Usine maremotrice de la Rance in French, Stankell vordredan ar Renk in Breton) was opened on the 26th November 1966 and is the world's first electrical generating station powered by tidal energy. It is located on the estuary of the Rance River, in Bretagne, France. It is operated by Electricite de France (EDF)." A project in Portugal began electricity generation in 2006. The project was announced as being powered by waves. This has been disputed by those who claim it actually represents tidal energy.
Gerald (Jerry) Witt
Portland, Oregon


"Parks as Arks"

In reading your fascinating piece "Parks as Arks" in the September/October issue, I was glad to hear that the new nominee for heading the Park Service, Jon Jarvis, is committed to educating the public about the inevitable effects of climate change on wild lands and their inhabitants. Your story discussed many of the key things that need to be done to create resilient habitat and protect wild populations in the face of inevitable climate change. However, your readers should know that we in the Sierra Club are addressing this all-important issue too.

In fact, recently here in Seattle my wife Cathy and I attended a talk on Sierra Club's Resilient Habitats initiative by the Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton. We think Resilient Habitats is quite simply one of the most important initiatives Sierra Club has undertaken, and we'd like more people to know about what those initiatives are and how to get involved. Doubtless we already have plans to work with the National Parks through the Resilient Habitats initiative. I hope an upcoming issue of Sierra will spotlight this.
Jake Jaramillo


"Spout" (September/October)

Bob Sipchen makes an enormous error in "It's Fun to Move Fast"). The Tesla Roadster is notemission-free as he states. Those batteries have to be recharged using electricity from a coal burning, pollutant spewing power generating station. And the lithium in those many batteries has to come from one of the unstable South American countries - trading oil dependence for lithium dependence!
Kermit Heid
Salt Lake City, Utah


I feel that I must write in defense of the hilarious and yet sadly true article "Half Dumb." While it is wonderful that people show an interest and love of nature, questions such as the ones mentioned in the article come from willing ignorance; they are not just newbie questions (e.g., What type of tree is this?). I took the article with me while visiting my friends who have lived in Yosemite West for 25+ years, and they enjoyed (and could relate to it) very much!
Margaret Hinebaugh
Santa Clara, California


The photo contest winner's picture in your National Park Photo Contest is unreal. Really! At sunset, the sky colors and the shadows on Delicate Arch that were depicted would not exist in nature--only in Photoshop.
Mark Wilcox
Bull Valley. Illinois


"Create" (September/October)

I am a member of the club, and have been interested in weather for nearly all of my life. I believe in the goals of the Sierra Club, and, when I was younger, almost considered John Muir as kind of a mentor. I think I'm now older than what John Muir lived to be, though I'm not sure (I'm 63, soon 64). I have a bachelor's degree in geography from Chico State University. I read Carl Pope's statement on global warming, and, although we could all well afford to get more green (both kinds, in my case!), and we need to preserve the environment, curb population growth, work for peace, and outlaw war and all WMDs, I have a real problem with the science behind Mr. Pope's analysis of AGW.

What is his training in atmospheric science, I wonder? It's all well and good to go to Copenhagen to make dramatic changes in environmental policy, but---! To my knowledge, "soot" is not a greenhouse gas, nor is the substance that produces it, smoke! It can certainly make the air and, eventually, the land dirty, but it does not cause global warming. If anything, due to dimming of the sun, it causes cooling! Same thing with volcanic ash from our nearby Cascade, and other, volcanic eruptions. It can make a frightful mess, make people sick, but tends to make the climate cooler, not warmer! It's perfectly common sensical, besides.

But that's not all I need to say, at this point. I don't really believe in the theory of anthropogenic global warming, although it's all the latest rage on the environmental bandwagon. Horsepockey, I say! This theory seems to hinge on whether one believes that an incremental increase in a trace atmospheric gas (carbon dioxide) can actually cause global warming of any significance, whatsoever. I, along with a growing number of honorable skeptics (not directly affiliated with Rush Limbaugh or Sen. Inhofe), remain to be convinced of that. And both methane and nitrous oxide, along with a variety of other more difficult to spell substances, are so rare in occurrence that it strains credulity to even make them a part of the global warming debate!

