More Readers Spout Off Web only!
The cover photo on the November/December edition of Sierra was taken on a ski run just outside of our backcountry ski lodge, Powder Creek Lodge, in the Purcell Mountains in British Columbia, Canada. One doesn't have to jump off cliffs to ski at Powder. We provide deluxe backcountry accommodation and a range of services for all levels of backcountry skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers. The lodge is off-grid, employs sustainable practices, and utilizes both solar and hydroelectric power sources.
We are committed to offering a top-notch experience to our guests while preserving this area for all to enjoy. We invite you and your readers to learn more about Powder Creek Lodge. We hope to share pristine vistas, dry powder, and good fun with you in the future.
Guus Diks and Heather Smith
Owners, Powder Creek Lodge
If Peter Frick-Wright wants low-carbon transport, he should avoid taking Amtrak, especially a long-distance train like the Empire Builder, with its energy-consuming amenities like compartments, lounge and dining cars. It turns out that Amtrak uses just as many Btus per passenger mile on average as air carriers (once the energy associated with all-cargo carriers is properly accounted for).
John T. Harding
Palm Springs, California
Why do people do things to endanger their lives and other people's jobs?
Mr. Peter Frick-Wright, your photo on page 31 is a heartbreaker. I have already gotten calls from my friends pointing out how my "liberal treehugging" magazine is endangering lives and jobs. The photo of a skier cutting through a standing train is bad enough, but to point out it is "frowned-upon" is the topper.
Ever try skiing with one leg? Or a stump—you keep this up and you will. As a railroader for 23 years, trains can move any time, any place. I could send you articles from newspapers about kids losing legs while cutting through or under trains, but you should know that.
The topper is that you point out it is bad! Why didn't the editor of Sierra point it out and delete the photo? Now I am sure the BNSF railroad police are already on the site at Essex hassling the lodge owner and issuing $300 trespass tickets. And worst of all, is there not a bridge installed just for this purpose!
Use the bridge or lose a leg.
As a railroad photographer I have enough trouble avoiding and arguing with RR police over where I can take a photo. Some still think train plane and boat photography is illegal since 9/11. I don't need photos like this giving them reason to hassle me.
So Mr. Wright, play and work safe and practice safe skiing. The editor should check photos better.
Yikes! For me, your editors totally blew an entertaining article by including the picture on page 30 ("taking a frowned-upon shortcut to the trails"). Having had an acquaintance with a recent terrible accident when the train suddenly jerked and rolled—your choice to use this picture at all was startling, and your "frowned-upon" title was not nearly severe enough.
"Promise on the Prairie"
We were very pleased to see the article "Promise on the Prairie," featuring the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago (BGCC). Sierra Club is proud to partner with this excellent organization serving youth throughout Chicago.
Your readers should know that the conservation outings described are actually a joint venture between the volunteers of Sierra Club's Inner City Outings (ICO) and Building Bridges to the Outdoors (BBTO). Ever since General Woods Boys and Girls Club's first visit to Ted Stone Preserve, ICO volunteers have been there, coordinating, keeping the youths well fed and happy, and offering the one-on-one support vital to the success of this project. With BBTO grant support, BGCC has been able to greatly expand its outdoor program. Its staff know that ICO is always there with material and personal assistance to make the youths' experience as productive and memorable as possible.
ICO runs several programs like this around the Chicagoland area, working with a variety of community groups to help improve the forest preserves and inspire the youths who work in them. ICO's partnership with BBTO exemplifies what is best about the Sierra Club—a winning combination of committed volunteers, staff and targeted funding. By introducing underserved youths to the rewards of nature and service, we are helping create the environmental leaders of tomorrow.
Colin Tysoe, Chair, Chicago ICO
Doug Chien, BBTO Field Representative
Your continuing anti-urban bias is increasingly disturbing. May I point out that the average carbon footprint of a typical Vermonter is four times that of a New York City resident.
Take the article "Promise on the Prairie." It says offhandedly that "91,000 people are crammed into four square miles." The statement should have been: "Due to unwise zoning decisions, the 91,000 people in the four square miles of South Lawndale live in crowded, rather than dense, conditions." (And with your mind-set, there is no guarantee even that is true, but let's assume.)
