Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
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Readers are encouraged to post comments online. You can also e-mail us at sierra.mail@sierraclub.org. Please include your name, city, and e-mail address or phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

Thanks to Paul Rauber for his informative article "Beyond Oil in 20 Years" (January/February). I must, however, disagree with his characterization of bicycles using zero gallons of gas per mile. Although my primary form of transportation is a bicycle, to power my "engine" I must consume foods that require fuel to produce, transport, and distribute. Indeed, 6.9 billion people on the planet produce 1.5 to 3.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year simply by getting up in the morning, eating, and going about their daily activities.
Gerry Silverstein
South Burlington, Vermont

In the article on how to reduce oil consumption, major emphasis is placed on proposed technical solutions, with passing reference to "easy" approaches, but no mention of measures that can be adopted now to reduce our dependence on imported oil, our greenhouse-gas emissions, and the carnage on our roads--and also to save money. These include lowering highway speed limits, raising taxes on fuels, and requiring fuel-saving thermostat settings in nonresidential buildings. Do the editors of Sierra believe Americans cannot bear discomfort?
Lester Goldstein
Seattle, Washington

Let's get real with the Beyond Oil campaign. How about a goal of a 50 percent reduction by 2030? That way, U.S. imports would be down to zero. And with peak-oil forecasters predicting a 20 to 40 percent decline in the world's oil supply by 2030, most of that reduction will come about simply from escalating oil prices and declining incomes. Investing in trains, urban development, and renewable energy could do the rest.
Dick Burkhart
Transportation Committee Cascade Chapter

Seattle, Washington

As a barefaced tree hugger, I was deeply offended by the "frumpy" description ("Enjoy," January/February). I am beautiful. Believe it or not, it is possible to have natural beauty without any enhancements.
Laurie Cohen
Santa Clara, California

Bob Sipchen's "Chainsaw Compromise" ("Spout," January/February)—about chopping down trees to expand a field for a community's soccer team—could have come with a proposal: For every healthy tree removed, the team plants a new one near the field. Learning which trees are common in their neighborhood and what kind of care they need could get the kids thinking about how we impact our environment.
Wendy King
New Orleans, Louisiana

"Beyond Oil in 20 Years" (January/February) incorrectly reported how many million barrels of oil per day are used in various sectors. The correct figures, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's 2010 Annual Energy Outlook, are as follows: total amount of oil, 19.54 million; cars and light trucks, 8.81 million; big trucks and buses, 2.36 million; air travel, 1.37 million; heating, 0.89 million; and other uses, 6.11 million.

Web-only Letters

"Beyond Oil in 20 Years"

"Beyond Oil in 20 Years" offers the bold statement, "we already know how to get around without oil." But the article's primary solution of vehicle fuel efficiency cannot get us off oil, only reduce it.

If our target is to nearly eliminate oil use by 2030, then the key solutions are reducing car trips, making every personal vehicle sold battery-electric before 2020, shifting most freight to rail, and electrifying railroads for passengers and freight.

For more, see "Energy Security: Solutions to Oil Dependence" at http://connect.sierraclub.org/Team/Transportation_Angeles.
Darrell Clarke
Angeles Chapter Conservation chair and Transportation co-chair

I am confused by the sentence: "The gallon of gas that was $2.30 in real dollars in 1960 cost only $2.73 in 2010." First of all, no one paid $2.30 for gas in 1960, in real or imaginary dollars. It was more like $0.23/gallon. I know, because I was a young driver who was aware of every gallon I used in cruising. I suspect inflation plays a part in the author's attempt to get his message across of the relative constant cost of fuel, but unfortunately, he failed to clearly do this. Better luck next time. And by the way, we didn't feel $0.23/gallon was cheap.
Tom Lisec

Thanks for the excellent article "Beyond Oil in 20 Years," about our addiction to oil. However, it dawned on me after reading it a second time that author Paul Rauber might well have ended it after his second paragraph rather than written an additional two pages of text after he wrote, "The gallon of gas that was $2.30 in real dollars in 1960 cost only $2.73 in 2010. No surprise, then, that petroleum powers 95% of all transportation in the U.S." Contrast the "pricing" of a product that is more commonly referred to as "addictive," cigarettes. Look at the hefty taxes that all branches of government have placed on them to cover everything from health care to "butt pick-up" in San Francisco, and the plummeting rate of smoking that resulted in part—along with smoking restrictions. Gas taxes merely to cover maintaining roads have not been raised since 1993 federally and here in California, not since 1994.

