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  Sierra Magazine
  November/December 2008
Table of Contents
Ice Manliness Cometh
A Six-Dog-Power Engine
I (Heart) Snowshoeing
Skiing Yellowstone
Welcome Back to the World
Rotten Fish Tales
Big Fun in the Green Zone
Hey Mr. Green
Comfort Zone
Mixed Media
Last Words
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Mixed Media

Comics | Books

There Oughta Be A Cartoon
Lloyd Dangle is looking for the funny side of MTBE. To most people, the gasoline additive–once considered a boon that would make California’s cars run cleaner, but now recognized as a poison that has contaminated groundwater throughout the state–is a depressing and disappointing example of unintended consequences. To cartoonist Dangle, it’s perfect fodder for his weekly strip, Troubletown, which runs in two dozen newspapers and magazines around the country, as well as the Web magazine Slate. "This is a case of monumental idiocy," Dangle says as he sits in the backyard studio of his Oakland, California, home, mulling over ideas for illustrating the complex crisis in nine panels using scratchy characters and balloon quotes. "I look for the humor on the other side of anger and tragedy."

Environmental issues often fit Dangle’s criteria as "funny-slash-tragic," including recycled computer monitors (low-paid Third World disassemblers are exposed to the machines’ toxic insides), hydrogen fuel cells (in one proposal, the newest and cleanest technology will be dependent on one of the oldest and dirtiest, oil), and logging in national forests (timber companies propose clearcutting to "salvage" the forest).

Like any good political cartoonist, Dangle knows to "follow the money," and has found a wealth of material in the Enron bankruptcy and the Bush administration’s industry-friendly energy plan. A recent Dangle cartoon shows Enron execs frantically transferring bags of money out of a pipeline and into a truck while an administration official apologetically tells them that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney won’t intervene on the company’s behalf: "It might give a bad impression . . . especially since they built that pipeline for you."

As he offers me a cup of coffee in an official Troubletown mug ("Kills anthrax on contact!" it proclaims), Dangle tells me his style is to "stay close to what’s true, but push it to make it funny." He’ll take nuggets of fact–the closed-door deliberations and unchecked power of the World Trade Organization, for example–and explore the absurdities. "Anything that prevents human gene trademarking restricts growth! Saving king salmon stymies export demand!" free-trade leaders assert in Dangle’s fictive rendition of the 1999 WTO proceedings in Seattle.

An ability to turn the frightening into the laughable is the hallmark of good satire; think Stanley Kubrick’s romp through the threat of nuclear holocaust in Dr. Strangelove. Taking on the corporate money that flooded the 2000 presidential elections, Dangle coyly worried that "with over $50 million in contributions, it’s hard for G. W. to remember everybody." Pause. "On the other hand, it’s easy to remember who didn’t pay!" Skewering Bush’s boast that his campaign did not accept public funds (because they come with spending caps), Dangle’s scenario ends with those who fail to contribute–in Dangle’s take, public schools–being left in the lurch.

Politics is hardly a spectator sport for Michigan-raised Dangle, who got his start more than 15 years ago at the Flint Voice, the brash alternative paper founded by political satirist Michael Moore. Dangle is president of the Graphic Artists Guild, a 35-year-old union of independent artists that voted to become a United Auto Workers affiliate three years ago. (To herald the alliance, one Troubletown pictures the slight, blonde Dangle at his drafting board, announcing, "I increased my upper body mass by 40 percent and made 750,000 new friends . . . You want a piece of me?") Dangle’s group relentlessly fights to protect freelance artists’ copyrights, and recently convinced California to repeal an unfair tax against artists and illustrators.

To Dangle, cartooning balances the seriousness of his politics. "In the end, it’s entertainment," he says, "so I can delve into things that aren’t palatable another way." Soon after September 11, he inked a "short history" of Afghanistan, exploring some of the less noble aspects of U.S. foreign-policy decisions. It elicited the most e-mail, praise, and outrage he’s ever received. (Dangle was even criticized for being a "heterosexual liberal" after he devoted several strips to the recent birth of his son, Oscar.) He shrugs off the critics, happy that he can provoke thinking about thorny issues in his four-by-five-inch space. Troubletown "is about shared experience, and giving voice to the powerless," Dangle says. And a good laugh.
Reed McManus

For more examples of Lloyd Dangle’s work, go to To abandon yourself in the world of political cartoons, head to Daryl Cagle’s Professional Cartoonists Index at, which includes sections devoted to environmental issues, Enron, and the Bush administration energy plan.

Green Revolution in Economics
We need a revolution in economics as radical as the Copernican in physics, warns Worldwatch Institute founder Lester Brown in Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the EarthW. W. Norton, $15.95. (See "Power Lunch,") Commercial activity has long been the center of economists’ attention, with nature left outside most calculations. But now that we have strained, drained, and poisoned the environment more severely and extensively than any time in history, says Brown, our economic universe must be turned inside out, so that we recognize that without the labor of nature at the center, an economy cannot survive. Emphasizing that an economy is sustainable "only if it respects the principles of ecology," Brown cites the environmental causes of the downfall of civilizations from ancient Sumeria to the Mayan empire to Easter Island, noting: "The Sumerians did not know that the New World even existed, much less that it would one day support flourishing civilizations. . . . The Mayans had no idea that Easter Island existed." The crucial difference between today’s world and the past is that "each of these civilizations collapsed in isolation, with no effect on the others. But today, in an integrated global economy, a collapse in one country or region will affect all of us."

