The fossil-fuel industry enjoys write-offs and subsidies worth $20
billion a year, but tax breaks for solar businesses were killed during the Reagan era and renewable-energy research gets only 10 percent of the U.S. Department of Energy's $3.3 billion budget. Such policies, contends environmental writer and consultant
John J. Berger, help explain why clean, alternative energy has been so slow to replace
nuclear power and fossil fuels, even though the environmental hazards of both are well
known-and U.S. energy costs exceed $500 billion a year, while dependence on foreign oil continues to increase.
Yet Berger is optimistic, because innovations by tenacious scientists and entrepreneurs
have lowered the cost of alternative energy to a competitive level. "Despite the
doubts of some and the opposition of vested interests," he says, "an unstoppable
revolution in energy technology has indeed begun." Berger backs up this claim with
case studies of alternatives such as solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal. He also
stresses the continued importance of the biggest energy source of all: conservation, which
saves $110 billion a year by smart, stingy measures, many of them mandated by federal
rules such as the fuel-efficiency regulations opposed by mainstream energy businesses and
To hasten the shift to clean energy, Berger proposes eliminating outrageous handouts to
fossil-fuel and nuclear industries; boosting government support for renewables; levying
higher gas taxes to create incentives for alternatives; and demanding the government buy
its $9 billion-a-year's worth of energy from renewable sources.
Though Berger's narrative lags occasionally, this exhaustive survey, complete with a
20-page directory, is a marvelous resource for environmental activists, businesspeople, or
talented engineers pining for something more useful to do than building bombs and
highways. -Bob Schildgen
Gen X Energy
The Future Is Ours
Edited by John W. Bartlett
Henry Holt $14.95
Portraying today's youth as "confused, dysfunctional,
self-centered, and resentful" is merely a media slur, contends John W. Bartlett in
this useful and inspiring guide for fledgling activists. Bartlett himself is a refutation of the stereotype. A veteran human-rights advocate by the time he graduated from Brown University in 1995,
he draws on his own experience to offer practical advice to organizers in chapters like
"Getting Started," "Community Education," and "Changing
Policy." Each section includes a "Success Story" with environmental
highlights ranging from a high school club's prairie-restoration efforts in Illinois to a
youth's tree-planting campaign in Burundi.
Bartlett also includes 11 essays in which activists (including Mark Fraioli and Adam
Werbach, former leaders of the Sierra Student Coalition), share experience and insight.
"Here's a secret that corporate America doesn't want you to know," writes
Werbach, now Sierra Club president. "When we get our friends together and hold a
rally in Oregon to protest the clearcutting of our cathedral forests, some big timber
barons are looking for a rock to crawl under. No matter how much polluters spend, they
can't buy our integrity, sincerity, and virtue."
Strong stuff, though at times Bartlett's own advice seems overcautious: "We do not
suffer the pie-eyed idealism that led our parents to despair when they failed at creating
the perfect world. . . . Forget for a moment the huge world and focus on what is right in
front of you. Clean up your patch of the planet first; then keep the movement alive by
growing and changing-seeking new people, new issues, new ideas." Picking easier
battles does create a comfort zone, but activism isn't always comfortable, and sometimes
you have to look at the big picture to retouch the little one. Since what Bartlett calls
"the movement" is only a loose collection of progressive groups, it may take a
few of those pie-eyed idealists to forge a more cohesive force for change.
Aware of this need to work together, Bartlett wisely exhorts readers to ally with a
variety of groups including feminist, human-rights, church, temple, and even Lions and
Rotary clubs. But he does overlook some key organizations whose middle-aged members aren't
necessarily "in despair," such as the environmentally minded co-ops and labor
unions, which aren't even mentioned in an otherwise impressive 60-page resource list. If
Bartlett and the dedicated young people represented in this volume can build solidarity
with stalwarts like these while demanding the best of themselves, they may indeed
out-reform their parents. -B. S.
Tales for Tykes
Is there a way to teach conservation without scaring (or boring) the little ones?
Marcus Pfister treads that fine line in his story of a mouse who finds a heat-generating,
glowing rock in Milo and the Magical Stones (North-South Books,
$18.95). Will the mouse colony be undone by over-mining the precious mineral? Two endings,
one happy, one sad, gently show the need to treat the planet with respect and care. Ages 4
Young naturalists will be inspired by the focus on common creatures in The
Natural Treasure Field Guide for Kids (Roberts Rinehart, $12.95). Elizabeth
Biesiot maps out clues left by nearly 200 North American mammals, birds, reptiles,
amphibians, and insects in a simple, pocket-size format that makes this a handy reference. Ages 8 to 12.
