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Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
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LETTERS

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.

THE SLOW AND THE FURIOUS
The running girl's ass on the cover doesn't bother me. Kind of cute. But the headline, "Thoreau Was Wrong," makes me want to Thoreau Up. Fortunately, the referenced article ("Silent Running," July/August) was not nearly as stupid as the headline.
Thomas C. Horth
Newburyport, Massachusetts


It delighted me to read Daniel Duane's article about trail running and landing on the balls of your feet, rather than your heels, when you run.

My high school track team (1950s!) issued running shoes with short spikes on only the front half—and with no heel. I recall scintillating solo runs along a skinny trail in an Appalachian hardwood forest while wearing thin, noiseless moccasins.
Dale M. Heckman
Davis, California


"Silent Running" failed to mention an important detail: the impact on wildlife—from birds to mammals to reptiles—that are likely to be startled, displaced from a feeding site, or even stepped on. Rapid movement is a threat. Run through nature—GASP!
Gene Ball
Cody, Wyoming


Could you send me the exact coordinates of the spot where you saw three "fauns"? I'd like to go there, maybe to look for unicorns. A faun is a creature of ancient myth, half man and half goat. A fawn is a juvenile deer.
Karen Bryan
Kearns, Utah


TRUMPET OF PRAISE
Brilliant idea, to show by fine photography some wilderness parts of this country—so people in places like Afghanistan don't think it's all New York ("Wilderness Diplomacy," May/June). Next, maybe we could convince New Yorkers.
Annie Dillard
South Wellfleet, Massachusetts


GREENING THE WAR MACHINE
"Blood and Oil" (July/August) may be the best article I've ever read in Sierra. The military's R&D, plus economies of scale through large purchases of solar equipment, will go a long way toward bringing prices down and efficiency up for consumers. And toward ending the stranglehold oil has on us.
Gary Jones
Fort Collins, Colorado


A green military? Have you lost your minds? The military exists to fight wars, and wars are fought by killing people and blowing things up. A slight reduction in fuel consumption is trivial compared with maintaining more than 700 bases around the world. How much fuel does one Tomahawk missile burn?
Linda Sleffel
Columbus, Ohio


Web-Only Letters

July/August cover

For an environmental magazine, the cover for July/August used a bad choice of words. It immediately turned me off. Thoreau said, "An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day." He was not "wrong," and bringing him into the cover in that way was "wrong." I doubt that persons running through the woods see much more than somebody on an ATV. Runners are running away from something. Mountain lions, maybe.
Ren Holland


I value what Sierra Club stands for. I realize you have to be perceived as relevant to stay relevant. And I realize I don't represent everyone's views. But I found your most recent cover (the shot right up your runner's legs) to be —yep —offensive, in addition to unnecessary. Struck me as, well, stooping. What's in store for next month's cover? (I'm afraid to find out). And yes, I seriously considered withdrawing my support for Sierra Club over this. I hope that you can start putting covers on your mag that don't force me to choose between two things I value: the environment and clean marketing. Please cease and desist with the crotch shots.
Susan


Thank you for the magazine, but I was offended by 2 articles. First of all, the cover was like a dagger in my heart, "Thoreau's Wrong, Speed Inspires." Speeding down a trail is not what enjoying the planet is all about, and the Sierra Club is in tune with Thoreau, not hike Nazis.

Secondly, your article about greening the military was chilling and also misleading; 9-11 was not done by terrorists, it was done by oil companies in our country, and we are not there on any mission but a war crime.

The Sierra Club is part of the coalition Win Without War that believes in arresting terrorists, not in bombing people to take over their oil and put in bases.

It's a sad day for me to see the Sierra Club turn from the hippie generation to the punk generation of violence. I hope you guys grow up some day and mellow out.
Valerie Sanfilippo
SDSURF, SEIU Ret.


My wife and I are Sierra Club members and we have a bone to pick about the July/August issue of the Sierra Club magazine. We were a bit taken back at the shocking headline, on the cover of the magazine, "THOREAU WAS WRONG." Considering who the man was, and the legacy he left behind, it really seems out of place for a magazine of your stature to resort to shock headlines, especially for a magazine that is for members only.

It seems really amateurish to have such a bold headline, and then not to qualify the headline in either the table of contents, (nothing there), or in the article itself. I would think that the author of the article, Daniel Duane, (or the editor), should have explained such a bold statement about Thoreau, and at least referenced Thoreau's name in the article in some form or manner. (At least that's the way it was done in the old days!)

Mr. Duane, (or the editor), should have explained why his feelings about Thoreau, and his own personal feelings/views about enjoying the wilderness, should be in conflict. Too bad Thoreau isn't alive now to speak for himself! One should respect a person who has left such a lasting legacy of enjoying & preserving the wilderness, as did Henry David Thoreau. Perhaps if & when Mr. Duane graduates from magazine articles to writing an actual book, he will have learned something about respecting such a man as Thoreau. (Just because a select few think that running through the forest is the thing to do, does not mean that they should slight others that choose otherwise.)
Paul & Bev Woodsong

P.S.: Friends have come over, noticed the cover, and commented in a like manner as ours, about the boldness of such a statement to be plastered, dissing such an American Icon that is Thoreau. In retrospect, perhaps Mr. Duane had nothing to do with the statement on the cover, and it was the editors' choice. I should think that some clarification should be in order to address this in the next issue.


