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  November/December 1997 Features:
Child's Plague
Class Acts
Into the Outdoors
A Planet Unfree
Field Guide
Ways & Means
Food for Thought
Way to Go
Hearth & Home
Lay of the Land
Sierra Club Bulletin
Natural Resources
Last Words

Sierra Magazine
Natural Resources

Books | Videos | Web


Dirty Politics, Clean Power | Gen X Energy | Learning to Think Environmentally | Shorttakes

Dirty Politics, Clean Power

Charging Ahead
By John J. Berger
Henry Holt $30

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 automakers.

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 to 8.

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 to 10.

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 fragile ecology.

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 animals.

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,, or by writing 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.


Bullfrog Films, $34.95;
(800) 543-3764

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

The Streamkeeper
Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, $19.95
(425) 316-8592

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 watershed care.

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
(888) 456-2229

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 ( 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 anchors.

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 ( and Outside Online ( A team filming an upcoming episode of the PBS series NOVA was on the peak at the time of the accident. Its site ( 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 (

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.

Other sites that provide good regional information include one sponsored by the Colorado Mountain Club (, a home-grown page dedicated to the rocks of New Hampshire (, and the umbrella site of the American Alpine Club (

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.

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