Endangered Species (John Muir, $5.95) from the Extremely Weird
series is an eye-catching album of some of Earth's most bizarre (and frequently downright
homely) creatures. Color portraits of such uncharismatic fauna as the red-knee tarantula
and the Malayan tapir shine a spotlight on animals in danger of being overlooked. Ages 6
The true story How It Was With Dooms (Margaret K. McElderry Books,
$19.95) takes the old theme of a boy and his dog one dramatic step further with a
captivating photo chronicle of a family's life in Kenya with an orphaned baby cheetah.
Ages 8 to 12.
Ashley Wolff's robustly hued illustrations of animals in their habitats combine sweetly
with the simple rhymes of Jean Marzollo in Home Sweet Home
(HarperCollins, $14.95). Requests for this lovely book will be welcomed night after night.
Ages 3 to 8.
-Tracy Baxter and Kendra Smith
MYTHBUSTER: Drilling for Truth
what you see: A tiny blue butterfly flutters across the television screens of millions
of viewers. The narrator explains Chevron's program to save this endangered species and
rhetorically asks, "Do people really do that so a tenth of a gram of beauty can
survive?" His comforting conclusion? "People do."
What you don't see: Not shown in the ad is the compound surrounded by barbed wire where
the sand-dune-dwelling El Segundo blue butterfly makes its home atop the United States'
largest underground oil spill. Welcome to one of the largest sources of pollution in the
Los Angeles Basin-Chevron's El Segundo refinery.
The ad is 1 of 20 touting conservation efforts across Chevron's empire. The television
and magazine spots create the impression that Chevron is a caring organization. Yet
Chevron spends more on promoting its image through "People Do" ads than it does
on the programs themselves.
A number of "People Do" projects-such as those to protect grizzlies in
Montana, waterfowl in Mississippi, eagles in Wyoming, and kit foxes in California-are
mandated by law. Most insidious is the advertisements' implication that regulations are
unnecessary because the oil companies are already taking care of the environmental
consequences of their actions. Indeed, the ads air only in the top oil-producing states of
the continental United States-California, Texas, and Louisiana-locations where the
corporation drills for and refines the lion's share of its oil and, consequently, where it
is most heavily regulated. -Adapted from The Corporate Planet by Joshua Karliner (Sierra Club Books, November 1997).
New from Sierra Club Books
Adventuring in the California Desert by Lynn Foster. A detailed
guide to hiking and natural history that shows how to enjoy the desert without harming its
The Case Against the Global Economy edited by Jerry Mander and
Edward Goldsmith. More than 40 leading economists and environmentalists warn of the
dangers of globalization. Now in paperback.
Turning Away From Technology: a New Vision for the 21st Century
edited by Stephanie Mills. A bold challenge to "technological totalitarianism"
by some of its most eloquent critics, including Kirkpatrick Sale and Jeremy Rifkin.
The Monkey's Bridge: Mysteries of Evolution in Central America by
David Rains Wallace. The epic of 3 million years of evolution in one of the world's most
biologically diverse regions.
Big Walls: Breakthroughs on the Free-Climbing Frontier by Paul
Piana, with photographs by Galen Rowell, Bill Hatcher, and Beth Wald. A vivid account of
legendary climbs up the four most daunting rock faces on this continent.
Mother Nature: Animal Parents and Their Young by Candace Savage.
Some of the world's leading wildlife photographers touchingly portray family bonding among
Songbirds: Celebrating Nature's Voice by Ronald Orenstein. An
authoritative source on songbirds that explains their intriguing lives, with the help of
130 color photographs.
Vulture: Nature's Ghastly Gourmet by Wayne Grady. Sixty dramatic
photos and an account of its remarkable traits and crucial ecological role allow the much
maligned scavenger to emerge a divine bird.
Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (800) 935-1056, through our Web site, www.sierraclub.org/books,
or by writing 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.
Bullfrog Films, $34.95;
A quick pace and sharp wit go a long way to make a meaty topic-Americans'
addiction to consumption-easy to digest in this informative, entertaining
documentary narrated by National Public Radio's Scott Simon.
Affluenza, "an unhappy condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and
waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more," is responsible for
an array of social ills, say the producers, from the abrogation of civic
duty to the breakdown of the family. This obsession with accumulating material
possessions, they say, is a relatively recent phenomenon. "Until this
century, to consume was considered a bad thing," says Jeremy Rifkin,
one of many "affluenza experts" interviewed.
So what launched Americans onto the work-and-spend treadmill? The producers
trace the roots of the syndrome to the heady postwar boom of the 1950s and
the advent of television. A barrage of old print and TV ads-including one
that promises you'll find the secret to a good relationship in Strawberry
Kiwi Jell-O-along with a clever soap-opera dramatization of an affluenza
victim, personal testimonials, and an astonishingly blatant sales-training
film clip lay bare the forces shaping popular culture. Thanks to TV, advertisers
could reach a mass audience, whom they bombarded with the message that psychological
health depends on material wealth. It's a message that hasn't changed in
half a century; the messenger has just grown more sophisticated.