Finding hope in the fact that the Earth-centered approach is already developing, Brown discusses new, Earth-friendly technologies such as wind power that are proving profitable. He cites innovative economists, including a half-dozen Nobel Prize—winners, who assign value to "ecosystem services," making it possible to literally book swamps, prairies, and deserts as productive assets. Once nature has a line on an accounting sheet, it is easier to protect in a profit-centered society. If, for example, a forested region retains and filters water, economics can price its environmental service in terms of cost of water storage and purification systems.

Precisely this example is used in The New Economy of Nature: The Quest to Make Conservation Profitableby Gretchen C. Daily and Katherine Ellison, Island Press, $25. Among the many applications of eco-economics explored by Stanford University research scientist Daily and Pulitzer Prize—winning journalist Ellison is that of cleaning New York City’s water supply. Faced with the $8.5 billion cost of constructing a new water purification system, the city determined (after intense political debate) it would be cheaper to protect the vast upstate watershed. This meant allowing the ecosystem itself to do the purification–as it had before intense farming and development overloaded it. The city committed $l.5 billion to protecting land and constructing new storm sewers and septic systems, while also helping farmers limit effluent from their operations.

Eco-economic case studies in The New Economy range from discussions of emissions-trading schemes to assessing the value of uncultivated land as a refuge for native bees that perform multibillion-dollar crop pollination services. The new approach also demands payments for external costs. For example, a tax on polluting emissions is actually a fee to pay for using the atmosphere as a dump, because such use has definite costs in terms of health and environmental impacts.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Thingsby William McDonough and Michael Braungart, North Point Press, $25, expands on McDonough’s arguments in this issue (see "Power Lunch," page 28) that economic growth won’t harm the environment if it imitates natural growth. In nature, everything is constantly recycled or even "upcycled," say McDonough, the audacious architect who designed the roof gardens for Chicago’s city hall, and Braungart, a chemist and founder of the group that became Germany’s Green Party. For them, environmental problems are essentially design problems. "Nature doesn’t have a design problem. People do," they assert. From CO2 to Palm Pilots, all production could be designed for total re-entry into the manufacturing cycle without damage. To prove their point, Cradle to Cradle is made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, which the authors call "technical nutrients" that can be "broken down and circulated infinitely in industrial cycles–made and remade as ‘paper’ or other products–without loss of quality or damage to our environment or ourselves."

Wild Solutions: How Biodiversity Is Money in the Bankby Andrew Beattie and Paul R. Ehrlich, Yale University Press, $25.95, outlines yet another aspect of ecosystem accounting, by recognizing the value of solutions to technical and medical problems that may reside in the staggering diversity of Earth’s estimated 5 to 10 million species, only 1.5 million of which have even been identified. Like Mark J. Plotkin in Medicine Quest, biologists Beattie and Ehrlich provide intriguing explanations of the role of natural substances in medicine, pest control, and even manufacturing. Explaining these "wild solutions," Beattie and Ehrlich enter mysterious microfaunal worlds of bacteria visible to the naked eye or fungi that generate such force in cracking a beetle’s tough exoskeleton that one spore "could lift a school bus with ease" if it were the size of a hand. In the process, they create some inspiring and downright reverent descriptions of insect communities. Speculating on the evolution of a powerful antiseptic in ants’ glands, they observe that "the research and development time has been approximately 60 million years, millions of prototypes have been tested, and the entire research and development program was free." This is a huge leap from merely pricing raw materials. In this model, values are assigned not to a commodity, but to something immaterial–nature’s own scientific knowledge.

True, some environmentalists may recoil from eco-economic ideas. The privatization and quantification of natural services described by Brown may seem sacrilegious. Others will cringe to hear Daily and Ellison say that "establishing ownership of natural capital and services allows bargaining between those affected by an externality and those causing it." Cradle to Cradle’s approach may be seen to encourage a neglect of politics in favor of gee-whiz technofixes. And whither the rainforest if we don’t happen to scrounge enough miracle drugs to make it pay? Moreover, one can imagine all sorts of creative new profiteering scams, as always occurs with new forms of technology and ownership. The mere thought of a Ken Lay trading ant-gland or fungi futures should suffice to put even the perkiest utopian on alert.

Despite such reservations, given the magnitude of the crisis recognized by these authors, we have no choice but eco-economics. And we’ll probably have to rely on old-fashioned gut feelings, common sense, and just plain awe to keep nature’s new accountants honest. –Bob Schildgen

Bears of Alaska
by Erwin and Peggy Bauer Sasquatch Books, $15.95
What looks like a brown bear brawl is actually some rather rambunctious courtship behavior, say the authors, whose photographs frequently appear in these pages. Some 70 other remarkable images show bears in equally vigorous action–and in moments of enviable relaxation, too.

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