Well, as a member of some years (and my parents were before me, as well as several relatives now, I believe), I want the Club, as well as Al Gore, to know that the debate on this topic may only be beginning. Perhaps there are even several other members who even agree with me, though I have not heard from them. And, I'm not sure how long I can remain a member of the Club, in all good conscience, if the leadership continues with this charade of man-caused global warming. If you think I'm wrong about this subject, somebody needs to present me with some rational understandable (remember, I only have 4-year college degree!) scientific evidence.
John W. Castor
Paradise, California


"Enjoy" (September/October)

Please get really serious about cereal, Sierra! By praising high-priced and highly processed and packaged feel-good sweets (OK, some of your tasters said "not too sweet," which only proves the point), your "Serious Cereal" piece in the September/October issue encourages a way-too-consumptive and unhealthy lifestyle. May I recommend . . . uncooked oatmeal (rolled oats are steamed, already cooked), organically grown, minimally processed and bought in bulk (in my reusable packaging) from the local natural food store. Together with organic and/or locally produced, if possible, milk and fruit (we grow most of our own; backyard blueberries are possible for almost anyone, anywhere).
Jim Allen
Lanett Alabama


The least expensive, tastiest and most nutritious cereal I'm aware of is the granola I make with over 20 ingredients. Kept dry, it lasts forever and has sustained me on numerous backpacking and climbing adventures. I'm retired now, and it serves as the morning cereal of choice.
Arnold Kelson
Papillion (Omaha), Nebraska


I hate to be a troublemaker again--I did get Mr. Green going a few months ago about bathtub water usage--but I do have to agree with Kendric Smith, September/October. The cereals you listed in "Serious Cereals" were just as esoteric and difficult to get as the energy bars he found so objectionable, and they were full of sugar. The very best cereal is easily available at any grocery store and reasonably priced: Fiber One. One half cup has 14 grams of fiber and zero grams of sugar! It's been strongly recommended by both my cardiologist and my endocrinologist.

So tell your readers finding a great cereal is as easy as going to the nearest market. And note that all the new Fiber One products are just as sugar-filled and fiber-less as all those other garbage products. Only original Fiber One has the outstanding qualities I mentioned. But thanks for trying to help us find good products--some of them are right next door.
Bonni Weinstein
Carmel, California


Regarding your cereal ratings: I can't compare in my head choices like $8 for 12 oz., $3.99 for 13.25 oz., about $3 for 17.5 oz., about $7 for 16 oz., and about $5 for 12.35 oz. So unless you meant this as an exercise for schoolchildren, please do what stores have done for decades--use unit pricing. Such as (for the first choice) 66 cents/oz. or $10.66/lb.
Gabriel Goldberg
Falls Church, Virginia


I was appalled that NASCAR racing--whose sole function is global warming for the sake of recreational speed--could be portrayed as environmentally progressive. And on the cover no less. What a horrible message to send to the millions of eco-blind NASCAR enthusiasts, who will only find a way to rationalize their SUVs and imagine that buying carbon offsets (or acres of rainforest) is a fundamental solution to greenhouse gas emissions. What are we celebrating next? ATVs made of recycled metal? The virtues of hybrid jet skis? Shame, shame, shame.
Douglas Allchin
St Paul, Minnesota


Mathematically challenged? I agree that spam is a continuing problem that needs to be addressed. However your little piece titled "Spamming the Globe" in the September/October magazine leaves me wondering about the numbers. Supposedly "Americans got 62 trillion junk emails in 2008," spent "three seconds to review and delete a spam message" and "collectively spent 100 billion aggravating hours per year shedding unwanted emails". But 62 trillion times 3 seconds does equal approximately 60 billion hours per year.