Because it is a fact: density is a physical aspect, while a feeling of crowding is one's reaction to it, so they're not the same. So 34 persons per acre need not necessarily imply crowding. Your attitude, if left unchecked, implies that you might prefer sprawl; that you prefer Los Angeles over San Francisco.
As a more enlightened policy (and what happened to your urban initiative?) you should carefully check all articles that cavalierly apply the throwaway philosophy to cities, where so much energy has been already invested.
Every so often, Sierra will have an article bemoaning the fact that the "green" movement is largely "white" in its ethnic makeup, and how the Sierra Club is reaching out by inviting inner-city kids to hike in the woods.
However, we should also be concerned about the negative effect that this racial imbalance has had on environmental activism. Take international trade and travel, for example. Some environmentalists seem downright gleeful at the prospect of a localized, anti-globalized, un-international future. However, what about those of us who have family and friends on both sides of the Pacific? For some, access to international products is an issue of cultural significance. It's not just about imported coffee beans; it's about preserving ethnic heritage.
For multicultural environmentalists such as myself, a future without worldwide travel would be a bleak and devastating one.
"Solving the Climate Puzzle"
Thank you for the "Climate Puzzle" article by Paul Rauber. A nice job of condensing most of the major environmental climate problems. Unfortunately there was one major puzzle piece left out, though it was mentioned indirectly. That major puzzle piece was population control. It may not be politically correct to address this major problem, but I thought the Sierra Club was able to move beyond PC and forthrightly deal with real problems. The continually expanding human population is unsustainable—period. Energy and information must also be directed to the need to reduce the number of babies being brought into the world. It must be labeled as a problem as great, or greater than boosting the mpg of automobiles, improving biofuels, etc. To not do so is to ignore your responsibility as a major player in environmental issues.
Hmmmmm. Bill McKibben says that addressing global climate change is "the biggest problem humans ever faced." Immediate action is needed. However, developing nations like China insist that, first, they want to increase their energy use in order to bring millions of people out of poverty. What's the solution? Move human rights concerns to the top of the agenda and make "energy justice" the goal. Environmentalists and human rights advocates can work together to provide all people, in all places, with an adequate supply of energy that is safe, affordable, and sustainable. Not too much energy, because global warming is a problem, but, please, not too little energy in the places where more energy is needed. By demonstrating some concern for the poor and their immediate energy needs, environmentalists can win new allies who will help stop change climate. What's the alternative?
I would like to see your science on overfishing of halibut. I fish halibut commercially in the gulf of Alaska and have for 30 years. The fishery has been well regulated since the late 1800s (International Pacific Halibut Commission). Before you destroy the domestic halibut market with false info, please do a little more research. If you have some new info I'm not aware of please forward.
Isn't it funny how so many "environmentalists" have an obsession over CO2 and at the same time have a bloodlust for meat? The single most effective thing any individual can do to combat climate change is to go vegan or vegetarian (while eating local and organic). Methane (produced by cows) is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than C02, and there are numerous studies that prove so. There's also the tremendous amount of pollution, energy, deforestation, food and water that goes into meat production. Every issue should have at least a half-page of solutions and at the top should be going vegan or at least vegetarian. There comes a point in time where talking the talk just doesn't cut it.
Morristown, New Jersey
As a long-term researcher and government official working to reduce the flow of mercury into the environment, I was very bothered by the article and "Mercury Survival Guide" in the November-December issue of Sierra (page 50).
While power plants are a significant and obvious source of mercury emissions to the environment, they are not the largest. A study that I participated on with the Wisconsin DNR and the US EPA found that mercury in products contributes an estimated 3 times the amount of mercury to the environment that power plants do. Thus, power plants make up less than 25% of the man-made mercury the goes into the environment in the US. (There are, of course, other sources, such as vehicle exhausts, and sources from nature.)
