NONE OF OUR BUSINESS?
I have been a member of the Sierra Club for just a year or two and had no idea it had an agenda regarding family planning! I was shocked and saddened to read the article by Mary Jo McConahay editorializing about abstinence-only sex education ("A Neighborhood Named Desire," January/February). What has THAT got to do with keeping our beautiful wilderness clean and preserved? Wayne Causey
Editors note: Earth is now home to more than 6 billion peoplewith a projected 50 percent increase in the next 50 years. The rate at which we consume and degrade natural resources jeopardizes the health of the planet; with almost one-half of the global population under the age of 25, the choices families make today will have a tremendous impact on the future. For this reason, the Sierra Club has an active Global Population and Environment Program to inform the public about population-environment connections and to motivate citizens to take action. McConahays article was a part of this effort.
"A Neighborhood Named Desire" correctly notes that abstinence education has no proven effect on pregnancy among teens, but fails to note that sex education doesnt either. What is taught or preached in schools has no material impact on pregnancy rates. The real factor is poverty, which makes early childbearing (mostly with adult male partners) a rational choice for both economic and health reasons. Where U.S. teens enjoy low poverty rates like European teens, their birthrates are as low as those in Europe; where one-third or more of youth grow up in severe poverty, birthrates are ten times higher. It is time for progressive groups to insist that Americans useless, century-long squabble over sex-versus-abstinence education give way to the demand that economic resources be shared with young people to reduce Americas unconscionably high youth poverty level. Mike Males
Santa Cruz, California
Annette Souder, director of the Sierra Clubs population program, responds: The links to poverty pointed out by Mr. Males are valid; for one thing, poverty affects access to contraceptive services. The Alan Guttmacher Institute (www.guttmacher.org) conducted a comparative study of the United States and European countries and found many factorsincluding but not limited to povertythat affect teen pregnancy rates.
But debates about sex education are hardly a "useless squabble." Unlike abstinence-only education, certain programs that include information about both abstinence and contraception are highly effective. They help teenagers to delay sexual activity, and, when they do become sexually active, to have fewer partners and increase contraceptive use. Of 19 comprehensive sex-education programs evaluated by the nonprofit Advocates for Youth, 7 have been shown to decrease teen pregnancy rates (www.advocatesforyouth.org/programsthatwork).
HOLD THE HALIBUT
The January/February issue of Sierra featured a "Food for Thought" article titled "Have Your Fish and Eat It, Too," which focused on buying fish species that are not endangered. I appreciated your effort to help consumers make smart decisions, but the article and attached chart ignored the methylmercury contamination of many seafood species. For example, in the "Best Choices" column, such fish as halibut and various kinds of tuna have been found to contain levels of methylmercury that threaten the health of pregnant women and children and can result in the poisoning of anyone who eats them multiple times per week. To keep these issues separate is ultimately shortsighted, for it subtly reinforces the common assumption that humans are somehow invulnerable to the fate of all the earth. Dana Spottswood
Given the news over the past year regarding toxics in both caught and farmed fish, the weakening of EPA mercury-reduction regulations, and the ability of fish to feel pain, there would seem to be little that is ethicalor even sensiblein encouraging the consumption of the flesh of any kind of fish. Those who choose animal-free entrées have found it is possible to eat in ways that are satisfying, healthy, and ethical, without having to carry a guide in our pockets. Jeff Mackey
I was nodding my head yes, yes, yes as I read "Have Your Fish and Eat It, Too." However, my jaw nearly dropped when I read that California and Alaska have "thriving, well-regulated wild-salmon fisheries." Alaskas wild-salmon fishery may be thriving, but just ask the thousands of out-of-work and bankrupt commercial salmon fishermen along the central and north coast of California if you want to know how our fishery is doing. The decline began with the building of dams and major diversions, but today logging is directly linked to the loss of up to 90 percent of Californias wild-salmon stocks. Mondy Lariz
San Jose, California
Senior Editor Paul Rauber replies: Ms. Spottswood can click here for information on choosing uncontaminated fish. As to the California salmon fishery, it is indeed a shadow of what it might be, and many of its runs are listed as endangered. In those years when runs (of both wild and hatchery fish) are sufficient, however, state regulations adequately manage a short harvest season. So wild California salmon are perfectly acceptable so long as they were caught legally. Public support for the fishery, in fact, assists those working toward improved management.
On page 27 of our January/February issue, we stated that Ecuador is the most densely populated country "in Latin America," when we should have said "in South America." (El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Latin America.)
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