However, under the assumption that 100 million U. S. computers receive lots of unwanted spam (my computer and those of many other users receive almost no spam), the numbers cited above work out to ~2000 spam messages per day for each of the 100 million computers and ~20 hours per week spent deleting these messages! My guess is that your numbers are off by a factor of 100 or so (20 spam messages per day) and therefore the electricity wasted might power 24,000 homes, not 2.4 million.
Ken Gillen
Albuquerque, New Mexico


After years of promoting train travel as a more environmentally sound mode of transportation, your Grapevine column says that train travel may be as bad as the environment as air travel. Do you expect us on face value to accept this? If you think this is true, I would like to see an in-depth piece spelling out how this was calculated. My first impression is that this is a greatly oversimplified statement and strikes me as irresponsible.
Lawrence Uman
Reston, Virginia


"Train travel may be as bad as airplane travel on the environment." And that's all it says. If I recall correctly, planes are the worst. And now we learn after all these years of lobbying for them that trains are that bad. I should abandon Amtrak and BART and the Muni Metro LRVs and CalTrain? We spent all that time lobbying for high-speed rail from SF to LA, and for naught? Time to buy another car and abandon my commute strategy? "Train travel may be as bad as airplane travel on the environment." If it's true, I'd like to know it. If it's true only of some segment of train travel, you sure threw a wrench in all of it with that generalization!
Ron Lichty
San Francisco, California


The Grapevine section says, "Train travel may be as bad as airplane travel on the environment." I have always read that train travel is much better for the environment and have tried to use trains for vacation travel instead of flying. What is the source of the quoted statement and what are conditions to which the statement applies?
Jo Ann Scott
Washington, DC


"Innovate" (September/October)

In the "Innovate" section of the September/October issue, fuel-saving practices of airline flying were highlighted. Although Dave Pflieger may certainly deserve credit for his personal dedication to green practices, I hope your readers don't get the impression that Virgin America is breaking any new ground with things such as single-engine taxi, CD approaches, reduced APU usage, etc. Although I've been retired from a legacy major airline for 4 years, I recall implementing those same practices more than 10 years ago. In fact, one could easily make the case that Virgin America's introduction of 20-30 new airplanes to serve already heavily trafficked air routes is the antithesis of green.
David Gorrell
Park City, Utah


As a retired pilot for a major US carrier, I would like to point out that the feature "Innovate/Friendlier Skies" may have unintentionally given your readers the wrong impression. Contrary to your "Pilots are learning ...," pilots have known for as long as I can remember that in a jet aircraft, a stepped descent wastes fuel. The "traditional stepped descent," as you call it, is a result of the inefficiencies of our outdated air traffic control system, and not the way the descent and approach would be conducted if it were left up to the pilot. The Flight Management Computer (FMC) in today's aircraft indicate a top of descent (t/d) point at which a descent can be made to the destination airport at or near idle power to the final approach fix (usually about 5 miles from the airport).

Unfortunately at some of our busier airports, the arriving aircraft are forced to commence their descent sometimes as much as 100 (or more) miles prior to the FMC computed t/d. Ever since the fuel crisis in the '70s, pilots have been using every possible safe procedure to reduce fuel consumption. Ultimately, what is needed is a major overhaul of the air traffic control system. The carrier I flew for has used single-engine taxiing, reduced-thrust takeoffs, lower cruising speeds and ground based electricity for years. Virgin America is merely following their good example. Incidentally, Virgin America is a scam aimed at bypassing our laws, which make it illegal for foreign-owned domestic carriers to operate in the United States. But that's for a whole other letter.
Joel Vignere
Lakeside, Montana


I was very dismayed to see the "Innovate" section of the September/October Sierra magazine. Providing space to a member of the airline industry may require giving space for a friendlier coal company in the next issue. We all know however there is no such thing as friendly coal. The airline industry is close behind coal as an unsustainable industry. But for the Sierra Club the issue is closer to home.

