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Comments on the May/June 2009 cover
As a longtime member I was totally impressed with the Garbage-Patch Pacific article. For an environmental writer, it was good to see all that information in one place.
About your cover...I am totally embarrassed that you chose a picture of a woman with a tiny bikini as a cover picture. You should have given an equal shot of a man with the same proportion on clothes.
But the Sierra Club is not about sex--our mission is "to explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment." Please remember that and respect your female members.
Sierra Club Solano Group EXCOM
Although I am not a surfer, I still ask: Why such a dopey cover?
Please cancel my subscription to Sierra magazine.
I'd like to save paper--and am not happy with the commercial direction of the publication. The bikini babe on the cover was just too much for me.
Leslie Scopes Anderson
How stupid a choice of a magazine cover this was and that it was just a sexist thought! It has nothing to do with protecting the planet. Whose stupid thought was this for a magazine cover. Take me off your subscriber list. I will no longer donate to this organization, i will not donate to this organization again because of this magazine cover!
Ms. Carolyn Jacques
"King Coal in Court"
I was troubled by the article "King Coal in Court" in its overt neglect to mention nuclear power in the chart listing the most carbon-intensive fuel. Nuclear energy accounts for 20% of all electricity generated in the United States and a much greater percentage in Europe and Asia and produces NEARLY ZERO carbon emissions.
The only hope for our planet is honesty, balance and reason, and we count on organizations like the Sierra Club to support these virtues for the future of our Earth. I would like to see Sierra magazine feature a truly open report on nuclear power to include the truth on disposal of nuclear waste, current safety practices, and the historical safety record of nuclear power and some of the new technologies being harnessed by our enlightened green friends in the European Union, Japan, and South Korea.
Paul M. Schaaf
The "King Coal" article is insightful and informative. I do have a question regarding the chart "The Most Carbon-Intensive Fuel" on p. 42. Why is nuclear energy omitted?
Fort Myers, Florida
Can not help but question why you rated coal, gasoline, jet fuel, and natural gas from 205 to 117 in carbon intensity, then only listed geothermal, hydro, solar and wind at zero. What of nuclear, cows, and so on? Why only list your convenient mind-set?
No mention the earth is usually in an ice age, either.
While reading on about plastics, I kept wondering if there are positives that may offset the trash of "nurdles," bottles and so forth. Perhaps that same negative mind-set here, also?
Recall this Sierra Club took an unnecessary stand for abortion 35+ years back? I figure the same type are still trying to discourage membership with what may be half-truths.
This time, admit you are biased against, say, nuclear for no good reason. The waste is easily controlled and may be recycled soon as it is still 90% potent, whatever that means.
Matthew "Skip" House
North Brunswick, New Jersey
I'm offended by this month's article in a one-size-fits-all article where your reporter Scott Martelle depicts coal burning power plants as "bad energy."
We have 7 coal burning power plants in my home state, North Dakota. The coal is stripped from the farmland to make energy, where after the soil is carefully replaced so that farming can resume some time later. This natural resource is used to make energy into:
- 79% electricity
- 13% natural gas
- 7% farm fertilizers
Having been a ND tax senior corporate I saw the construction of these plants by Bechtel and can attest to the "clean" energy they produce. Investing millions and millions into clean emission controls, these power plants leave the air in North Dakota the cleanest in our nation, and here's why.
In the December 2008 report from the ND Department of Heath Air Quality Division, that agency reports:
- Sulfur dioxide emissions from the two Beulah city-based power plants is measured at 1.6 parts per billion when the state standard is 23 ppb and the federal EPA standard is 30 ppb.
- Nitrogen dioxide emissions from the same plants were measured at 2.7 ppb when the state standard and federal EPA standard is set at 53 ppb.
- Inhalable continuous particulants emissions from the same plants were measured at 16 pg/m3, while the state and federal air quality standards were 50 pg/m3.
This leads to the conclusion with safe clean energy standards, our power plants in North Dakota leave the air some of the cleanest in the entire nation. If there are any doubts, visit my home state and breathe our air.
Clean coal is possible when industry installs the technology to make it so, and the reporting by Mr. Scott Martelle shows his ineptitude and liberal bias in journalism.