"On the trail it is speed that inspires" Kee-rist! John Muir must be turning over in his grave! It was probably in this magazine that I once read a quote from Will Colby telling a story about being chided by John Muir for hiking too fast to be able to enjoy the surroundings. Are you trying to make Sierra just a copycat of Outside? There's seems to be an awful lot of emphasis lately on all this ultra-sport stuff. To me it is the same mind-set as the off-road enthusiasts and the mountain bike riders who do their down-hills with no regard for the safety of others on the trail.

I would expect Sierra to put more emphasis on living with nature rather than this macho conquering nature stuff.
Robert E. Spenger, member since 1956
Big Pine, California


The running girl's ass on the cover doesn't bother me. Kind of cute. But the headline, "Thoreau Was Wrong," makes me want the Thoreau Up. Fortunately, the referenced article was not nearly as stupid as the headline. Heads need to roll in your headline-writing department, and perhaps in the editorial board who approved it, as well.
Thomas C. Horth
Newburyport, Massachusetts


I don't usually comment on articles or photos in magazines, but I just have to make a comment on your front page picture and article in the July/August magazine. I found the cover picture disgustingly sexist. It was a photo looking up a woman's bare legs up into her skimpy little running short. I've done some running both barefoot and with shoes, and I have never seen a view such as this. It is very offensive. When I mentioned it to my friend, he said it was an article about shoes and barefoot running. So I showed him both the cover picture and the picture on page 37 and I asked him, "what do you see? Shoes?" He laughed. "No, he said, I see a woman's ass". In both pictures the feet of the runners were blurred, and their bare legs leading up to their asses were the focus. The pictures were actually vulgar. I can't believe any woman runner wants someone looking up their ass like that. And who does Daniel Duane think he is to say "Thoreau was wrong"? Do you or your supporters really believe that "on the trail it's speed that inspires"? This sure has blown my idea of what Sierra Club is about. My guess is Thoreau and John Muir would turn over in their graves if they saw the Sierra Club resorting to using photos like this.
Jude Holloway
Munising, Michigan


It's one thing to promote alternative ways of enjoying the experience of natural trails, or exercising, or running (and I have no issue with the article associated with this cover statement . . . speed on the trails may be right for some people). But to be so provocative as to blatantly state that inspiration in the natural world only comes from the speed of moving through it (i.e., fast), that it's Right to do it that way (and Wrong the other way) . . . well that's just unnecessarily, adding to the already hyperactive world that continues to be created by the McDonald's mind-set. This what Thoreau wrote (you tell me that this should be described as Wrong): "In the distant woods or fields, in unpretending sprout-lands or pastures tracked by rabbits, even in a bleak and, to most, cheerless day, like this, when a villager would be thinking of his inn, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I come home to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home. I thus dispose of the superfluous and see things as they are, grand and beautiful."

Finding inspiration, solace, and connection to nature by moving at a gentle pace through it is right for many, many people. I find it so sad when the organizations (like Sierra Club) we hope will continue to nurture a more gentle approach to how we live on Earth, to life and nature, end up using sensational and provocative means, just so they can sell subscriptions. That's a cheap shot, and not helpful.__ You don't need to do that for me. Just be real to what is real; you run the risk of falling into the group that Thoreau describes in this note: "Men have become the tools of their tools."
Charlie Braun
Northampton, Massachusetts


"Blood and Oil"

I received my first issue of Sierra this week. I have been a supporter of your activities for many years. I was shocked to read the article "Blood & Oil" by Edward Humes. There is no reason for a group such as the Sierra Club, whose major reason for existence is the preservation of like and biological diversity, to publish this article. Imperialistic invasions, which is what Iraq and Afghanistan are, have always resulted in net environmental loss since ancient times and U.S. invasions are no different.

The argument that money spent on the military results in new technologies and developments that are greener than their predecessors may be true, but it is irrelevant. Imagine how much more green processes could be developed if billions of dollars were not filtered through imperialistic adventures. The moral aspects of this observation, although they are very valid, pale in comparison to the horror of the loss of life and ecosystems during invasions and occupation. The Sierra Club is better served by sponsoring activities for wounded service people rather than glorifying the life destroying U.S. military machine. I'm sure that this is one of thousands of communications you'll get protesting this article. It should not make an iota of difference, but if it does, I was in the Army from 1964 to 1967._
Walter Birdwell
Laguna Vista, Texas


The article "Blood and Oil" comes nearly a year after our Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was chided by an opponent for "wasting Gen. David Petraeus's time with frivolous questions about energy conservation in Iraq and Afghanistan" during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.

Congresswoman Giffords understood early on that, in a combat zone, saving energy saves lives. Her opponent didn't. The attempt to portray her as a pie in the sky tree hugger backfired. She survived a bitter and rancorous campaign by the slimmest of margins only to fall victim to a tragic and senseless shooting four days into her third term. While Gabby is on the sidelines focusing on recovery, her solar energy council is alive and well and working toward real energy independence.
William C. Thornton
Tucson, Arizona


I am an officer in the U.S. Air Force and a Sierra Club member. I was pleasantly surprised to find that your article "Blood and Oil" had such a fair and positive tone. Thank you for acknowledging that both environmental protection and national defense are important missions, and for highlighting the good along with the bad about the U.S. military efforts to "go green." These efforts obviously have the potential to create a huge impact, and I look forward to more fair, thorough reporting on the subject from Sierra Club.
Erin Skinner
Vacaville, California


Congratulations to you and Mr. Humes on an outstanding piece of journalism. I have never seen any mention in the major media of the efforts and successes of the Department of Defense at improving the security and decreasing the costs of fuels to our ships, planes, and bases.