The only favorite national park listed by Sierra staff that is not harmed by the airline industry is Mammoth Cave. Anyone that has visited the other wonderful parks have surely noticed the hoped for peace and quiet shattered by the whine and grind of jet engines. I live in rural Kentucky and suffer more than a thousand jet over flights each day and night. I contacted the FAA and was politely informed that there are no flights over this area. A congressman's staff member was told the same thing.

As it turns out these matters of peace and quiet may be important to the public at large and require relief from the air transport industry. Your article did not mention how serious human health issues are directly created and worsened by the airline industry. I summarize a press release for a study recently completed in Europe and provide reference to the study as follows: "Noise is not only a nuisance, it can also cause illness. People who are exposed to night-time aircraft noise often have higher blood pressure levels than those living in quieter areas. Even an increase of the night-time noise level by 10 decibels [dB(A)] in noise level ranges between 30 and 60 [dB(A)] raises the risk of hypertension in men and women by about 14 percent." [Note:10 dba is the sound of a baby's breath / 30 dba is a quiet whisper in a library / 60 dba is a normal conversation at 3 feet / decibel tables are online] "A study found statistically significant effects on Blood Pressure of night-time aircraft noise.

Hypertension is an important independent risk factor for myocardial infarction and stroke, and the increased risk of hypertension in relation to aircraft noise demonstrated in our study may therefore contribute to the burden of cardiovascular disease." "Hypertension is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and even a small contribution in risk from environmental factors may have a major impact on public health." Full report and links for the above can be found at http://www.umweltbundesamt.de/uba-info-presse-e/2008/pe08-003.htm The above report of findings was released in January 2008. The report quoted above indicates an average 14% rise in blood pressure with an increase of aircraft noise of 10 dba where household levels are between 30 and 60 dba. 10 dba is nearly imperceptible.

According to the report referenced above blood pressure increases as sound levels increase. The health implications are staggering. It has been conclusively established that this industry is known to cause cardiovascular disease, strokes and other deadly diseases in large portions of the population. Another interesting fact to consider when you are walking the Grand Canyon or other favorite trail: general aviation planes still use leaded fuel. You may remember the requirement to convert cars to unleaded fuel and why. Lead is extremely dangerous to the human brain and body.

What an effort it must have been to pass legislation to remove lead from automobile fuels. But not general aviation. Remember this the next time one buzzes over your organic garden. Or your child. Jets burn a low quality version of kerosene in tremendous quantities and the contrails contribute significantly to greenhouse warming. As a citizen of Kentucky and the world I sincerely appreciate progress the Sierra Club has accomplished regarding coal and mountaintop removal. I ask this wonderful group to consider the airline industry as a similar threat. Please let me know if I can be of help to you on this matter.
Phillip Gilbert
Disputanta, Kentucky


"Grapple" (September/October)

I was excited to see the handsome portrait of the thick-billed parrot on p. 20 of your September issue. I have been following the fortunes of the endangered thick-billed parrot for many years now. They are still very much endangered, but these are hopeful times for their conservation. I wish you had included some addresses or web sites where one can learn more about thick-billed parrots and to contribute to conservation efforts. Besides Pronatura Noreste, the Wildlands Project, and the World Parrot Trust have also contributed money and land for research and conservation of these wonderful birds.
Daniel Griggs
Chico, California


Can you please explain this statement from Paul Rauber? "Elsewhere in the North Atlantic, wild sheep on the Scottish island of Hirta are shrinking because winters are no longer harsh enough to kill off little lambs." Because more lambs are surviving, the sheep are becoming smaller? When more lambs were dying, the sheep were bigger? I really don't understand!
Betty Speyer


1. Here is a suggestion to improve the readability of Sierra magazine-which we love. We are boomers and find fine print impossible to read-and colored print is exponentially harder to read than black letters on white or cream paper. As advanced technical writing teachers, we urge you to save color for large print, graphics, and images. A perfect example of difficulty in seeing colored print is found on your latest Sierra page 19, titled "Up to Speed: Two Months, One Page." The most crucial information is colored and very hard for us to make out.