While the Sierra Club correctly works against coal, it mistakenly endorses biomass power from trees as a replacement. It's bad enough to see tree-huggers become tree-burners, but even worse since biomass power from trees releases 50% more CO2 than coal. Here in Massachusetts, 5 biomass plants are proposed, which would increase our power plant emissions 11% yet add only 1% more power. Forget about the trees re-growing nonsense, that takes 50 to 75 years, while the burning takes a few minutes.
This is another inconvenient truth, and one the Sierra Club should wake up to.
Coal could be a clean fuel if the power companies would run the flue gases through columns of water with algae in them. Each pass would remove 20-40% of the CO2 (depending on the species of algae) and over 85% of the NO (a worse greenhouse gas than the CO2) and then the algae could be used for animal feed, fertilizer for gardens, lawns and farmer's fields, or run through the McGyan process and create more fuel.
David J. Conklin
I thought that strong support for Smart Growth was one of the basic tenets of the Sierra Club. However, I did not see evidence to support this in the May-June issue. First, in the opening paragraph of "King Coal," lawyer David Bookbinder used his car to get around downtown Washington DC, which is well served by public transportation (METRO). Second, the featured house in a gorgeous two-page spread sounds like it's located in a low-density suburban-sprawl community; there was certainly no mention of a walkable/bikable neighborhood and/or easy access to public transit. I doubt these are the messages that Sierra Club really wants to be sending.
I was curious about your review of claims made by advertisers in your magazine. Do you have any selection criteria for advertisers (i.e. would you allow the coal industry space)? Do you review and approve claims made by your advertisers? My question relates specifically to the Neuton Mower ad in the recent issue. The ad claims that this mower is "emissions-free". Yet the feature story in this issue is about the evils of coal fired power plants. Clearly a mower that is charged on the grid consumes electricity generated (for most of us) by coal plants. This does not seem to be emissions-free. As I have learned from your many great articles it is critical that we understand all of the true costs related to the products we consume.
The table on page 42 of Sierra, May/June 2009 ("The Most Carbon Intensive Fuel") does not include total emissions from all sources (construction of the power plant, fuel preparation, transport of fuel and/or materials for the plant, etc.), Including these still leaves coal the dirtiest fuel, although one can obtain some improvement by using some of the waste heat (cogeneration). A study for Germany by the Oeco-Institut (now about two years old) gives the following emissions (in grams per kWh, electric)
Coal with cogeneration 622
Brown Coal (lignite) 1153
Coal with cogeneration 729
Gas with cogeneration 148
Note that the construction of wind turbines or solar cells also costs energy and results in emissions, which have to be taken into account in a truly fair comparison.
For more on cogeneration, see the article entitled "Getting the Most from Energy," by T.R. Casten and P.F. Schewe, American Scientist Jan/Feb 2009.
Dr. Edith Borie
The illustration on page 42 of your May/June issue has one box that shows the carbon dioxide intensity of various energy sources and another that shows the increasing consumption of coal. I don't know whether to laugh or cry about the omission from the first box of the only scalable base-load source of electricity that we now have that has more or less reasonable costs, that produces almost no CO2, and that currently accounts for over 20% of US electricity production. Perhaps the title of the illustration should be changed to "Bad Environmental Religion Results in Increased Use of Coal."
Peter C. Moss
Cos Cob, Connecticut
I joined the Sierra Club to help support its work to protect flora and fauna, especially those that are endangered or imperiled. But the latest issue of Sierra magazine has me wondering if plant and animal issues haven't taken a back seat to "carbonphobia". After reading through the May/June issue, I'm left with the impression that reducing carbon-based emissions in the United States will ensure the survival of every endangered species, cure virtually every ill caused by mankind and return the planet to its pre-industrialized splendor.
Although carbon emissions are currently a hot environmental topic, there's no compelling evidence that a rapid and wholesale replacement of fossil fuels with alternate energy sources, will have the desired effect on climate change. Another unknown is the potential environmental impact of the alternative energy sources that are alleged to be the planet's salvation.
There's no question that human activity has had an effect on air and water quality, but I'm also convinced that with respect to climate change, man's impact is insignificant compared to that of natural planet cycles. If we were on the cusp of the next Ice Age, all the carbon emissions the human race could muster, wouldn't slow the cool down. Similarly, if the Earth is in the midst of a warming cycle, total elimination of carbon emissions will not keep temperatures from rising. Every time man has been arrogant enough to presume humans can control nature, we've been proven wrong. Do we honestly expect this time it will be any different?