I have heard some argue that the majority of mercury from products goes into landfills and is thus not comparable to that from the stacks of power plants. I must disagree. Not only is metallic mercury released to the air from landfills, but even the current, "dry-tomb" landfills release both mono- and di-methyl mercury. And, I believe that the release of methylated mercury from landfills will dramatically increase as landfill techniques move towards leachate recirculation and other "bio-reactor" landfill systems, designed to accelerate the decomposition of organic material. I think that the Sierra Club's approach must be broadened to put much more attention towards the mercury from products. There are already extensive, industry-funded systems to collect and recover this mercury, but local efforts for collection need to be expanded and mercury-containing products should be banned from both landfills and incinerators.
I think that the current "Mercury Survival Guide" should be not be distributed until it is updated to include products. While power plants are well recognized point sources of mercury and controls are being developed, the mercury from products is akin to being a diffuse non-point source, but one for which solutions exist today.
I would be glad to share the Excel file with the data on mercury from products and work with the Club to add this component to its mercury-reduction efforts.
I am extremely disappointed in the simplistic and misleading explanation of the tradeoff between food and biofuels that appears in the article titled "Biofuels: Reverse Alt-Energy Insanity." To state that "When biofuel crops displace food crops, people don't stop eating, so more forest or grassland is cleared for agriculture. (To the extent that it isn't, more people will starve--an even unhappier outcome.)" is egregiously misleading, and extremely disappointing from an organization like the Sierra Club. The fact of the matter is the United States grossly overproduces food and dumps the excess on poor countries, which become dependent on our cheap, low-quality, nonorganic food. This is also part of the reason why Americans overeat.
To state that displacing food crops necessarily leads to either food shortages or more farming is a gross simplification, and one that causes voters and policy-makers to take a very negative view of biofuels. In reality, the agriculture industry in the U.S. has benefited from huge direct and indirect subsidies from the federal government, including subsidies routed through the petroleum industry, which lower the cost of fertilizer, pesticide, and transportation.
As a result, whenever the price of petroleum spikes like it did in 2006, the price of food increases significantly and people in poor countries starve. The extent to which biofuel crops have displaced food crops thus far is not even close to being a large enough proportion of the whole to actually reduce the food supply, or increase the cost of food. We have fluctuations in the price of petroleum to thank for that. So, instead of blaming human starvation on the displacement of food crops, it would be great if the Sierra Club got on the right side of this issue, and started to recognize that the petroleum industry is sponsoring propaganda that you seem to have bought into.
The bigger issue is this: how do we allow the cost of food and petroleum to reach their natural market values, including externalities, without leading to mass starvation? The motivation for doing so is obvious—biofuels and other substitutes for petroleum become much more economically viable when the true costs of making gasoline and diesel fuel are factored in. And, once the cost of the low-quality food being produced by the U.S. agribusiness industry finds its real market value, farmers in poor countries will start farming again and ween themselves off their addiction to cheap food from the U.S.
These are all complicated issues, and we seem to have legislated ourselves into quite a fix—if we take away subsidies to the oil and gas industry, raising the price of petroleum fuel, we cause hardship in the U.S. and starvation elsewhere. If we don't take away the subsidies, we maintain our addiction to oil, and keep greener alternatives from becoming economically viable. We cause cancer and infertility in the vicinity of petroleum refineries around the world, spend trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on military intervention to maintain our oil supply, and further exacerbate the greenhouse effect, which is rapidly destroying ecosystems, threatening water supplies, and causing droughts, ultimately leading to . . . mass starvation.
If you have a plan to get us out of this mess, I think Congress and the White House could use your help right now.
Thank you for your work to help preserve our environment.
Hello from a long time reader, member, and volunteer. Below is a letter-to-the-editor I am submitting in response to the essay titled "Biofuels: Reverse Alt-Energy Insanity" in the November/December issue's article "Solving the Climate Puzzle: One Piece at a Time":
In terms of grammar and sentence structure, what purpose do parentheses serve?
Parentheses are used to relegate text to subordinate status, a place to stow words which a writer or editor deems not terribly important or relevant to the topic at hand (like these here which do nothing more than illustrate my point).