I am impressed at the research indicating that fuel convoys are responsible for half of the casualties, but that helps to understand the injuries to noncombat troops. It is amazing that 80% of the energy costs for the entire government goes to military ops, (300,000 barrels of oil a day), at costs up to $400/gallon for more remote and dangerous outposts. The use of solar panels, instead of noisy generators, to recharge batteries and electronic equipment is clearly producing safer and more efficient operations through security and time on station.

Steadily increasing the efficiency of engines in ships and aircraft, combined with weight and load reduction, will not only decrease reliance on foreign oil, but will introduce those savings into the commercial market.

Why is this not headline news with papers, magazines, and TV? I do not review DOD bulletins or energy journals; but I would think this is of major importance to our Congressmen and our public. What prevents the publication? Is it government restriction or oil company advertisers?

What can the Sierra Club do to help the American public learn and understand the value of these developments?
John M. Tudor, Jr., M.D.


In over 20 years, this is one of the worst articles that I've read in Sierra. Maybe the way to save energy is not to have eight amphibious assault ships. Maybe the Air Force could save energy by not having fighter squadrons based in Germany, Great Britain, and Italy. And maybe the military could save energy if Washington politicians weren't so quick to use armed forces.
Thomas Radke


The article "Blood and Oil" reveals important news about changing technology and point of view in the U.S. military. A bigger question is rarely if ever discussed in your magazine or elsewhere in the media. What huge percentages of our resources are wasted by humanity in war and the preparations for war? Where is the critical thinking on this —imagine what good could be done if a portion of these energies were freed up for alternative energy, transport, education, research, medical care, etc., etc. Surely if there are aliens out there viewing us, there must shaking their heads (or tentacles) at our squandering of our home planet's bounty. Perhaps Sierra will step up and challenge unexamined militarism —a seeming taboo to talk about in America today.
Gregory W. Frux
Brooklyn, N.Y.


"Blood & Oil" was a surprise and a joy to read. The military's R&D plus economies of scale through large purchases of mil-spec solar equipment will go a long way toward bringing prices down and efficiency up for consumers. And toward ending the stranglehold oil (foreign or domestic) has on us. Excellent job! This may well be the best article I've ever read in Sierra.
Gary Jones
Fort Collins, Colorado


I can't believe your "Blood & Oil" story. You tout the military's "green" credentials (and note that they are doing this out of self-preservation, not in response to climate change). Since war has often been compared to rape of the land and people, a good analogy for your story would be one congratulating rapists for wearing condoms (even if it is not out of care for the victim but out of fear of catching disease themselves). Let's congratulate the rapists!

I do not believe that you wrote this entire story and never once mentioned the primary reason we are waging war in the Middle East, which is to preserve access to oil so that we can continue to rape the environment and fuel climate change.

"The Pentagon will no longer tolerate oil's 'burden in blood.'" Will the American people continue to tolerate oil's burden in blood?
Mark Spohr, MD
Tahoe City, California


I guess that I'm glad that the U.S. military strives to use less fuel, while maintaining the American empire. Much of the military's effort involves ensuring an unimpeded oil flow to the West, rendering ironic this article "Blood and Oil." The article states that the Department of Defense uses more petroleum and energy than any other organization on the planet. The military thus copiously consumes the very substance that it fights overseas, to have sent to the U.S.

It reads as if the article's author got a chance to board the warship Makin Island, and became amorously aroused.
Philip Ratcliff
Cloverdale, California


I ask that you please refrain in future from any articles such as "Blood and Oil" and "A Missing Peace" (July/August 2011). Spare us any more content promoting "clean" warfare, which of course is an oxymoron. Ditto pieces imagining that we can meaningfully support our troops in any way short of ending our pointness, impossible wars.

Such articles in Sierra magazine are an embarrassment to the organization and to Sierra Club members like me who understand that war is the ultimate crime against the earth and its inhabitants. No amount of rationalization, even by the Sierra Club itself, can make it otherwise. Shame on you for even trying.

Instead the Sierra Club as an organization, its members as individuals, and anyone who cares even a little about the environment should join with the too-small but still active peace movement and help end these wars now.
Roberta Medford Montrose, California


A green military? Have you lost your minds? The military exists to fight wars, and wars are fought by killing people and blowing things up. A slight reduction in fuel consumption is a trivial concern compared to maintaining more than 700 bases around the world, many with all the amenities of home. How much fuel does one Tomahawk missile burn? Destroying Iraq's infrastructure and leaving people without sewer systems or safe water —definitely green. Depleted uranium shells, which produce highly carcinogenic particles small enough to be breathed into the tiniest lung passages —incredibly green. Service members are developing rare lung diseases, possibly caused by the method of disposing of everything discarded at military bases in Iraq: burning in open pits. Amazingly green. And don't forget the fuel burned to fly dead service members back to the U.S.; the euphemism is "repatriation." Absolutely green.