Reduction of harmful emissions, carbon-based and otherwise is a noble goal that will unquestionably deliver ecological benefits. But let's not get so consumed with reducing carbon footprints that we neglect to address direct threats to the plants and animals who desperately need our help to survive.
The art on the opening pages of the article "King Coal in Court" looks to me like an anti-Japanese WWII propaganda poster. The yellow-eyed monster bears a troubling resemblance to racist depictions of Asians that I have seen in materials from the first half of the twentieth century, when people were already used to ape-like caricatures of African-Americans, so this was extended with some added fierce features to fan fear of Asians. I think the Sierra Club might want to consider this, because cooperation between the West and Asia will be needed to address the climate crisis.
"Message in a Bottle"
Thank you so much for writing the article "Message in a Bottle." I had the great fortune to spend a week on Midway Atoll in January '08 as part of a field class with the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University. While there, my classmates and I witnessed firsthand the effects of marine debris on a "pristine" ecosystem. The beaches were littered with trash, none from the atoll's current residents. Thousands of fishing floats, fishing nets, plastic toys, bottles, lighters, and broken plastic pieces of all shapes and sizes were littered on all beaches. We spent 2 days picking up trash from two beaches, and that was not enough time to remove all the debris. We also spent time collecting the stomach contents of several dead albatrosses around the island and then examining those contents. One albatross had over 120 pieces of trash in its stomach, including fishing line, a disposable lighter, and many unidentifiable pieces of plastic. With so many pieces, it doesn't leave much room in an albatross stomach for food.
I have attached a few pictures that I took during my trip to Midway Atoll to show you some of the marine debris that I witnessed.
The problem of plastics in the Pacific is a huge issue that originates from all areas surrounding the Pacific Ocean--maybe one of the greatest nonpoint pollution problems worldwide. I hope that articles like this and the work of Captain Moore, Richard Thompson, and the others you highlighted will bring awareness about this problem to those living around the Pacific Ocean and the world, so we can all do our part to stop the influx of new trash to the Pacific garbage patch and reduce what is already there.
Laura W. Kelm
Las Vegas, Nevada
As an American life member living in Germany, I have a comment about the Mess in a Bottle. In spite of the fact that Germany has a required deposit of 0.25 Euro (between 30 and 35 cents) on most plastic bottles, one can observe a lot of plastic bottles in the trash. A deposit of at least 50 cents will be necessary to ensure adequate recycling. This will also be true for the plastic cups, knives, forks, spoons, etc., used in many restaurants in malls and on airlines. (Yes - 50 cents per item). And don't forget the magazine wrappers.
Stopping plastic at the source is necessary, but a lot more difficult than the article suggests.
Dr. Edith Borie
After reading "Message in a Bottle," I wonder why we need "nurdles" to make plastics when we can use biodegradable corn for containers instead.
St. Petersburg, Florida
This is the second time I've felt compelled to comment on the discordance between the beautiful and vital content of the Sierra magazine and its advertising. I wrote in before wondering why I should continue to receive a magazine highlighting the threats of global warming and selling full page ads to Citgo. This time, the "Message in a Bottle" story left me terrified by the thought of what plastics are doing to our environment, yet I finish David Ferris' article about the flotsam of McDonald's lids and Odwalla bottle seals only to turn to the back cover and see a full page Odwalla ad. I beg you: please try to be more conscious of what you are compromising!
Du Quoin, Illinois
Interesting reading "Message in a Bottle" and then see a full page color ad on the back cover for a sweet drink all attractively wrapped up in a PLASTIC BOTTLE!
David L. Tollefson
New Hope, Minnesota
Love your magazine, just had 2 questions this month.
Why have an eco friendly wine that has to be shipped from Australia or Africa? We have plenty of good ones here in the US that don't require the carbon impact of shipping around the world.
Second: Could the fact that the plastic "absorbs toxins with spongelike efficiency" removing the toxins from the oceans be used in a positive way, since the plastics are already out there? If someone can figure out a way to remove them and their toxins, is there a way this could be used as a benefit to essentially scrub the oceans? Has anyone been working on sifting out the tons of plastic from the ocean to recycle or reclaim, while removing those absorbed toxins from the ocean at the same time? I'm not being facetious, I'm just wondering if anyone is looking at it from that direction?