2. We are going paperless. In that vein, we want to receive Sierra on line-and not a paper copy. I didn't see a section on your web site for e-subscription. Could you please make this happen? For the sake of all trees, please make it obvious on your site for us computer dinosaurs to request Sierra by email.
Gregory and Linda Clark
Provo, Utah


Subject: Dude, Where's My Carbon Bill? That so many Democrats are against or lukewarm to bills that reduce global worming should be no surprise. The carbon emitting powers have funded their elections, even as they wreak havoc on their respective states However, there is a solution in the House known as the Fair Elections Now bill, HR 1826. This is taken from the ideas of Public Campaign, which has worked so well in Maine and Arizona for state elections. This is a form of voluntary agreement by candidates to agree to limit their fund raising in exchange for adequate government funding.

The Sierra Club has long sought a legal method, realizing that citizen groups such as ours could never compete in the market place of ideas if our voice was drowned out by corporate funded elections. We had e-mail, listservs and debated in our various states. In California we now have a similar bill called the Fair Elections Act to start the process with the Secretary of State's office if the initiative supporting it passes. It behooves every Sierran to get behind HR 1826 and similar state bills if we want to save the planet.
Emil Lawton
Sherman Oaks, California


I am writing on behalf of AMD concerning the "Spoils of War" article seen and wanted to get in touch about correcting the last sentence in the story that is not factually correct. I see that the reporter for the story is Paul Tullis, but was unable to locate his contact information. If you have his contact information and he would be best to approach on this, please let me know. The last sentence states, "While the world awaits the first gorilla-safe (and conflict-free) cell phone, Advanced Micro Devices has unveiled its latest computer chip: the "Congo." The term "Congo" was just the code name before the product launch that happened on September 10. And Congo referred to the actual platform we announced, not the chip, so that part is incorrect as well.

The name of the platform is called "Second Generation Ultra Thin Platform for Notebooks." We don't refer to the code name any longer and ask that it's not used to refer to this platform that is now launched. Here's a statement on the use of AMD internal code names for notebook platforms. Info: AMD uses names of rivers for code-names of its notebook platforms; examples include "Tigris," "Yukon," and "Nile." "Congo" refers to the river that runs through multiple countries in Africa, not the Republic of Congo, and is the internal code name for AMD's second-generation ultrathin notebook platform. "Congo" is not a marketing term that will be used to brand the final product once launched.

Additionally, it is important to note that AMD has a strong track record of contributing to good works in Africa, including leading initiatives such as the 50x15 Foundation http://50x15.amd.com/en-us/sol_results_diepsloot.aspx.
Melanie Terbeek
Bite Communications
San Francisco, California


"Bulletin" (September/October)

Rather than patting itself on the back for successfully supporting the passage of the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act, I think the Sierra Club should be urging the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to abandon fire suppression completely except in cases of severe threat to life and property.
Joel Wechsler
Lincoln, Massachusetts


"Last Words" (September/October)

There I was reading the last page of the September/October issue, and one of the comics on the "Last Words" page hit home. It's the one where the parents are enjoying a grand vista at a viewpoint, while the kids are in the back of the car watching a movie on a TV screen. Sad to say I've actually seen this, in person! Several years ago my wife and I took a side trip to Crater Lake NP, and at one of the viewpoints I looked over at an SUV, and there in the back seats were two kids, each watching their own movie. And the parents? Out on the viewpoint. These kids were the at the age when our children could not wait to get out of the car and take in the view, or go for a hike. If we can't get today's' kids out of the car and into the outdoors, then we're in big trouble.
John Powell
Downey, California

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