And what of restrictions—besides a few "road diets" and New York City's excellent "pedestrian plazas," the main restriction that is placed on driving is to make the vehicles more efficient—that's would be like tackling smoking by making the cigarettes "lighter" so you could smoke more and suffer less physiological damage. In short, from a transportation perspective, it would make far more sense to tackle
Irvin Dawid
Co-chair, California/Nevada Regional Conservation Committee's San Francisco Bay Area Transportation Committee

I'd like to live in a world with far fewer cars and far less driving, but let's get real with your Beyond Oil campaign. How about a goal of a 50% reduction by 2030? That way, US imports would be down to zero.

Besides, with peak oil forecasters predicting a 20% to 40% reduction in world oil supply by 2030, most of that reduction will come about simply from escalating oil prices and declining incomes. Investing in trains, urban development, and renewable energy could do the rest.
Dick Burkhart
Sierra Club Cascade Chapter Transportation Committee
Seattle, Washington

Paul Rauber discusses ways by which the U.S can become free of dependence on oil in twenty years, including more use of electricity to power trains and cars. His program for achieving this goal, however, is incomplete, because he does not show how the increased demand for electricity can be met without dependence on coal and oil. A solution to this problem is available in safe and efficient generation of electricity through use of thorium nuclear power, which avoids the dangers and disadvantages of uranium powered plants. Thorium plants will not melt down, their waste material dissipates in less than 500 years, and thorium is less expensive than uranium because it is more abundant in nature. A thorium plant was operated successfully years ago at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and was only abandoned only because it could not be used to make atomic weapons.

Sierra Club leaders should become informed about thorium nuclear power (going to www.thoriumenergyalliance.com and other sources) and promote building of thorium nuclear power plants for generation of electricity.
Hershey Julien
Sunnyvale, California

"Beyond the Barrel" seemed to have failed to mention what has been one of the biggest carbon-based fuel consumption points in the US: agricultural machinery. How many mpg does a harvester/combine get? Or a tractor? Or a stationary drying plant? Some farms and processors are burning their product waste for fuel and recycling animal waste into methane for heat and electricity, but there are many huge operations that apparently can't be bothered.
Peter Sloss
Boulder, Colorado

Thanks to Paul Rauber for his informative article. I must, however, disagree with his characterization of bicycles using zero gallons (of gas) per mile. Although my major form of transportation is by bicycle, I do not delude myself into believing I have a minimal carbon footprint. To power my engine, I must consume a variety of foods that require enormous fuel quantities to produce, transport, and distribute. And just as a gasoline powered car, I also produce carbon dioxide as a result of an internal fuel oxidation system that provides (muscle) power to pedal my bicycle. Indeed, 6.9 billion people on the planet produce between 1.5 to 3.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide simply by getting up in the morning and going about their daily activities. That figure does not include the minimal tenfold greater quantity of carbon dioxide generated when the food to run their "engines" is produced, transported and distributed . Let's remember that failing to address the ~700% increase in the human population since 1800 (900% by 2050) will seriously compromise the health of Mother Earth, no matter how many people choose bicycles over cars for transportation.
Gerry Silverstein
South Burlington, Vermont

Mr. Paul Rauber's article "Beyond Oil" has as its objective showing us how to get off oil by 2030. This is a worthy objective. From 1973 through 2008, over 52% of the balance of trade deficit in the U.S. has been importing cheap oil from the Middle East and Venezuela. Both these sources pose a national security risk. Much of our current financial situation is related to this situation.