Just a note on my experience when I was an engineer on deep sea tow boats.
Going back 16 years or so, we were towing barges up and down the east coast of the US. I was not stationed on the bridge, but in the engine room, but I did develop an interest in the plastic I always saw when I visited the bridge. So I made a conservative effort to visit the bridge as much as possible on calm days. What became very prevalent was that for consecutive hours the ocean was never clear of plastic of some type, floating in sight of the tow boat.
I hike now and canoe and am still never out of sight of plastic.
Has there ever been a study about why people throw this stuff on the environment instead of recycling it? They must know it is not a right thing to do.
Trail Snail Pete
Boonton, New Jersey
Why do I never see anything about the real cause of polluting power plants, a sea full of plastic shards and other symptoms? Yes, symptoms, not causes. The real problem is population, way too many people for the planet to support.
I have read studies saying that the sustainable population of this planet is somewhere between 1 and 3 billion people. Currently we are on an exponential growth curve around SEVEN billion.
Yet we do nothing to control reproduction. Growth is the only mantra. Science and engineering will only shield us from this reality for a limited time. Solving old problems will only reveal newer problems.
With fewer people, we would not even need more coal fired power generating plants.
With fewer people we would not be dumping so much plastic into the oceans.
With fewer people we would not be driven to over-fishing the oceans.
With fewer people we would not need to clear-cut Indonesia to make enough palm oil.
With fewer people we would not be driving as many cars and would not have a shortage of oil or a need to manufacture batteries for hybrids.
It all comes back to the real problem, overpopulation. All other environmental problems are SYMPTOMS of this root problem.
When will the Sierra Club take up this problem and find a solution?
"Baby on Board"
Recently, I read Doug Fine's article in your May/June 2009 issue. I thought it sounded like a great trip, one I might like to make myself one day. However, as a former backcountry canoeing guide (and a father), I would like to point out a few safety concerns to your readers. These are tips that apply to any wilderness trip, but are especially important with a young child. First, consider taking a shorter "shake-down" trip before you embark on a multi-day adventure. It is really hard to plan and pack everything you need when you have never taken a trip like this before (or even if you have, but are adding a big variable into the mix, like a baby). This way, if you forget something, like a sun umbrella, help is close by and the consequences won't be severe. Second, it's a good idea to make your first long wilderness adventure on a river (or trail) that you have been down before. There are probably going to be enough surprises from the baby; you won't need any coming from the river too. Lastly, consider going with a bigger group--at least two boats. Accidents can and do happen, even to great paddlers. ThatÕs why we go with friends. Call me a Boy Scout, but being prepared seems preferable to trusting in fate, especially with a little guy on board. I am not trying to disuade readers from taking their young children into the wilderness - I took my son camping the first time when he was two months old - I just want to make sure everyone stays safe.
Durham, North Carolina
I applaud Doug and Amada Fine for taking their newborn on a river adventure. They were indeed right to think that such a thing was something that humans were doing for thousands of years as a natural course of living. Little Quinn is a lucky guy, indeed!
Modern humans (at least in "first-world" countries) shelter their children way too much. We would probably have fewer misfits and dangerous psychopaths in the world if more parents got their children outside and active in nature at an early age!
My folks always had us kids outside on some kind of adventure and we went tent camping almost every summer. We grew up well-adjusted and with a healthy respect for all living things. At 59, I am still out hiking every weekend and actively involved in Los Angeles Audubon on their Conservation Committee.
Culver City, California
I was glad to see Doug and Amanda Fine take the plunge and do a float trip with their 11-week-old baby. It turned out well enough they are considering future trips.
I couldn't help but be reminded by the several month trip Olaus and Mardy Murie did with their 10-month-old baby on the Old Crow River in the Yukon in 1926. They endured several of the concerns and obstacles (biting mosquitoes, being out of touch with civilization) that the Fines did and overcame them. One thing they did not worry about though was being out of cell phone range!
I am emailing to comment on your recent article "Baby on Board." The mainstream media has endless outlets to lets us know what more than a few moronic jackasses are up to. Do you really need to follow their example? Is there really not enough pollution and deforestation in progress around the world that you have to waste space creating sensationalist controversy? In my opinion you are playing into the hands of your enemies by printing this irrelevant garbage. You are close to joining the Nature Conservancy in being an elitist pseudo-environmental organization more interested in being invited to the best centrist democrat cocktail parties than fighting for real change. I have been a member of the Sierra Club for as long as I can remember, but it is unlikely that I will continue to be so. Please do not send me another copy of Sierra magazine. You need the money to give your brilliant contributing authors a bonus.
