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  Sierra Magazine
  September/October 2005
Table of Contents
Meet the Corporation
American Idylls
Career Climber
Let's Talk
Ways & Means
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Hey Mr. Green
Good Going
Sierra Club Bulletin
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Sierra Magazine
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Hey Mr. Green
Advice for winning arguments and eating right
by Bob Schildgen

Hey Mr. Green,
My brother insists the gas tax covers all costs of driving, so cars aren't actually subsidized. I say they are. Please give me some facts I can use to support my claim, unless, of course, it's not true. — Brian in Shoreline, Washington

Your sibling will be disappointed to hear that cars are one of the most heavily subsidized perquisites since the pyramids — but the pyramids were built to honor corpses, while cars create them, with more than 40,000 U.S. traffic deaths each year. Yes, everybody and his, um, brother pays dearly for our automotive addiction. Federal and state gas taxes of $50 to $60 billion annually don't even cover the costs of roadbuilding and maintenance, which are subsidized by sales taxes, property taxes, and other state and local levies. Just parking the darn things in "free" lots and garages demands an additional $200 billion handout. Fatalities and illnesses from auto-related pollution add another $40 billion, not to mention the hidden costs of congestion and car crashes. With all those factors to consider, estimates of the total subsidies to automobiles vary widely, from $185 billion to $1.5 trillion annually. For more details, see

Hey Mr. Green,
My wife and I would like to eat organically, but we are of modest means. We also live in a small apartment, so we can't grow our own food. Any ideas? — Craig in Los Angeles

Eating right on a budget is easier than you think, even for city slickers. Just follow the rules of green cuisine: (1) Choose minimally processed food, (2) buy in bulk to avoid marketing and packaging costs, (3) cook as much as you can from scratch, (4) shop locally and in season (after all, organic peaches lose much of their virtue when shipped from 8,000 miles away), and (5) if you're a carnivore, follow Thomas Jefferson's sage advice and deploy meat as a seasoning rather than the centerpiece of a meal. One sausage in a jambalaya goes a lot farther than a hot dog, and is tastier too. Oh, sure, some of you are already grousing about the time and effort it takes to shop and cook like that. But think of all the hours you spend working to pay for processed, instant, plasticized food. Part of the trick in selling people on our convenience-mad world of ready-made meals is to portray the age-old comic/sacramental adventure of cooking as an unbearable torment. If cooking were true drudgery, guys wouldn't be chefs. Send Mr. Green a note requesting his chili and salsa recipes, and you'll see just how simple (and cheap) eating organically can be.

In replying to a Honda CR-V owner's question about her small SUV (May/June), Mr. Green suggested a visit to Car Talk's Web site ( for other driving options. He failed to mention that the CR-V is actually one of the alternatives to large SUVs recommended by Car Talk's proprietors.

Chill Out
Mr. Green's abolitionist rant against air conditioning (January/February) inspired one ingenious reader to share some ideas on how to make your home comfortable in summer without being an energy hog. Check out this and other reader comments in Mr. Green's web-only mailbag.

Read more advice from Mr. Green, including his Web-only mailbag, and submit your own environmental questions at

Mr. Green illustration by Melinda Beck; used with permission.

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