In "Biofuels: Reverse Alt-Energy Insanity," Sierra grudgingly devotes just 13 words out of a total of 386 to the apparently irrelevant possibility that crop-based ethanol poses an ethical dilemma in a world where over a billion people go hungry. And, as if devoting just 3% of the article to ethics was not a sufficient testament to its insignificance, the 13-word sentence was relegated to the "ignore this" status of parentheses.
It is exactly this kind of flippant attitude which earns environmentalists the reputation of being soulless, self-absorbed elitists who are concerned about life in an abstract, outdoorsy, Whitman sense, but not in a concrete human sense.
Aside from the Iraq war, crop-based ethanol was the biggest boondoggle of the Bush years. And, the worst aspect is not its impact on water use or CO2, but rather its impact on hungry humans. National Geographic has more moral courage than Sierra, and weighed in on the issue in June 2009, stating, "The corn used to make a 25 gallon tank of ethanol would feed one person for a year" and "Federal mandates for corn-based ethanol soaked up 30% of the 2008 US crop, helping send corn prices over $8 a bushel last year - triple the 2005 price...such 'agflation' hits the poorest billion people on the planet hardest, since they typically spend 50%-70% of their income on food."
I invite each reader now to close your eyes, clear out all of your obsessive, CO2-clogged thoughts, and imagine for a moment how you might explain to a starving Sudanese refugee that you just burned 40 pounds of corn to buy some really cute towels from the outlet mall.
I read your November/December magazine, and I am very concerned about coal ash. However, you have not addressed the most toxic results from coal ash. In Western PA, coal ash is called "anti-skid material" and used all winter on township roads. This toxic ash is ground up by vehicles on the roads, and when the roads are dry, every vehicle that uses the roads sends a cloud of toxic dust into the air. This dust goes into your car, house, and lungs. All of the children are exposed to this dust when they are waiting for the school bus. The township officials claim, "We have always used ash." They have no idea how many people suffer from asthma, emphysema, cancer and other respiratory ailments. Will you please address this, which, in my mind, is the most serious negative result of coal ash. Thank you.
John W. Nichols
You correctly identified a number of positive steps that address climate change, but you failed to mention the factor that underlies virtually all causes of climate degradation: human population. With an expected increase of 3 billion people before leveling off, and the aspirations for a better lifestyle among people in developing countries, the pressure on the earth's climate and resources might be impossible to stop. Until we gracefully learn how to limit our numbers and consumption, the climate puzzle will be insoluble.
Please get over your fascination of movie stars and their Priuses.
Please consider other aspects of their excessive lifestyles as outlined in the news story below in your stories. You could they drive their Prius but fly in their private jets and live in 20,000-square-foot homes to balance your story.
It is suggested to "hop on a bike" instead of using an automobile. With the way drivers drive today and the authorities not enforcing the speed limit and with bike lanes erratically designed, you put your life on the asphalt getting out there in the traffic.
St. Petersburg, Florida
The otherwise interesting and accurate article "Solving the Climate Puzzle One Piece at a Time" left out one huge piece of the puzzle: population growth.
How population did not even rate one piece of the puzzle, much less a large one, is beyond me.
Sooner or later all environmental organizations will be discussing population growth in an honest and mature fashion. I just wish it would be sooner.
The article "Solving the Climate Puzzle" offered a number of good suggestions, but it lacked the single most important piece of the puzzle that we need to solve climate change and every other environmental challenge we face: control human population growth. As long as we continue to pretend for political and religious reasons that overpopulation does not exist, we will never solve the myriad environmental, social, economic, and political problems that it creates or exacerbates.
I must take exception to your statement that "you don't need to sweat the cow farts." A recent U.N. study projected that the world's livestock alone account for 18% of all greenhouse gases, exceeding all forms of transportation combined. America urgently needs to reform our current regime of industrial agriculture in order to mitigate climate change.
The "Big Picture" solutions to the climate puzzle in your November/December 2009 issue were unfortunately small, 2009 parts to just one piece of the larger need to limit humankind's effect upon the environment. Your magazine pointed to many other long-term trends that also need reversing. Rather than trying to individually solve this one major current portion, we should look at our system of how individuals are lead to make decisions.