Unfortunately, each of the steps Mr. Rauber describes will reduce our dependence on oil, but in each of his cases, he is unable to reduce it sufficiently to get us off the use of oil.

Mr. Rauber gives the targets for various categories, i.e., 8.6 million barrels of oil per day for auto and light truck transportation. But he does not quantify his steps for reducing oil use. His target of 60 mpg by 2030 means that the increased mileage starting from today's average of less than 30 mpg and making the very optimistic assumption that we will make cars each year that get us from 30 to 60 mpg over 20 years and understanding that the auto and truck fleet turns over every 20 years, we will average 45 mpg over the 20 year period. Thus we will use one-third less fuel over that period and thus have reduced usage to 5.72 million barrels of oil per day by 2030.

Of course, if we can keep improving mpg, one can continue to drive this down. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking this gets us off oil for transportation by 2030.

The other reductions have similar problems. We should do all in our power to reduce our use of oil in order to help reduce the impurities in the air, increase our domestic production in order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, improve our national security and reduce our annual balance of trade deficit.
M. Ray Thomasson, Ph.D.
Denver, CO 80218

Provocative article. Regarding incremental improvements to the heat engines powering our transportation fleet of today, perhaps we need to think a little bigger, with 150% increases in efficiency? We need only look to the simple formula of the Carnot engine (after Sadi Carnot, engineer/physicist 1796-1832), to realize that it will be difficult to get a huge increase in efficiency for heat engines powering the world fleet (Carnot limits around 40% from memory).

What about an alternative in which we fill our tanks with wood alcohol or grain alcohol as renewables, then realize 90% efficiency in oxidation of those fuels by direct production of electric power to be put into the drive train? Batteries may or may not be needed depending on electric current densities available. And of course, without those heavy, expensive internal combustion engines of today, still more miles to the gallon. And likely less expensive to produce. Not pie-in-the-sky, just an old technology I saw demonstrated 50 years ago by a freshman chem student; it had been his high school science project—and likely you have guessed that I refer to the fuel cell, in which the electron transfer of the redox reaction is directly used to produce an electric current, realizing the high efficiencies of electrical (as compared to heat transfer) processes.

With our nation in need of new, important technologies to offset loss of manufacturing jobs, I cannot understand why we do not have an Apollo/Manhattan Project size effort underway to develop this technology in the US, providing jobs and incentive to replace our fleet with vastly more efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly vehicles or the engines for the vehicles. This would make a bigger impact on the figures in your article. Clearly our DOE and NSF are lacking in Carnot knowledge, and I surely hope that it will change. Most likely we'll be buying those fuel cells from China a few years down the road! This technology will make the hybrid vehicle seem an incremental improvement.
Marshall Blann
San Diego

I applaud your most timely article in the January-February 2011 issue, which I received several days ago (sometimes we're going so fast that we do truly need to have the news reported ahead of time) about offering ideas and suggestions to reduce and, realistically, eventually eliminate our dependency on oil. And yes, I use shopping bags made from recycled material and reuse my small plastic bags, after which use I take them to my local Safeway for, hopefully, further recycling, in their collection barrels. I also support and encourage changes that local municipalities have made to reduce plastic use, notably San Francisco's "ban" on plastic bags. But to be accurate, facts (even if they're an asterisked item . . . and I know that space is limited in the media) should be fully reported. Yes, large plastic bags have been banned from large chain stores in the City, but they're in very common usage in all the mom-and-pop (and non-related owners) stores throughout the city as are the smaller plastic bags for buying produce, granola, and fish and chicken (yes, even in Safeway). I think that the (ever present) editorial challenge in space-limited vehicles such as Sierra is how to recognize and feature significant support and changes while not overly diluting the message with "minor" caveats. I continue to applaud you for your work.
Land A. Weismehl

"Life After Wartime"

I am always cautious about statistics or figures that are in whole amounts for one thing. The other is dates, between 1964 and 1973 . . . 2 million tons of explosives were dropped. I was not aware of our involvement in dropping bombs on Laos during this period. In fact, much of the Laos/Cambodian involvement was not public knowledge and did not start 'til the escalation of the Ho Chi Min trail use by the North Vietnamese, which I believe was much latter than 1964.