"Spout" (May/June 2009)
Dear Mr. Sipchen,
I am disappointed to see you and Mr. Schildgen repeat the "truism" that showers waste less water than baths. The provenance of this belief must surely be similar to that of the recently debunked but widely believed claim that people should drink 8 glasses of water a day: a statement originally bracketed with caveats and made with meager scientific support was repeated over and over until a simplistic version became "the truth."
The real truth is not so simple. All bathtubs are not the same size. All bathers do not fill their tubs to the same level. Different shower heads vary in their gallons-per-minute output (some are astoundingly high-output). Different people shower for different lengths of time. (Exhibit A: my teenager, who loves the resonance the shower gives her singing voice as she shaves and ministers to her long hair. Sound familiar, anyone?)
Better advice would be to recommend conservation-minded individuals conduct a simple experiment: Just once, take a shower that's typical in every way, except plug up the drain from start to finish. When the shower is done, is the tub more, or less, full than when you take a bath?
San Jose, California
P.S. It might make an interesting article to research the original source of the claim that showers waste less water. And/or for you to conduct your own research of whether showers or baths are more wasteful. You would, of course, need to have quite a few "subjects" who were typical Americans (not Sierrans, who are more likely to conserve habitually) and lived in various parts of the US.
"Create" (May/June 2009)
I was with you on your May/June Editorial "Give It to Us Straight" until you switched from science to religion on the subject of nuclear power. You need to join the major news organizations, who have just discovered that you can't make a fission weapon with 4% U235 enriched civilian reactor fuel. Normal weapons grade uranium is more than 80% U235. It is like going from coal to diamonds- it's all the same raw material but there is a non trivial amount of processing to consider.
"Enjoy" (May/June 2009)
As a conservation biologist and wine lover, I appreciate suggestions for good organic and/or wildlife-friendly wines. Thus, after reading the 2009 Sierra Outdoor Gear Buyer's Guide in the March/April 2009 Sierra, I dashed out to buy the Redwood Creek Pinot Noir you recommended. While I enjoyed the wine, I was dismayed to find a synthetic cork under the foil. Surely Sierra writers and subscribers are aware of the benefits the traditional "real" cork industry has for wildlife, and the terrible impact synthetic corks have had on this industry. Real cork is sustainably harvested from endemic cork oaks in Iberia; these cork oak forests provide valuable habitat for wildlife. But the price of cork has fallen as vintners turn to synthetic cork, and these native forests are being replaced by agricultural crops with much lower wildlife value. Please, Sierra, keep the whole picture in mind when you recommend products.
Lisa H. Crampton, Ph.D.
University of Nevada Reno
Re: "Red or White? Go With Green"
I enjoyed the article on wine tasting and will definitely try some of the recommended ones. I have a question however: Shouldn't the ratings include the relative environmental costs of transporting the wines? As much as I love wines from Spain, France, Argentina and other foreign countries, it costs more environmentally to transport wines from other countries to my home in the S. F. Bay Area than it does to transport wines here from nearby Livermore, Napa and Sonoma Valley, etc. How about a follow-up explaining some of that?
Susan "Backpack45" Alcorn
Your article on wines was worthy except for 2 glaring and surprising recommendations. Number 1 under Riesling is from South Australia. Number 1 under Merlot is from South Africa. Surely carbon emissions of this magnitude are unacceptable, as is my driving versus biking around my small town. Surely there are better choices closer to home. as you noted for #2 and #3 in both categories. Please amend. I'm sure your readers Down Under and in South Africa will be pleased that they can enjoy your best picks at home and at a better price too.
Your article "Red or White? Go With Green" was most interesting but with a glaring omission; what about boxed wines? I know, I know, many of these are incredibly lacking, but there are a few vintners that are trying to break the absurd notion that only wine in a bottle with a proper cork is acceptable. The great value in say a 3-liter box is not only that you save on the expense of producing a bottle and its attendant extra weight in shipping costs, but the wine can be served as one glass or many and the remainder can last for several weeks with little or no deterioration. While it is true that there is unlikely ever to be a "premier cru" class wine available in a box, with encouragement, more and more vintners will undoubted realize the advantage of dispensing with the bottle and producing good table wines as soon as those of us have overcome the snobbishness we attach to popping the cork.