If this is your idea of environmental progress, don't waste the paper to print it on.
Linda Sleffel
Columbus, Ohio


Why is conservation (or preservation, environment) considered a "four-letter" word by the conservatives? They claim to be Christians, yet their hatred of anything environmental is a blatant contradiction of the Genesis verse of God instructing Adam and Eve to "cultivate it and keep it" (the Garden of Eden). . . . meaning "take care of it," not tear it up or pollute it.
Gail Noon
San Pedro, California


"Silent Running"

Firstly, I'd like to commend Sierra magazine for the wonderfully insightful "Greening of the U.S. Military" article which deserved to be the lead/cover story. _Regarding Daniel Duane's "Thoreau Was Wrong," he is irresponsible in not warning readers who will run out and buy a Vibram FiveFingers that they can twist an ankle. Any path that has rocks on it can cause serious ankle damage. If a rock is stepped on and the foot slides round and down, one can sprain or even tear tendons and ligaments. I have no interest in any shoe business but did get a nasty sprain when I didn't use high top ankle supported shoes. It is especially difficult to spot rocks while running._
Elliot Friedman
Jacksonville, Florida


What an unmitigated, utterly gratuitous piece of horse kaka that title was, especially since it referenced a more nuanced article that began by highlighting the virtues of being still. An oh-so-ironic and clever poke at an icon, so painfully off the mark. Because Thoreau was ever so right. The speed of American culture is one of its central toxicities, preventing us from truly knowing ourselves and listening to our heart, estranging us from a deeper connection to the natural world —which takes time —and keeps us on the move and gobbling up our disproportionate share of the planet's resources. You would serve the world ever so much better publishing a series of articles on that theme.
Larry Landry
Fairbanks, Alaska


What a horrible headline in your July/August 2011 issue: "Thoreau was wrong; on the trail it's speed that inspires!" The article is no better, a commercial promotion of new-style running shoes that barely pays lip service to the wisdom of taking the time to pay close attention to one's surroundings.

The National Park Service warns, "Trail running is discouraged as there have been an increasing number of injuries and fatalities due to runners surprising bears at close range." News reports of surprised bears causing injury or death to fast-moving runners and mountain bikers are not hard to find and bears often pay with their lives as a result of such reckless encounters.

Sierra magazine has done a tremendous disservice to people and wildlife. Responsible recreation is measured by depth of appreciation, not by fastest speed, longest distance, or cheapest thrill.
Keith Hammer, Chair
Swan View Coalition
Kalispell, Montana


Thank you for your article on trail running. I too feel most alive and vital when running, especially in a beautiful place. I like to think that, by making me breathe deeper, running expands my ability to take in nature. Beauty must be inhaled to be fully appreciated. Your article validates these feelings. Now I can stop feeling sheepish when I startle slower paced trail users, and stop worrying that I might be ruining their experience.
Lois Braun
St. Paul, Minnesota


Nicely written and they may work for him but CAUTION for many. They are not for all feet. Response I have received from Internal Medicine / Marathoner / Sports Doctor is: he has seen multiple problems including Achilles tendonitis, plantar fascitis, metatarsal stress fractures, and many calf muscle strains.

The magazine should use discretion when printing articles about unproven or questionable equipment. Don Smith
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


Your cover boldly proclaims, "Thoreau was wrong." The accompanying article inside tries to make the case that "on the trail it's speed that inspires." The upshot of the author's euphoria over speed is expressed in an oddly jarring aeronautical simile: "a still mind, for all its pleasures cannot pop out of the side of a cloud like an airplane bursting into bright blue sky." Exactly. "A pilot speeding high above wind-ribboned water" is leaving a trail of noxious effluents in his wake and is completely cut off from nature in his fossil fuel-powered artificial flying machine of humankind power and noise. Nothing could have ruined the serenity —and missed the experience —at Walden like a jet racing overhead. Thoreau is still right after more than a century and a half of ever increasing speed demonry.
Jim Post
Newton, Massachusetts


I read the July/August issue of Sierra with great interest. It was terrific. The cover story was interesting and I think on target. I am 79 and still running, and my joints are doing fine, and I have always run on my toes. I think Daniel Dwayne is right on target.
George Spaeth


Just wanted to call your attention to a funny typo in the "Silent Running" article by Daniel Duane. The first paragraph says, "I saw high-altitude butterflies and two does and three fauns also waiting out the midday heat, unaware that I was watching." Sighting three fauns would indeed be remarkable, anytime, anywhere —but three fawns, that's more believable. This one made me smile!
Stella Capek
Professor of Sociology and Chair
Department of Sociology/Anthropology
Conway, Arkansas


As you will probably hear from other readers, the fact that author Daniel Duane could manage to see even one faun, much less the three mentioned in the first paragraph, in his wilderness running is nothing short of remarkable. Although the beauty of the surroundings he admires and the revitalization he experiences with his trail running may seem mystical, viewing a faun is nothing short of mythical. We look forward to a photograph one of these half man/half goat Roman forest spirits in your fine magazine from his next outing. The Iroquois and Incas have nothing on this gentleman! Perhaps it is the Vibram padding that accounts for not just his comfortable soles, but his happy, transported soul.
Nancy Wrigley
Silver Spring, Maryland


Could you send me the exact coordinates of the spot you describe, where you saw, among other creatures, three "fauns"? I'd like to go there, maybe to look for unicorns. A faun is a creature of ancient myth and legend, half man and half goat. A fawn is a juvenile deer (see also Debussy, "Afternoon of a Faun", and Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Marble Faun").
Karen Bryan
Kearns, Utah


How idyllic! A summer day amongst high altitude butterflies, deer, and not one but three fauns! The last reported sighting of fauns was probably well before Ovid.
Carol Meyer
Hinsdale, Illinois


A pox on you. I have had more trouble with idiot trail runners than mountain bikes or even (gasp) trail bikes. Why do you promote this asinine activity. Never once have I seen any of these morons even bother to carry bear spray in Glacier.
Joel Vignere
Lakeside, Montana


"Live Large, Drive Less"


You are calling for a CAFE of 60 MPG. The first thing we must get is the DOT and EPA to accept EU certification. EU safety and air quality standards meet or exceed US levels. Once this is done, we will be able to buy vehicles currently available in Europe, such as the VW Passat 170TDi, 68 mpg; the Smart 4 Two diesel, 82 mpg; and many more. If you compare a US model with an EU version, the EU model gets at least 50 percent better mileage. On the SAME car! 60+ mpg is widely available, just not here.
Mark Pipes


This letter is far too long for your letters column. But I am going to send it anyway, because it raises an important point omitted in "Living Large, Driving Less."