What's the prognosis for a society where shopping malls are the new community
centers? Left unchecked, affluenza will surely lead to ecological disaster.
And while "voluntary simplicity" is clearly a prescription that
can help, a larger question remains: how do we convince the millions of
people practicing involuntary simplicity that they're really better off
doing without? -Liza Gross
Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, $19.95
Protecting streams seems like child's play in the hands of Bill Nye "The
Science Guy" as he guides us through this frolicsome introduction to
Stressing that anyone can become a streamkeeper, Nye outlines a three-step
approach: investigate, inventory and monitor, and take action. Taking us
from mountaintops to forest floors to farmlands and even city streets-often
via hilariously cheesy special effects-The Science Guy describes where streams
come from and how they work. "If even one stream is destroyed,"
he warns, "it messes with the whole system."
Nye urges nascent streamkeepers to use local resources ranging from city
hall to the state Fish and Wildlife Service to find out about a stream's
history, native species, and current threats. If any animals or plants are
missing, chances are the stream is contaminated, and it's a pretty safe
bet that humans are to blame. Farming, pesticides, ranching, logging, dams,
urban sprawl, and recreation all can have devastating impacts. But ever
upbeat, Nye reminds us that even the simplest act-removing garbage from
a stream and its banks-can help rehabilitate it.
Although the video is designed as a training tool to complement technical
workshops for community groups, Nye's silly stunts and irreverent attitude
add enough spice to hold kids' interest, too. He calls the ice-cube trays
used to collect bugs from the stream "macro-invertebrate sorting devices,
or MSDs, to the scientists and government agencies who pay $500 apiece for
'em." Thanks to Nye's ardor, viewers will learn that they can help
restore their watershed and have fun doing it. -L.G.
Connect: A New Ecological Paradigm
Magic Baby Productions, $39.95
With its rapid-fire editing, hip soundtrack, and rock stars-R.E.M.'s
Michael Stipe and the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch-this video is a passionate,
energy-infused call to action aimed at today's youth. In fact, it first
aired on MTV last Earth Day.
The can-do attitude evoked by the producers' name-YES! (see "Class
Acts," page 52)-is reflected in the enthusiastic appeals on behalf
of the planet made by the young activists profiled here. Their testimonials
focus on the global devastation wrought by an improvident culture, a message
that's reinforced by juxtaposing images of conspicuous consumption-high-fashion
runway models, ubiquitous supermalls, overcrowded freeways-with recurring
shots of festering garbage dumps.
These young leaders, representing 20 countries, present a united voice,
emphasizing that each person can make a difference. It doesn't matter which
cause you support-as long as you do something. -L.G.
World on the Web
by Sierra Club Webmaster John Kealy
All John Muir needed when heading out to "climb the mountains and get their good
tidings" was a little bread and tea, but I like to spend some time sitting in front
of my computer first. The World Wide Web is a great place to find information on outdoor
recreation of any kind. For my current obsession, rock climbing, the wealth of
mountaineering Web sites and links is, well, vertiginous.
First off are the general-interest climbing
"e-zines." Rock and Ice (www.rockandice.com) offers an extensive spinoff of the
respected print publication. Besides climbing news, product reviews, and you-are-there
stories, the site offers a useful "Beginner's Corner" and interactive features
that allow readers to comment on topical issues, such as the ethics of using permanent
With Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air on the
best-seller list, the events leading to the deaths of eight climbers on Mt. Everest in May
1996 continue to loom large. Several Web sites cover this tragedy extensively, including
The Mountain Zone (www.mountainzone.com) and Outside Online
(outside.starwave.com/peaks/fischer). A team filming an upcoming episode of the PBS series
NOVA was on the peak at the time of the accident. Its site
(www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/nova/everest) provides some chilling firsthand reporting as well
as stunning photos of the mountain, including a panoramic view from the summit. To this
troika of sobering sites, add Accidents in North American Mountaineering (www.bme.jhu.edu/~peter/climbing/ANAM95/ANAM.html).
If after all this you're still intrigued by
mountaineering, you might want safety tips and some experienced partners. The Web sites
sponsored by various climbing organizations should be your next stop. The Club's
Angeles Chapter has assembled fact-filled Web pages that
include online versions of the groups' newsletters, in-depth trip reports, and lists of
Sierra Nevada peaks.
A warning for all the cyber potatoes out there: while you may find
yourself spending hours "climbing" the Web, remember that the point is to get
you out of the house and onto the rocks to explore the great outdoors for yourself.