The problem, as first explained to me nearly 30 years ago in graduate school at Stanford University, is that our economic system—the tax portion in particular—is not set up so that individual consumers bear the true cost of their "free market" decisions. For example, the gas tax does not lead to the individual addressing many of the local road costs, as well as failing to include the noise and localized air pollution, and global warming impacts of burning a gallon of gas in their car.
However, if the economic system did, people would burn less gas through better commute mode choices such as having a better auto occupancy. "I'll meet you there" would be replaced by "I'll pick you up and let's go together" as a phase in our vocabulary once the full cost of driving separately was borne by each decision maker (citizen). The free market is very rational, but must not have the adverse consequences of action subsidized away from the decision makers through a free tailpipe into the atmosphere. The reductions in vehicle miles traveled due to recent rises in gas prices is a perfect example of economics working to the environments advantage.
I have helped formulate many transportation demand management programs for institutions in the Los Angeles area and know by experience that when commuters must bear the true costs of their using a parking space—many spaces now cost $50,000 to construct—they are much less likely to drive alone. Rather, transit, bicycles, vanpools, or at least carpools begin to look much more relatively attractive. Economics, not only in theory but also in practice, is the strongest incentive for individuals to make rational decisions. It is way past time for us to reform our tax system so we are not subsidizing decisions, which impose a huge cost on the common good (the environment in which we all must live).
In summary, I would recommend to the Sierra Club and all world citizens that we work through our government systems in order to include environmental costs in our fuel taxes. By that change we would no longer be subsidizing fuel consumption and other environmentally adverse choices, but instead would be rationalizing consumers' free market choices. If tax system changes are not the only solution needed, at least it would be a major long-term—true big picture—step in the right direction towards humankind, through individuals, making wise choices.
Marina del Rey, California
Paul Rauber's statement, "The biggest step the United States can take to curb global warming is to make all new cars and trucks go farther on a gallon of gas" (p. 47) sounds more like it came from an auto industry rep than from an environmentalist. To curb global warming in the short term, the U.S. could increase gasoline taxes, as Norway has, lower the speed limit, as President Carter did, or charge hefty fees for driving into downtown areas, as London does. Long term, even fuel efficient cars use a lot of energy. Rather than investing in replacing existing cars, it would be much more energy efficient to invest in mass transit and in making cities more bike friendly.
I recently read of Bob Sipchen's exhilarating ride in a Tesla Roadster of the Sierra Club magazine. I applaud you for having fun in these times of environmental and economic woes. In the words of Wendell Berry, "Be joyful though you have considered all the facts." I do, however, take issue with your suggestion that riding in an electric vehicle is guilt-free and emissions free. I am one of those Sierra Club readers who cluck "Shame on your for getting giddy about a car that costs more than 50,000 $2 bus tickets." The reason is not because it's necessarily a car or that it's new technology, but you're mistaken in your suggestion that electric vehicles are emissions free—and moreover, you're doing a disservice to the environmental community for such short-sighted proclamations.
The fact is, while your individual Tesla is emissions free, the coal power plant that is responsible for charging your Tesla certainly is not. While in theory, an electric vehicle could be powered by renewable energy, they currently are not, nor, if we shift all our vehicles to electric power, would the huge amounts of energy required be all that green. It's a very complex problem and not readily solvable en masse. There are always costs involved and an energy mix for supporting mass switching to electric vehicles will require all energy forms—nuclear, coal and certainly renewables.
So, next time you're in for a little fun, consider jumping on a zippy road bicycle. You could shave a few pounds off your waist, get the wind-blown look, and put a huge grin on your face—and be emissions free. Please consider for your next issue to debunk your emissions free calculations—and maybe suggest other ways to enjoy nature. The roads depicted behind your Tesla on Mt. Tamalpais look really inviting for a fast road ride!
Former Chair, Sprawl and Transportation Committee
Indian Peaks Group
The agate slices on page 9 of the November/December 2009 issue have also been dyed. Agates aren't absorbent and would make lousy coasters anyway.