It takes much more than sidewalks, crosswalks, and other accommodations to make a town or city both walkable and attractive. It also requires regulation of behavior, either voluntary or enforced, so people can enjoy life there.

My wife and I moved from a rural location in Vermont to the central village area of a town eight years ago. Since then, I have talked to friends who like country living, and we have explored the differences between town or suburban living and country life.

Many of my friends like the feeling of space in the country, but they are willing to consider trading that for convenience in shopping and other errands. What stops them are basically two things: noise and what the British call anti-social behavior. Even small towns in Vermont have a lot of both.

A few examples of anti-social behavior: graffiti; bottles and other trash tossed on lawns and elsewhere; dogs left to roam and defecate on lawns and sidewalks; people who walk dogs encouraging them to defecate on lawns and sidewalks; cars parked on sidewalks so pedestrians must walk in the street; bushes and trees leaning over and onto sidewalks and blocking them; unmown and unkempt lawns; the stink of trash burned in stoves and fireplaces to avoid disposal costs (usually at night, when the smoke can't be seen); petty theft; burned and gutted houses that remain as eyesores for years. Violence, imagined to be absent or avoidable in the country, is uncommon by city standards, but still an unsettling possibility. I'm sure there are more items that don't come to mind at the moment, and other people in other places could add their own lists.

Noise comes principally from cars and motorcycles without mufflers (cutting down on traffic might reduce this); dogs that bark all night and much of the day; loud music thumping from cars and blaring from open house windows; police and fire sirens, and other sources. Of course most of this really is anti-social behavior. Occasionally street sweepers, garbage trucks, sewer cleaners, snow plows and other mechanical contrivances contribute to noise, but that is intermittent and easier to bear, because it arises when something useful is happening.

You should recognize that it will be impossible to induce more people, especially affluent people, to live in villages and towns until a fully civil society either occurs spontaneously or is imposed there. Until environmentalists and Americans generally recognize this and seriously address the difficult tradeoff between regulation and untrammeled freedom, the idea of people living in compactly settled places without the costs and aggravation of auto traffic will remain a pipe dream.
Richard Andrews
Springfield, Vermont


"Living Large and Driving Less" assumes Americans have a choice when it comes to using a car, which is seldom true. I grew up in Pasadena, California, when there were electric street cars to take people to their destinations. The Red Line company funded by Standard Oil, General Motors, and Firestone Tire, bought up electric street car lines, ripped out their tracks, abandoned right of ways and brought in buses that would consumer these companies' products. Great for these capitalists _but terrible for the communities and the environment.

I travel around Europe and its cities with no need for a car. This is not true for the USA. US funding for railroads has declined every year since the end of World War II, in stark contrast to the actions of the governments of the UK and Europe. The difference is between governments that serve private corporate interests over those that serve the interests of the public. To simply travel from San Francisco to LA takes 12 hours at an average speed of 33 mph. I took the train from Shanghai to WuXi city, and it travels at an average speed of 200 mph.

Even the plan to establish bullet train service between the San _Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles basin has been a boondoggle from the start. The train companies using the gifted corridor provided by the US government do not want its flow of freight impeded by passenger trains, so instead the route is being taken east to the Central Valley and through the relatively sparsely populated areas. This will be a huge windfall for real estate speculators and developers but will serve a small fraction of the people who could have been served with a route following the current rail corridor along the coast. Worse yet is that to get to the train station one will need to drive or take a taxi or bus and at the other end one will need to rent a car or take a taxi, as there is pitiful mass transit serving the cities of California with the sole exception of San Francisco, though most of its system predates the First World War.

In the USA the choice is between flying and driving; trains are not really an option for most people, and mass transit in most cities is not any better than it was 80 years ago and often it is much worse. The last train speed record in the USA took place in 1934 with a 13 hour run at an average speed of 77.6 mph. The failing is in the tracks and the _trains and of course the failings of our corrupt government officials who continue to line their pockets and those of their campaign contributors at the public's expense. When the California government looked around for a source of technology for a modern train it had to look to Japan, Canada, Germany, France, and China as there is not one US manufacture of high-speed rail technology. Taxpayers fund space travel and so we can put people into orbit around the earth but we cannot provide train service that will take people across the country any faster than was possible in 1934.

Some would say that flying is better but is it? To fly from my home in north Monterey county to Los Angeles I need to drive for an hour to the San Jose airport. Then after parking and going through security and hopefully boarding a plane I touch down at LAX about 5.5 hours after I left my house. By the time I rent a car and drive it the 40 miles to my mother's house another 2.5 hours have passed. Total transit time for the 400 miles if I fly is 8 hours and costs me $300. If I drive instead of fly it takes me 8 hours including rest stops, at a cost of $200 at $0.50 per mile. In China, France, or Germany, the trip by train would take 2 hours and the cost would be less than $75 (less than $30 in China).

