Click our logo for the Sierra Club homepage.
Printer-friendly version Share:  Share this page on FacebookShare this page on TwitterShare this page by emailShare this page with other services

Sierra magazine
More Readers Spout Off Web only!

Sierra magazine just keeps getting better! The Jan/Feb issue of Sierra was a gem, from Carl Pope's disturbing tutorial on meat safety, through the incredible wave photos, the wonderful news about Tejon ranch, and especially Susan Zakin's riveting piece about Richard Leakey. What a role model he is! His political work and insightful action in training and supporting African conservationists offers hope for Africa's wildlife. I hope others will be inspired by the story and follow in his footsteps.
Arden Buck
Nederland, Colorado

"The West Without Coal"

Editor's note: "The West Without Coal" (January/February 2010) misstated the amount of C02 emitted by the Navajo Generating Station; it is 20 million tons per year. The article also incorrectly named the wires transmitting Navajo's electricity to Los Angeles, which are of the 500-kilovolt variety, and the title of author Paul Tullis's blog, which is true

Let me get this straight, my club wants no more coal power plants (even though there is "clean coal"), no dams for power, no nuclear, dislikes the ugliness of wind farms, is fighting in the Mojave Desert a project to use a vast solar panel farm, and Senator Feinstein wants more federal land protected including keeping out solar panel farms. Just what are we going to use for power? You show a picture of one fellow on a bicycle, but the world no longer rides bikes, just check out Europe and the Orient. Everyone has a motor scooter or car. We cannot go back to the horse and buggy days. Mr. Tullis makes a stupid statement saying that Los Angeles pulls down more power that Nigeria. Why not pick Tibet or Mongolia or probably 50 other countries. It is called modernization.
Bob Gregg (member since 1960)
Glendale, California

Your recent interesting and hopeful article about energy alternatives and conservation ("The West Without Coal") triggers a few thoughts regarding our Club's stance on wind energy. Wind energy promoters such as the American Wind Energy Association cite the Sierra Club's general support of wind energy as unqualified endorsement for commercial wind farm development. Unfortunately, some sources report that as many as one in five wind farms cause severe audible and inaudible noise impacts on neighbors. For many, this disrupts healthy sleep patterns and causes physical and mental health problems including nausea, chronic fatigue, loss of concentration and much more. I was skeptical until I interviewed neighbors of a wind farm in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma. Of the six families that I interviewed, three experienced severe problems with noise and vibrations. In one family, a three-year-old child has been unable to sleep when the wind farm is operating since it became operational the previous year. Researchers in many countries, including ours, are now suggesting about a mile separation (setback) from residences and other sensitive locations such as hospitals and schools. (More information is at National Wind Watch and the Industrial Wind Action Group. Knowing that federal energy policies are encouraging rapid expansion of commercial wind farms, our Club must strongly encourage the Obama administration to study the extent of wind turbine noise and address it through improved technologies and developing research-based guidelines (including reasonable setbacks) for wind farm development. Doing less fails our mission "to protect ... the quality of the natural and human environment."
Felix Revello
Larned, Kansas

I am never surprised when innumeracy appears in the press, but I expect better of Sierra. The annual CO2 emissions of the Navajo Generating Station are said to be "20 million pounds . . . equivalent to the emissions from 3 million cars." Would that it were true! That would mean a car emits only about 7 pounds of CO2, and we could forget about carbon issues. In fact Navajo emits about 20 million TONS annually. When an author leads with a number that is wrong by a factor of 2000 I wonder if I have to fact-check everything else.
Rob Savoie
Los Altos Hills, California

"Twenty-one percent of that electricity is transmitted via 500-kilowatt high-tension wires to Los Angeles, 430 miles to the west."

If you guys don't know a WATT from a VOLT why should I assume the rest of the article has any validity?

Also, might I point out that once the proper unit "kilovolt" is used "high-tension" becomes academically redundant in a tautological sort of way.
Bob Wagner

Near the beginning of "The West Without Coal," the author writes of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station's smokestacks, "the 20 million pounds of carbon dioxide they pump into the atmosphere each year--equivalent to the emissions from 3 million cars." Are we comparing apples to apples here, i.e., the annual emissions of the power plant to the annual emissions of 3 million cars? That would mean that the average car, driven the average number of miles, emits less than 7 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year. That seems low to me. Did a "tons" get mistakenly changed into "pounds", or am I missing something?
Richard Khanlian
Santa Fe, New Mexico

In "The West Without Coal," I was disappointed to read that the City of LA (Freeman?) claims to have "converted . . . every traffic light in the city to low power light-emitting diodes (LEDs)."