I saw your article on coffee and I was shocked to see not one shade tree coffee mentioned. Buying other coffees kills birds, which need canopy habitat. Audubon has excellent shade tree coffee, as does Counter Culture Coffee. And while we're at it, organic bananas also have a powerful positive impact on birds, bats, and other wildlife since other banana's are grown with high usage of pesticides. Let's speak with the power of the buck!
John M. Roberts
In your article entitled "Sustained Buzz" you neglected to list one of the most innovative and inspiring individuals in the organic coffee world—Dean Cycon of Dean's Beans.
Years ago, Dean founded a company that only purchase beans from small farmers and cooperatives, largely made up of indigenous peoples working hard to maintain their culture and lifestyles in an often-hostile world. Dean's Beans goes further than being a 100% fair traded coffee roaster; they also teach sustainable, organic farming methods as well as helping indigenous peoples establish self-governing community organizations to enable them to maintain the momentum he often sets in motion. Dean has an unwavering commitment to only purchase shade grown coffees that support healthy environments for coffee growers and protects critical migratory bird habitat. Dean has assisted indigenous
people in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Sumatra and East Timor.
Dean's Beans is a founding member of Cooperative Coffees, Inc. the first roaster's cooperative created to buy direct, fair trade coffee from farmer coops, and make it available to any small roaster who wants to participate in the fair trade movement.
Finally, I must note that Lindsey Bolger, the author of your article, sources only 27% of Green Mountain Coffee Roaster's coffee from fair trade sources, according to the 2007 report on their website. Now that's a lot better than most roasters, but this means it still buys 73% of its beans from non-fair-traded sources. This means they pay some of their farmers decent prices, and deny the same treatment to other farmers. I wonder how much of that 73% of conventional coffee purchases come from farmers who practice nonsustainable farming methods with pesticides, fertilizers and non-shade growing trees?
You devoted a lengthy piece of advice to "disposable cups" in the November/December 2009 edition of the Sierra magazine. I have a shorter one. Get GASS glasses for $1 a piece at the Dollar Store. They can be used over and over again. If they break, they can easily be recycled. It would require water and detergent to clean them, but compared to materials and energy to make plastic cups, this is minimal. Trouble is, this would involve the inconvenience of "washing dishes." But "Dan in Titusville" and his friends may be concerned enough about helping the environment to take on this task.
St. Petersburg, Florida
The discussion of algae as a potential major producer of biofuels omitted an important feature that seems to be omitted in most discussions of this resource. That is the fact that there is no end waste product or residue to dispose of. The remaining solid material, after extracting the lipid (oil) from the collected, concentrated algae, is rich in carbohydrate and protein, and as such, or perhaps with a bit of refining, could become an excellent cattle feed, fertilizer, or other useful resource. Perhaps it could even be recycled to resupply the algae generator with the necessary elements for growth that were extracted by the primary processing. Algae would seem to offer a win-win biofuel resource.
Stanley M. Kurtz
Fort Worth, Texas
The articles on pages 14 and 52 of the November/December 2009 issue of Sierra on the potential for the production of biofuels from algae are very interesting. However, I wonder what the downsides are. (When I was in college, my engineering professors taught us that every system had its downsides.) Could Sierra please highlight the cons as well as the pros of various alternative energy systems?
Regarding Eric Wagner's article: He failed to mention that visitors (the human kind) are requested to stay on the designated paths, and one would presume the penguins should stay off the paths. Well, in March of 2009 a particularly, nasty little guy with his "cute waddle" came up on the path and pecked me just above my knee. Hurt? A bit, but my tears were from laughing. But worse, the teasing I am still getting from friends and family. I am just glad he was no taller.
Thank you very much for the informative article "Greening the GOP" in the November/December issue. I have been a Republican for many years, primarily in support of their policies on rule of law and (within reasonable environmental limits) property rights. I have been increasingly dismayed, however, by the GOP leadership's stance on many environmental issues. Many of the environmental issues facing our nation and the world are not partisan but rather global issues. I now have a venue where, along with many others, I can constructively voice my issues and concerns.
West Sacramento, California
Our North Carolina legislature passed its share of boneheaded laws, but you could have mentioned at least one good thing we did, such as banning plastic bags on the Outer Banks or creating a funding mechanism for transit.