Time is also ignored in your article on transit. If I walk to work and it takes an hour in each direction my 10 hour work day just became a 12 hour one. If I walk to the nearest grocery store for milk it takes me another hour and there are only so many hours in the day and Americans already work far more hours each year than workers in any other industrialized country in the world. In 1960 twenty percent of mothers _worked. In 2010 seventy percent held jobs. That leaves less time for shopping and more need to buy time by driving.Walking or bicycling are _options to be exercised only on the weekends. 134 countries have laws that limit the work week. The USA does not. American workers put in 499 hours more last year than their counterparts in France. A French household does not need to buy, finance, and maintain two or three cars to travel to work and school and do their shopping. Many exist very well without any cars, which relieves them of an enormous financial burden, and greatly lessens their carbon footprint at the same time.

As for walking or bicycling to work or school in most US cities in which I have traveled this is simply not safe to do. Our cities insist on giving up our streets to cars for travel and for parking and mixing bicyclists on the same roadway. In California in most instances it is not legal to travel by bicycle on many of the roads and across many of the bridges and this precludes for use what is often the only route available for travel. For example there is no legal way to bicycle from San Francisco to Oakland or from San Mateo to Hayward or even from Ventura to Santa Barbara. In countries like Holland and China the city planners actually are allowed to do their job and there are separate roadways for bicycles, scooters (which in China are mostly battery powered) and pedestrians. In _my own community in Monterey county the there are no sidewalks for students to use to get to the nearest elementary school or to get to the nearest high school. Both are within walking distance of my neighborhood but no responsible parent would want their children walking or bicycling to school on these roads they share with cars traveling at 50mph inches away.

The only viable solution is a revolution. So long as corporations own government officials at every level and in every branch of government, the right thing to do will always be whatever provides the greatest _profits for these corporations' executives and shareholders and the public be damned. In this context the environment has value only as a resource for exploitation and the planning horizon is the next fiscal quarter. Corporate executives take actions with impunity which destroy in days what will take centuries to restore. Paper or plastic, fly or drive, tungsten or CFL, these are not the important decisions that Americans need to be making today. When a Republican president who promotes nuclear reactor construction is replaced by a Democratic president who in turn promotes and funds nuclear reactor construction, when more than 70% of Americans believe it is wrong and foolish to do this, then our system of government is broken and our republic is a fraud.

This is nothing new, but the capabilities of people under the cover of corporations to wreak havoc on entire _populations and ecosystems, often with the protection of the US military and usually with the protection of our government, has reached a level where the types of man made disasters such have occurred in Japan and Bolivia and the Gulf will undoubtedly become commonplace in the years ahead. It will matter little whether the populations affected had used a car or a bike to get to school or work or whether or not they had recycled their bottles and cans.

Bruce Stenman

"Look, It's a Cheatercycle!"

I experienced similar trepidation when I started walking to the grocery store with my little red wagon, but the response was very positive.
Marysue Karsten
Key Largo, Florida
.


Around 1995 I bought a Zipp battery pack with electric motor that attached to my existing bicycle. My thinking was that this would allow me to use my bike more frequently, saving on gas, carbon, etc., since I would now be able to travel further and faster. El wrong o. To my utter amazement what I found was that it was actually slower than no battery or electric motor at all! If I had the patience of Job sure I could get to work with a little less sweat, but overall going 20% slower for 8 miles was not worth it for me and I gave up the worthless electrons after several months. The Zipp equipment still sits in my closet unused. I always thought that newer technology would create a better system that is actually faster than a reasonably fit person without assist. That doesn't seem to be asking too much especially after 16 years, but after reading Ms. Rapoport's article on Cheatercycles I can see that, nothing has changed. Instead of calling them "cheatercycles," they should be called "geriatriccycles." An expensive electric bicycle that is slower than a regular bicycle is not exactly a great sales pitch. This is not a technology that is likely to do the planet much good.
Gregory Penniston .


"Ride, Sollee, Ride" .

As a cyclist I love the idea, cycling to your gigs. But dude, protect your brain like you protect your cello: Wear a helmet. You need protection in LA traffic. Or did you just take it off for the photo?
David K Gittelman
Raleigh, North Carolina
.


"Spout" (July/August 2011)

I can definitely relate to Cathy Shields, whose letter to the editor was printed in the July/August issue of Sierra. Even the $200 pan on page 8 of the same issue is far more than I would ever consider paying for something like that. However, I would not say that I was either "offended" or "disgusted", as she says that she was. Instead, I react to such things by assuming that there must be people out there who would seriously consider paying such prices, and that I guess it is a good thing that some of them must be members of the Sierra Club.

Nevertheless, I doubt if I am the only Sierra member who wants to be green but who cannot consider it unless it can be done at an affordable or even bargain price. Make sure that the magazine also keeps us in mind when making these recommendations. Let's not have too many $950 stools and $200 pans!
Norm Mundhenk
Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea .

Cindy Shields in her letter in the July/August issue, has a point. The same goes for "Chill Flavors" in the July/August issue. This is fine in a perfect world and we are all rich. .

I have had no income since my last seasonal park ranger position, at Harry S Truman National Historic Site, ended in November 2000. I have gone 97 percent of my adult life without an income. I have a record of being visually impaired with a number of eye and vision problems. They are not severe enough for me to qualify for any benefits, although I was once a DVR client until I was dropped because of budget cuts. .

As an environmentalist, I try to do what I can [in] public interest lobbying. This includes responding to dozens of action alerts on average daily. .

I do what I can within extreme limitations. As much as I would like to live in Ecotopia, I live in the real world, which is a living hell. Expensive environmental friendly products and food? Get real!
Dave Searles .