R. V. Madole
I thoroughly enjoyed your article on sustainable wines, but was a little disappointed that you highlighted vintages from Australia and South Africa along with your American selections. While I enjoy certain foreign vintages myself from time to time, and the practices of the foreign wineries you mentioned are indeed admirable, this was an article on responsible wine choices. With wine, as with any other agricultural product, an environmentally conscious person makes the responsible choice by purchasing locally cultivated items. Think of all the fossil fuel it takes to move gallons of heavy wine from Australia or South Africa to the United States.
I think the article "Red or White? Go with Green" missed an opportunity to promote an important part of the equation--local consumption. Perhaps even more important than organic growing principles is how far a bottle of wine traveled, how much fuel it used up, and the emissions created in the process. How about drinking wine created locally or at least regionally?
Winemakers could sell just as much as they do now, and perhaps even more, by appealing to a sense of place and local pride. But if Australians drank mostly Australian wine, Texans drank primarily wine from Texas, Californians wine from California, the French wine from France, Argentinians wine from Argentina, and so on and so on, we could drastically reduce the use of fuel and the pollution created. I'll drink to that!
Green wine? You gotta be kidding! The wine industry in California alone has destroyed thousands of acres of wildlife habitat. Just ask a deer or an elk if they are free to roam amongst any vineyard, or a meadowlark if it would like to nest between the rows where tall grass used to grow, or a grove of oak trees if they would like to be cleared to make room for more grape vines. The only green wine I recall seeing was a bottle of white dyed green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
I was disappointed to see a bottle being used as a symbol for babies in your May/June issue. Bottles are a symbol for formula. Formula, in addition to being unhealthy for babies and mothers and quite expensive, is very environmentally unfriendly. While I can't imagine the environmental cost involved in its manufacture, the amount of waste generated by people using formula is easier to see. The cans of formula (lined with BPA), the bottles, nipples, etc. generate a huge amount of trash. Please consider a more innocuous symbol for babies such as a teddy bear or a rattle.
ZoLi's Baby Ohm is a welcome change to what I used 40+ years ago. But how about a gender-neutral, environmentally appropriate color: GREEN! Also, let's get back to cloth diapers: nothing in the landfill, easy to launder, come out spanking-white (no bleach, just use Dreft) from baby to baby. (I speak from experience.) Hanging them on the clothesline adds to their whiteness and fresh fragrance. And when the babes outgrow them, you can pass them on to other parents. Too bottom-worn? Good for dustrags, car-washing, windows, whatever. If people can create offspring, they can surely re-create ways to lower the level of landfill.
Page 14--$18.95 a piece for cloth diapers?! You folks need to get real. We used to buy plain white cotton diapers by the dozen in a box. That was a long time ago, and I don't remember the price, but I don't think it was $18.95 for the whole box. Even taking inflation into account, this is ridiculous. Looking at the prices on that page makes me wonder who reads your magazine. You'll never get people to go back to cloth diapers hawking them at that price.
I wanted to react to something in "Earth and Stars" in your recent May/June magazine. After searching the Sierra site, I found this means of emailing you. Shouldn't you make it easier for your magazine readers to contact you?
Anyway, in your recent magazine, Susan Hornik put together a page which included Kevin Connolly's remark about Adrian Grenier saying "Refill it" referring to a water bottle. As most water bottles are plastic, I wondered how safe it is to go on refilling the same bottle. I have also read that keeping a plastic bottle in one's car can result in sun affecting the plastic and thus content quality. It would be interesting to read an article which researched the reuse of plastic bottles, whether this is a good idea or a health hazard. A better idea would be a thermo container which is cleansed regularly. We have to reduce our crazy use of plastic water bottles!
I applaud your article describing green burial caskets, etc., and appreciated the link to greenburialcouncil.org, and I found using their page good for locating biodegradable caskets, and eco-friendly funeral directors and cemeteries, etc. In the latter regard, I was disappointed that you did not include explicitly a brief description of the entire green burial concept. It's important to publicize that there are "wild" cemeteries that disturb the natural ecosystem as little as possible. In addition, a reference to Wikipedia would have been appreciated by many.