Durham, North Carolina
The recent note about North Carolina wind ("Up to Speed," November/December) demands further comment. Senate Bill 1068 establishes a statewide permitting process for utility-scale wind
installations. It bans industrial wind machines on the mountaintops, not because they're ugly, but because virtually all ridgetop development has been illegal here since 1983.
In crafting the bill, senators had to weigh competing environmental goods (habitat integrity vs. one possible green energy option) and competing economic goods (the tourism which drives western NC's economy vs. slightly cheaper electricity). Only one senator objected to the final product. A university in his district receives large government and industry grants to promote wind power.
According to our Energy Resources Policy: "The Sierra Club opposes energy development on public and private lands and in waters that are currently protected by legislative or administrative designations ... This overarching consideration applies to all energy resources."
It would appear that democracy, the environment, and the Club's priorities were all well served, for once.
Chair, Wenoca Group
Asheville, North Carolina
In "Up to Speed: Two Months, One Page," on page 21 of your November/December issue, there is a statement concerning the expected drop in mail volume handled by the U.S. Postal Service. Accompanying the statement is a return to sender stamp with the words, "Insufficent Address" below. Is the U.S. Postal Service responsible for the spelling mistake or is the Sierra Club?
Editor's note: The image, from a stock-photo company, is a scan of a vintage postmark.
You have a short article on page 27 related to the role of backyard burning and the generation of dioxins. I have some questions about one of the statements made in this article and hope that you can provide supportive data. In the article, it says that "most of the dioxin from burning trash comes from petroleum-based plastic and polystyrene." I worked in the solid waste field for nearly 40 years and backyard burning has been a major problem in our state.
However, based on my discussions with chemists and air pollution regulators and my own reading of the literature, I have doubts of the accuracy of the above statement. As you know, chlorine is one of the components of dioxin, as the term is commonly used. (See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dioxin_%28chemical%29.)
As you probably also know, most plastics—such as high- and low-density polyethylene, PET, PS, etc.—contain no added chlorine. While there could be carryover from the chlorine in petroleum, this would be a very small amount of chlorine. Also, as you are probably aware, in test runs, solid waste incinerators have been intentionally supercharged with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, with no significant increase in dioxin releases. On the other hand, wood, brush, leaves, grass, paper and textiles all contain chlorine and, for paper and textiles, the bleaching process used for many of their grades often uses chlorine, which has been shown to create dioxins in the paper and textiles. Thus, all these materials would be very likely candidates for dioxin release from backyard burning. These materials also make up a much larger percentage of solid waste than do plastics.
I would be very interested in any hard data that you may be able to provide on the amounts of dioxin released by the various components of backyard burning. I had seen some EPA data a few years ago, but it was nonspecific and did not address the quantity of dioxins associated with each component of material, so I hope that you can provide better information. Especially helpful would be peer-reviewed data. I would hope that accurate data can be obtained so that the efforts to control dioxins can be most productively directed at the actual generators of this very toxic pollutant.
P.S. Besides dioxins, there are many other reasons that backyard burning should be made illegal. Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, it is a very popular custom in rural areas, and the state specifically allows it through its solid waste rules.
RE: "ON THE ONE HAND . . . "
In Germany, where I grew up, everybody uses their own nondisposable shopping bags, made from cloth or other sturdy material. I am sure people in the USA used to do this also in former times but nobody remembers it anymore.
I still use sturdy shopping bags; I am used to it. I buy a lot at Sav-a-Lot, where you have to pay for a plastic bag, as you do at Aldi's. Also, all kinds of stores have been selling cloth bags for 99 cents a piece. I hardly ever (like never) see anyone use these bags or other nondisposable shopping bags.
We have to learn a lot here. The only way for consumers to use nondisposable shopping bags is to make customers pay, hitting them in their pocket books.
You are concerned about toxic residue. Is there anything these days that does not contain "petroleum" or emits toxic residue in one way or another?