When I became involved in ecological restoration in the late 1980s, I immediately ran into the lazy "plants and animals have always moved around, get used to it" excuse for doing nothing. It is a response I frequently encounter, spoken by someone with little biological knowledge, unaware of human dependence on functioning ecosystems. Given nature's amazing resilience, we unthinkingly expect her to be the gift that keeps on giving. .

"It's just a question of speed" is the glib opinion regarding this evolving catastrophe. Yes, given time nature will heal the dislocations. In the five or six major extinction events, which have punctuated life's journey of the past 560 million years, it took tens of millions of years to repair the ecological damage. Are we prepared to wait that long? I usually ignore this shallow thinking; the reason I don't this time is because Sierra decided to print it.
Jake Sigg San Francisco .


"Create" (July/August 2011) .

I am a new member and have just received my first issue of Sierra magazine. I read the article titled "Parents' Revolt," about the levels of mercury released into the atmosphere by coal plants and the likely refusal by Congress to support the tighter restrictions proposed by the EPA, with disgust. One more example of our lawmakers being far more interested with lining their pockets than in protecting their constituents or (God forbid) the environment. Michael and Mary Brune made a compelling argument supporting the passage of the EPA proposal, and I was surprised that the authors did not mention anything readers can do to help. .

If the Sierra Club wants their members to effect change, it is not enough to just inform us about issues of importance. Please include information about what we can do to add our voices to whichever of the many worthwhile causes we wish to support. Speaking for myself, the window of opportunity during which I am sufficiently motivated to join a letter writing campaign or participate in some other way can be very brief —perhaps only as long as it takes to turn the page and become interested in the next issue. .

There are so many worthy causes that we are bombarded with on a weekly or daily basis that you must act while you have your audience's attention. Don't waste any opportunity you have to garner support —perhaps adding a "what you can do to help" section at the end of each article would encourage those of us with limited attention spans to join the cause._
Lenette Barker_
Corona, California
.


I agree that our power plants need to remove pollutants from their emissions. (Even better, let's replace them with renewable energy.) Unfortunately Michael and Mary Brune lost credibility in my eyes by implying that the only reason our utilities don't update old power plants to remove toxins is that they want to make more profit.

My power utility is a cooperative, not a profit-making business. Our board fights every initiative forcing them toward cleaner energy. It frustrates me, but I'm not going to slander them as a bunch of greedy bums sacrificing our children for selfish gain. The truth is, they are elected to their positions because most people just want the cheapest reliable electricity possible. They aren't convinced coal emissions are as dangerous as environmentalists say. .

Part of the reason they aren't convinced is because environmentalists keep writing knee-jerk articles like "Parent's Revolt" that are more concerned with slandering their opponents than respectful and accurate dialogue. Most Americans think profitable business is a good thing. Bashing profit making is counterproductive.

The real reason we keep polluting is that most Americans don't want to pay to clean up. If you want to see change we need to convince the American masses that the cost of polluting is greater than the cost of cleaning up. _
Roger Deemer_
Interlochen, Michigan
.

"Enjoy" (July/August 2011) .

As a longtime member of the Sierra Club, with each issue of Sierra magazine, I feel less and less connected to the Sierra Club. In the mission statement of the club, the first sentence is "To explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth." Yet, I find little in the way of "exploring, enjoying and protecting wild places" in most issues. Much of the time it seems to more resemble a home and garden magazine about urban lifestyles, encouraging young and urbane city dwellers to buy things most of us simply find incredible like the $220 sautŽ pan or the $6 a pint ice cream featured in the July/August issue. Get real and get back to the founding principles of the Sierra Club.
Dan McGuire
Kirkland, Washington


I was surprised to see Sierra list Ben and Jerry's ice cream as ecofriendly. Some of the company's products are not fair-trade, and much of the palm oil in their ice cream is grown by denuding the habitat of orangutans and elephants in Indonesia.

Ben & Jerry's is not the quaint company its parent company, Unilever, wants us to see. Unilever has been criticized for cutting rainforests to grow palm oil for products like Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

So while Chunky Monkey ice cream flavor may sound chill, it's hardly cool for the remaining orangutangs.
Bill Collins Pacifica, California


"Ask Mr. Green" (July/August 2011)

Ooo, Mr. Green is dead wrong this time! The correct answer to the question "What's the greenest practical lawnmower available, excluding the old-fashioned push-blade type?" is, "The modern push-blade type." Modern push-blade mowers are lightweight, sharp-bladed, quiet, smooth-moving beauties. It's easier to mow an average-sized lawn with one than with anything that requires you lug around cords, batteries or gas ... and so much more enjoyable. I only wish all my neighbors would figure that out.
Joy Fatooh
Benton, California

"Repurpose" (July/August 2011)

I am surprised that you would advocate getting rid of paper maps and relying solely on a GPS to find out where to go. A lot of people have died in the last few years because their GYPSY (what I call mine) told them to take a scenic road in the winter or a forest service road to nowhere. I like my GPS, but she is a backup piece of technology. plan my travels with AAA books and paper maps, Google maps and then my GPS. I like the basket but will continue to first of all rely on common sense and a paper map. Maybe make the basket out of old maps.
BJ Thomas
Bend, Oregon


"Grapple" (July/August 2011)

