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  Sierra Magazine
  May/June 2004
Table of Contents
The Cost of Doing Business
Strategic Ignorance
Interview: Hilda Solis
Tidal Attraction
Why Race Matters
Food for Thought
Ways & Means
Let's Talk
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Good Going
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Sierra Magazine

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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
Franklin, Tennessee

Editor’s note: Earth is now home to more than 6 billion people—with 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. McConahay’s 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 doesn’t 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 America’s unconscionably high youth poverty level.
Mike Males
Santa Cruz, California

Annette Souder, director of the Sierra Club’s 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 ( conducted a comparative study of the United States and European countries and found many factors—including but not limited to poverty—that 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 (

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
Oakland, California

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 ethical—or even sensible—in 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
Houston, Texas

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." Alaska’s 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 California’s 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.)

We welcome letters in response to recent articles. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. Write to us at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3459; fax (415) 977-5794; e-mail

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