"Innovate" (May/June 2009)
Regarding "Innovate, for Plugged-in Living": The arguments for plug-in or hybrid vehicles, and more extreme, the use of their batteries to supply power to the grid during peak times, avoids measuring the environmental impact of the manufacture of the batteries. More important, it is assumed that the batteries can be discharged and recharged indefinitely, and never need to be replaced. Perhaps your magazine could come up with a realistic estimate of the environmental cost of employing such batteries in electrical power supply and in transportation.
Wagener, South Carolina
According to the article, Steven Chu, the Energy Secretary, "the transmission lines will be sited in such a way that takes into consideration the local feelings but also recognizes the national needs." Do people know that these potential lines will cover at least 600 miles between Lassen and Santa Clara Counties, and will force thousands of people out of their homes and properties? The Cascade and Sierra Mountain ranges will be draped with lines and speckled with towers. How beautiful will that be? And there is even a potential for the next nuclear power plant in the Ravendale area of eastern California. It is a tragedy for the mountains and all of its inhabitants. People need to know the "total cost" of going green.
Round Mountain, California
In his otherwise excellent Innovate column in the May/June 2009 issue, Myron Levin refers to our Edison-era electric grid. Please never use the words "Edison" and "grid" in the same sentence! Our system of AC distribution was devised by the Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla, and commercialized in the U.S. by George Westinghouse. Though Thomas Edison did indeed provide us successful inventions, the electric grid was not one of them. To the contrary, he fought its development using numerous unscrupulous and disgusting methods. He promoted AC as "the electricity of death," purposely electrocuting dogs, cats and horses in media circuses. He built the first electric chair using AC and botched its first execution. He attempted to introduce the verb "to Westinghouse" someone, meaning to kill by electricity. Edison continued to promote DC to save his significant financial investment long after it was clear that DC was not suitable for the long-distance transmission of electricity. Most biographers of these three men describe such Edison tactics during the well-known Tesla-Edison current wars. As an electrical engineer, I am ashamed of the methods that Edison chose.
I have read many biographies of these three men. I believe that the most concise, unbiased and best-written account of their work for and against the electric grid is presented in the book: Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, Jill Jonnes, New York: Random House, 2003.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
"Explore" ("May/June 2009)
I enjoy reading my issues of the Sierra magazine. However, I was shocked by something I read in the May/June issue. In a piece by Jennifer Hattam about the glow worm caves of New Zealand, which I have visited, I must take exception to some of her unnecessary verbiage. In the last paragraph she refers to "a couple of smart-a__ guides." This kind of language is beneath the usually great writing in your magazine. Don't you think?
William E. Ellis
"Grapple" (May/June 2009)
On page 32 of your May/June 2009 issue, you weigh the pros and cons of the Boy Scouts. On the positive side, you list "collect recyclables and e-waste, build trails, restore streams, plant trees, and learn to 'leave no trace' during their outdoor expeditions." Which of those items doesn't belong? That's right, building trails destroys habitat, and makes it far easier for humans to invade what habitat is left!
Is the Sierra Club really a conservation organization, or a recreation club pretending to be a conservation organization? If the latter, why should anyone support it?
I was disturbed by the "Leaf and Let Die" article--the fact that frogs and other creatures must die because we must have our produce bagged and untouched by the likes of nature. I wrote the attached letter to Mike Burness at Chiquita Brands International. Won't do a darn bit of good but I wanted to get it off my chest.
Mary Lynne Finn
"Comfort Zone" (May/June 2009)
So Eco-Chic meets Conspicuous Consumption at the Sierra Club. Why do you keep featuring these big beautiful suburban homes? There's no analysis of how "green" they really are. You never show the garages or cars or street side views of these homes. Contributors to urban sprawl can get LEED ratings. Is this home near a bus line or can the owners walk (not hike) to any urban amenity or store? The greenest building is one that's already built. Retrofitting some dopey postwar tract house, though much less cool, would be way greener than this luxury project.
"In Tune With Texas" in the May/June issue gave glowing descriptions of the small-footprint features of a home near Austin, Texas. Many of the features described are worth incorporating into other homes, particular in arid areas.
The article, however, left one question unanswered: Do two people really need a 3,100-square-foot, $700,000 house?