The amount of undetonated ordinance racks havoc on the Laotian people, however, the numbers (here again) are questionable. How does one say 30 percent of bombs dropped did not detonate, or 270 million of "bombies" were dropped? Were do the statistics come from? Makes for interesting copy but question validity.
Gary M. Warden
North Las Vegas, Nevada

"Enjoy" (January/February 2011)

In the latest issue, I have not a clue as to why Sierra is reviewing alcohol products/companies, beauty products, and spas. For that kind of information, I would turn to magazines focused on food/drink, women/beauty, and travel/leisure. Actually, I wouldn't bother, except to go to a website where I can read a detailed list of all the ingredients of lotions, etc., which the review in Sierra did not include. Just because a product doesn't have parabens doesn't mean it doesn't have other chemicals to be avoided. On the other hand, I did appreciate learning, on p. 16, that Lycra comes from a petroleum company. If there are alternatives to Lycra, I'd like to hear about them.
Mirka Knaster
The Sea Ranch, California

As a bare-faced treehugger I was deeply offended by the "frumpy" description ("Natural Beauty"). I am beautiful. Believe it or not, it is possible to have natural beauty without any enhancements.
Laurie Cohen
Santa Clara, California

My name is Marissa Ambrosi, I am the general coordinator with La Isla Foundation, a NGO based in Leon, Nicaragua. La Isla Foundation works with the community of La Isla, outside the city of Chichigalpa. La Isla is surrounded by the Ingenio San Antonio, a sugarcane plantation. Ingenio San Antonio sells their product to Flor de Cana (both companies are part of the Pellas Group's holdings.) The community of La Isla has Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) at 13 times the national average, no man in La Isla over the age of 40 has normally functioning kidneys. Most of the men in this community are employed by Ingenio San Antonio to harvest, plant and maintain their sugar cane crops.

Though more epidemiological research is needed regarding the exact causes of the epidemic of CKD there is no doubt among respected scientists that the epidemic is in part work related due to practices at Ingenio San Antonio. I recently read your article "Worth a Shot: Eco-Liquor." I was surprised to see Flor de Cana on your list of "green" companies, because from my experience they are not even close to "green." While they may provide power for their operations via sugar biomass and eucalyptus these methods of power production serve their financial self interests and are not motivated by environmental concerns. Also, there are many well-known arguments and studies against this type of biofuel/power production and the monoculture inherent in cane production for both sugar and ethanol as it displaces local farmers and drives up staple food costs.

I have attached two studies done about Ingenio San Antonio and the community of La Isla, a Prevalence Study done by UNAN-Leon, CISTA and SALTRA Costa Rica, with the support of La Isla Foundation, and a report done by the Compliance Advisor Ombudsmen (CAO) entitled "Evaluating Potential Hazards Associated with Chemicals and Work Practices at the Ingenio San Antonio (Chichigalpa, Nicaragua)." While we have some issues with the CAO study, namely that it takes the company's word for practices that do not match up with the community's documented experiences, it does rightly show that people are exposed to pesticides without adequate respirators. We are currently writing a critique of this hygiene report with our partners at SALTRA ( www.saltra.info). We will provide a copy for you when it is completed in early February. I hope the attached studies will help to broaden your comprehension of the larger issues that are associated directly with Flor de Cana. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or for additional material about our work. We have also included the complaint filed by the community and the Center for International Environmental Law with the CAO and we will send you a copy of our Human Rights evaluation once it is ready in English later this month.