The attractive graph ("Don't Sweat the Small Stuff") purports to compare various carbon footprints due to human activities. Unfortunately, it is misleading, incomplete, and even disingenuous. To be meaningful, such graphs should have a common basis for comparison (per person, per year, etc.). More important, the enormous carbon impact of each new person born should have been shown. In the U.S., this impact is over 20 tons of carbon per year; a huge ball far off toward the high end of your chart.
Evan Jones
Sacramento, California


I really like Berners-Lee's carbon footprint mapping. It's one tool to understand the relative impacts of our actions. When I see these types of reports I wonder about what else might be considered (besides carbon) when I make a choice. For instance the paper vs plastic bag issue. Does renewable sources vs non renewable sources get counted, how about recyclability and recycling rates, are the bags in question made from recycled inputs, are the environmental impacts of the process (besides carbon) taken into consideration such as water and air pollution? I guess that I am wary because of all of the greenwashing that has been disseminated and need to know 'the rest of the story'.
Chris Wise
Fairfield, Virginia

I was delighted to read about vegan ultra marathoner Scott Jurek, and glad he mentioned what a huge impact our food choices have on the _environment. So I was disappointed to see that in Grapple, under "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff," there was no mention of animal agriculture as one of the leading sources of carbon emissions. Why show an airplane and a car when the United Nations has reported that raising animals for food accounts for more carbon emissions than the entire transportation sector? Every vegan meal we eat reduces our carbon footprint _enormously, immediately, and is good for our health, to boot.
Patti Breitman
Fairfax, California


I appreciate the often eye-opening facts provided in the publication. Just want to point out a couple of things in the July/August issue:

1. p.20 "Canned foods and drinks are a major source of the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA...." What's not clear is whether there is something in the material of the cans themselves or how the food is processed. I buy a premium dog food (canned and kibble) for our pooch. It has no preservatives, etc. But does this mean no more cans, period? Please clarify.

2. p.22. "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff." In weighing the pluses and minuses of using paper bags over plastic bags, it's important to also take into account the fact that plastic bags (along with a gazillion other plastic items) wind up choking waterways and even killing marine mammals. See, for example, the "Washed Ashore" exhibit at the Marine Mammal Center in Marin Headlands. At least we can grow more trees, and paper biodegrades. Plastic, unfortunately, lives forever.

3. p.36. "I saw high-altitude butterflies and two does and three fauns [sic]...." Fauns are figures from Roman mythology; fawns are young deer. Surely you have a copy editor? Or has spelling gone out the window, just like correct grammar usage?
Mirka Knaster
The Sea Ranch, California


"Innovate" (July/August 2011)

I found a small error on page 22, top left: see caption for the pyranometer image. The sentence with the error is as follows: "A sensor inside the glass dome detects visible, ultraviolet, and infrared rays across 180 degrees of sky from sunrise to sunset."

While angles are subtended by one-dimensional segments (arcs) in two-dimensional space, solid angles are subtended by two-dimensional areal segments in three-dimensional space.

That being said, the pyranometer doesn't just "see" light from a one-dimensional arc across the sky (which would subtend 180 degrees or pi radians). In fact, it sees the (conceptual) hemispherical surface that surrounds us (i.e., the sky). In order to describe this accurately, one must use solid angle. The solid angle subtended by a hemisphere (the sky in this case) is 2*pi steradians (unit of measure for solid angle in the International System of Units).

I don't wish to sound presumptuous, but I didn't see any mention of diffuse solar radiation in the article. If this was missed, then I could certainly understand the confusion as the sun follows a 180 degree arc across the sky. However, the sun's light is scattered throughout the atmosphere (which is how we see those lovely blues during the day and how we see those reds and oranges at sunset) and so solar collectors benefit from direct (beam) solar radiation and diffuse solar radiation.
Christopher Ramos
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Mississippi State University

I read David Ferris article about Brian Anderson in Sierra magazine. It was good but left one with the thought that geothermal energy is not possible at this time. I think that is a not the case. Ironically I got my information from a MIT study done for the Dept. of Energy. Brian was a panel member on the study, "The Future of Geothermal Energy." The study concluded that geothermal is available now with the deep drilling technology on the shelf today. It states geothermal is cost competitive, clean and can provide unlimited energy for thousands of years.

W. Virginia is good, but why not start where it is much easier. Geothermal drilling now takes place in California with almost no publicity and minuscule funding.
Carlo Castoro

"Comfort Zone" (July/August 2011)

I love Sierra and appreciate the usual thoroughness of the research behind the articles, but presenting the project as sustainable is disingenuous (albeit, I am certain, not intentionally). The 70 percent reduction in waste has nothing to do with prefab; it has everything to do with architects and builders choosing to be more efficient in the design and construction process. There is nothing efficient about pushing houses on barges up rivers. You state that only the breezeway was built on-site, but the foundation, electric service and septic system was placed before the modules were delivered —so the site was not spared heavy equipment.

Most important: There is nothing sustainable about the quantity of trees that were cut down in order to get fully assembled pods and the requisite crane onto the site. And I guarantee the carbon footprint of that one flaw grossly exceeds the 70 percent reduction in waste material. Just because someone states something is sustainable, does not mean that it is._Quality architecture, in my humble opinion, respects and responds directly to the specific site upon which it is integrated. The glorification of, and false propaganda behind, prefab architecture is a disservice to the environs every Sierra member cherishes._
Scot DiStefano, Tree Hugging Architect
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

CORRECTIONS
"Up to Speed" (July/August) gave an incorrect percentage for the drop in BPA levels when study participants switched from canned to fresh food; the drop was 66 percent. "Trendsetter" (July/August) had an incorrect mileage for the 135-mile Badwater race.



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