Much of what we read about "green" living seems directed at telling us that if we just do things intelligently we can continue to follow our luxurious modern American lifestyles indefinitely. When one considers the planet's population and its resources this is manifestly untrue. Even with the best technology carefully applied, there is simply not enough to go around.
We must both do things intelligently and do with less.
In Tune With Texas - only If Texas wants to be seen as a monument to wretched excess. Didn't it occur to anyone that a 3,100 square foot house constructed at a cost of $700,000 dollars for two people and some dogs was, perhaps, not the best example of a smart design and certainly not one that could be used as an example for most people. How about finding someone building green houses that don't squander open space - maybe for people content to live in urban centers with ordinary incomes and aspirations.
Kevin E. Ahern
San Francisco, California
While I applaud Lauren Trevino and Carlos Torres-Verdin in building an extensively green house, I find much to fault about their choices and lifestyle. How responsible is it to have such a large house, 3100-square-foot, for two adults and two dogs? You really lost me with that last quote, "it was always our goal to live a socially responsible life in balance with nature." How socially responsible is that? I still call it conspicuous consumption and it sends the wrong message; it smell like hypocrisy. It's the kind of thing that turns off people outside of Sierra Club who ridicule the club members for being phony and self-righteous. We should be sending better signals than that.
"In Tune With Texas"?!!
Excuse me, but a $700,000, 3,100-square-foot home for two adults on 10 acres of land is NOT living "a socially responsible life in balance with nature." Well, let's think, maybe that is in tune with Texas.
Give me a break; do you think that we are morons when it comes to living lightly on the land with a small footprint that is not beyond our means and needs? The Green Building Council members should go back to school because it seems that some trendy green solutions blinded them to some holistic basics.
Santa Fe, New Mexico (in a 1,000-square-foot house on 1.25 acres and also not in balance with nature)
Sierra, your mission says "...to practice & promote the responsible use of the Earth's...resources." The article "In Tune With Texas" describes a 3,100 sq.-ft. house. The article ends with "it was always our goal to live a socially responsible life in balance with nature." How can a 3,100 sq.-ft. house for 2 people be either responsible or in balance with nature? They would be much closer to balance with nature living in an unchanged 1950s 1,000 sq.-ft. house! The average family had 3 children in the '50s and lived in a 1,000 sq.-ft. house. Why do we "need" 2 to 3,000 sq. ft. for the average family with 2 children today? The U.S., with 4.6% of the world's population, uses 25% of total resources and causes 25% of global warming! What "right" do we (the U.S.) have to use 25% of total resources? None!
Overconsumption may be "In Tune With Texas" but shouldn't be accepted by conservationists! Live simply so others can simply live! Waste not, want not! Thanks.
"Bulletin" (May/June 2009)
I write to protest the subtitle of your article on California, subtitled "Showdown in the Sierras." Perhaps you are not aware that there is only one Sierra in the United States--the Sierra Nevada. Were the article about Spain or Mexico. where there are several Sierras, I would have no complaint.
Since you style yourself the Sierra Club one would have thought you would be exquisitely sensitive to this egregious error and would have your crew of proofreaders (or the spell-check system in your computer) eternally alert to prevent it. Please strangle whoever caused this error. If we are vigilant, we may be able to stamp out the responsible gene.
"Last Words" (May/June 2009)
I'm old enough to remember The Graduate and to enjoy the snippet of dialogue from it on your last page (must be one of the earliest pop cultural uses of the word plastic as a pejorative) under that elegantly dystopian feeling photo of the plastic shopping bag hung up in a bramble. But I didn't fully appreciate the larger effect until I turned back to the sunnier cover photo of a mostly naked girl on a plastic surfboard. What are we to make of this semiotically? That a young broad on board trumps an old bag in thistle? Maybe Mr. McGuire should have said to young Ben: Skin, Ben. There's a great future in it. Think about it.
Anchor Point, Alaska
I found it ironic that your May/June issue, has so many provoking articles regarding plastic, and how it has permeated remote parts of the globe, the hermit crab living in a bottle cap particularly got to me. Then the last picture on the last page, with the plastic bag caught in the bush, with the quote from The Graduateabout plastics being the future, and I let out a big sigh, and closed the back cover, only to see an ad for Odwalla juice, in a plastic bottle! Did anyone talk about this around the office? Am I the only one that thinks this is not only ironic, but hysterical, and hypocritical. Maybe you should only use green advertisers!
West Hollywood, California