One thing that I find most troubling is the lack of basic understanding regarding what is going on in this area in terms of work related health effects and basic human rights abuses despite the fact that many of these concerns are well documented and the company in question has spent many millions on a vigorous PR campaign. Instead of investing in their community they spend their money attempting to divorce themselves from any responsibility. In my experience that is a tired and true strategy used by parties that fully comprehend their part in a problematic situation.
Marissa Ambrosi
La Isla Foundation (www.laislafoundation.org )
Leon, Nicaragua

"Ask Mr. Green" (January/February 2011)

The question about water being contaminated in the home by old plumbing, led Mr. Green to advise running the water from the faucet for a minute or two to flush out water that has been standing in the pipes for six hours or more, even as he admitted that this was a poor solution because of the wasted water. Our home was built in the 1950s before the 1968 ban on lead in solder, and I have never liked the taste of the water from our faucet first thing in the morning. So each evening I try to remember to fill a pitcher soon after cleaning up after dinner. I then have fresh water to use for the rest of the evening and the next day. I have had our well water tested for basic potability. Testing agencies always advise running the water for ten minutes before collecting a sample, but I have been tempted to use first morning water and find out what causes the taste.
Barbara Lewis
Carlisle, Massachusetts

"Grapple" (January/February 2011)

In "Up to Speed," there is an erroneous paragraph about bee colony collapse. A reading of the articles contained in the two links below will reveal why the information printed in Sierra is not accurate, and hopefully a clarification can be posted online as well as in the next issue of Sierra.

"What a scientist didn't tell the New York Times about his study on bee deaths" http://money.cnn.com/2010/10/08/news/honey_bees_ny_times.fortune/index.htm http://money.cnn.com/2010/10/08/news/honey_bees_ny_times.fortune/index.htm

"Have We Really Solved the Mystery Behind the Shocking Die-off of Bees?"http://www.alternet.org/food/148545/have_we_really_solved_the_mystery_behind_the_shocking_die-off_of_bees/
Michael P. Dague

Carbon frames can be repaired.

"As the World Warms" stated, "Carbon-fiber frames can't be repaired." VeloNews ("Resuscitating a Smashed Carbon Frame," June 2010, pp. 94, 97) stated: "Since 2003, Calfee Design has been repairing damaged carbon bicycles." In addition to Calfee (calfeedesign.com), the article also lists URLs of two other companies that repair carbon-fiber frames, www.crumptoncycles.com and www.roadrunnervelo.com.
Stephen V. Hymowitz
Los Angeles, California

"Comfort Zone" (January/February 2011)

This article had a major omission. I commend the concept of the innovative small house, and while you properly extolled its virtues, you ignored the problem created by the huge pane of unprotected glass, surrounded by shrubbery reflections from every direction, and is certain to be a bird killer.

Birds don't recognize glass as a barrier and kill themselves by the hundreds of millions and according to Professor Daniel Klem of Muhlenberg College, PA, the recognized authority on the issue, probably in the billions throughout the world. The fix is available in many forms and it doesn't necessarily increase cost but is essentially a design issue.

I urge Sierra and all your readers to realize that any building that's a bird killer is NOT environmentally friendly.
Donnie Dann
Highland Park, Illinois

"Taking the Initiative" (January/February 2011)

Carl Pope's brief summary of the upcoming battle for clean energy supremacy between China and India offers several perceptive insights. For example, he recognizes that both Asian powers mdash;unlike the U.S.—"are serious about limiting their carbon dioxide emissions." Moreover, Pope correctly locates the critical debate in the choice between China's centralized development model versus India's more decentralized commercial approach. However, where Pope falters is his blind spot that all 3 development models (including the U.S. model) are based on the "dictatorship of the Profitariat." The biggest global economic meltdown since the Great Depression should teach us that reliance on the primacy of Private Capital is the surest way to enrich the parasitic elite while impoverishing the overwhelming vast majority of workers. Without developing a more equitable, sustainable and collaborative economic paradigm (than the current Clunkered Capitalist Catastrophe), neither a centralized authoritarian model nor a "decentralized" corporate model will lead our 6.8 billion Planetary citizens to a smaller-footprint future free of resource wars and Imperialist hegemony.
Danny Li
Keaau, Hawaii

A letter has been corrected.

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