St. Petersburg, Florida
"Comfort Zone" (November/December)
While I enjoyed the article and photos for the article "Yours, Mine, and Arugula," as a former safety and environmental specialist, a bad chill went up my spine from the picture of the porch with no steps or railing and the young child that appeared to live in the home. I hope that the parents quickly install some safeguards for this porch. John Reindl
Mixed Media" (November/December)
In the November/December issue, under "Mixed Media / Deep Thoughts and Oddball Interpretations" and "Women Who Wander," the question is asked "Are female explorers better than their male counterparts?" Better in what way and measured by what? The answer can't be anything but both yes and no. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Olivia Gentile's reviews of books by outdoorswomen who had the same sense of adventure, skill, and courage as outdoorsmen but whose stories were overlooked for a variety of reasons and needed to be told. Why preface it with a question worded in a subjective and contentious way? What place does general confrontation have in the pursuit of environmental goals?
Over the 30 plus years I've been a member I've seen a subtle erosion of the higher journalistic standards and relevance I had come to expect in Sierra. If I recall, the previous issue had a news brief about two male penguins rearing a chick at the San Francisco Zoo. The now seemingly regular coverage of Hollywood's glitterati and how they, with their pets, are saving the planet may be enthralling to some but not to others. Perhaps it's time to gather input from members as to what they expect and would like to see in their magazine.
Geoffrey L. Rogers
San Diego, California
The November/December issue of the magazine tells us that Shepard Fairey is "an artist with at mission." One of his missions was to vandalize parts of Boston with his stickers. He was convicted of that crime this past summer. Fairey is also being pursued by the Associated Press concerning his use of their photography of Barack Obama in violation of their copyright. The artist has publicly admitted lying in his statements about the photograph and his attorney has given up representing him. What is this man doing on the pages of Sierra magazine?
This month's "Earth Beat" inspired me to write. We live in a beautiful part of south-central Colorado. Nestle Waters recently made a visit to our town and determined we'd make a nice spot for a water harvesting project. 65 million gallons of ground water will be pumped 24/7, then driven in tanker trucks over several mountain passes and 130 miles to Denver, where it can be injected into plastic water bottles, trucked out to stores and sold. This was something I created as a public awareness campaign. If our small community can't stop them through the permitting process, perhaps we can stop them by reducing market share. The posters I created can be viewed online, just click the "poster" button: www.UglyPlasticHabit.com.
While the accomplishments of Phoebe Snetsinger are most impressive, its juxtaposition with the article on "Obama's Greenhouse Plan" made me wonder about the carbon footprint of non-local birding. The amount of carbon burned by Ms. Snetsinger and other long-distance peripatetic birders seems disproportionate to the benefit of the activity. After all, one or two expert birders are sufficient to provide any scientific data on a census or a rare species; the rest are gaining personal satisfaction, but they are creating a negative global impact, if not local.
Los Gatos, California
Re: "Living on a Prayer": The Grand Canyon must be preserved and protected from uranium mining. The proposed mining, on the South Rim and Red Butte, would ruin these unique geological treasures. These treasured lands are an integral part of our nation. We should be proud to have such pristine areas within our country and not be looking to diminish those things that make us unique in the world just to make a profit! I lived in AZ for many years, and the special treasures of the West will forever be in my heart.
Winter Springs, Florida
It is so frustrating, being a senior citizen, wanting to participate, yet not having the spare change to do so. Here's my idea: Solicit ideas from the elders of our community as did the Native Americas who revered and listened to their wise elders. Many of us have ideas that can help in so many ways, yet nobody really asks. Why not have a place in the magazine specifically for showcasing these ideas. It will give us a way to feel useful and add depth to worthy causes.
Here is my idea: Donate a copy of the Sierra Club magazine to each senator and representative in Congress. Then for each item that needs their attention, members can be instructed to contact them and say, "Yo, Senator, look in the November issue on page XX and read about this problem. I want your action on this."
The articles are very well written, to the point and concise. It is not necessary to turn a lot of pages to get the picture. I am sure you will get positive responses in the form of desired legislation, especially if people need only send a simple email or postcard to get results. If found effective, the plan can be extended to state legislative bodies.
Editor's note: To take action on the Sierra Club's top issues and find out how to contact your elected officials, visit sierraclub.org/takeaction.
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