This is not true. I have worked in the traffic industry for decades and frequently travel LA surface streets. I can easily recognize the pale color rendition of an incandescent lamp as well as the vibrant color generated by LED traffic lamps. I would say that it is rare to find traffic signals in LA fully converted to LED lamps. 24 hours per day, those incandescent lamps are burning 10 times the power necessary to do the job. California Energy Commission regulations have prohibited the use of incandescent lamps in traffic signals since 2003, yet LA marches on with 100-year-old technology while claiming the opposite.

"Where the Wild Things Are. Still"

I applaud the huge victory in achieving a large acreage set aside (Tejon Ranch) in the greater Los Angeles region. But regarding the land owners plan to construct a city for over 70,000 in the Grapevine-Tejon area, we CA taxpayers, in a nearly bankrupt state, should loudly protest this plan. Many of the new Tejon residents will be commuting 70 miles plus, north and south, for their jobs. Highway 5 through that area is already at capacity during peak driving periods, so a difficult and costly Highway 5 lane expansion through very rugged mountains will be required.

Further, the tiny amount of water in that area has long since been diverted to existing development; hence, this development will likely suck additional water from the California Water Project; taking even more water from already stressed valley farmers. Add taxpayer expense for upgraded fire protection in an extreme forest fire area. So here we are, again, adding billions to our state tax burden for the benefit of a few greedy developers. I don't understand why our federal, state and/or county governments can't simply zone this insanity out of existence.
Lewis Bielanowski
Danville, California

I just got done reading your feature article and wow what memories it brings back. The trigger is the image of the horned lizard (we called them horned toads), which my brother and I used to catch and play with when we homesteaded five acres of land on the foothills south of Lucerne Valley, CA.

My parents were young desert rat/rock hounds back in the 40s as well as High Sierra campers. My brother and I grew up with conservation/environmental reverence as we camped and hiked in the mountains around Lake Tenaya, where we fished for beer cans with magnets and made chains from discarded pop-top tabs. I grew up picking up campsites and trails.

My wife and I continue to do our part picking up trash as we travel throughout the USA hiking and paddling our tandem kayak.

Great article. Hope the conservation plans work out for the vast Tejon Ranch property.
Vard Whittick

After reading Humes's excellent article on Tejon Ranch, I'd like to visit. Can you suggest how to get info about entering the ranch, road conditions, etc.?
Maureen Draper

Unfortunately, the deal that created the Tejon Ranch Conservancy did nothing but preserve land that the owners had no intention of developing anyway. All this at the cost of destroying the core of the biological linkage between the Sierra and Coast Ranges that proponents of the deal proclaim is so essential about the ranch: the 25,000-square-acre planned subdivision known as Tejon Mountain Village - an area that I have seen firsthand, and one that will never be anything close to a "nature preserve" once it is established. This deal is supported by aged baby-boomer activists who have mastered the art of compromise, and I'm surprised the Sierra Club endorsed it. It's like buying the Grand Canyon just for the view and letting the previous owners continue use the Colorado River as a toxic waste dump. I believe in the words of Dave Foreman that there is no compromise in defense of Mother Earth.
Scott Werner
M.S., Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences
Ojai, California

"Where the Wild Things Are. Still," by Edward Humes, states that Tejon Ranch is "now open to the outside world for the first time in 140 years." I have been going on the ranch for over 40 years and find it outrageous how my club feels it is their property. It is not; it is something called private property.

Mr. Humes talks about all the animals on the property but leaves out the ones seen most, which are the deer and elk. Makes one wonder if he has ever been on the property. He states, "Skies were once black with the giant birds [condors]." Where did he ever hear that? In my over four decades there I used to see three or four a year, but in the last ten years--zero. He continues, "The ranch provides the only corridor between regions for wildlife migration".

He fails to mention that the animals would have to cross eight-lane Interstate 5 on the south and the State Highway 58 freeway on the north. Mr. Humes also fails to mention that this month a group of environmentalist filed a lawsuit to halt any ranch development. This will nullify any of our Club's hope to preserve the ranch along with limited development as already agreed to.
Bob Gregg (member since 1960)
Glendale, California

Elephant Man"

Sierra magazine just keeps getting better! The Jan/Feb issue of Sierra was a gem, from Carl Pope's disturbing tutorial on meat safety, through the incredible wave photos, the wonderful news about Tejon ranch, and especially Susan Zakin's riveting piece about Richard Leakey. What a role model he is! His political work and insightful action in training and supporting African conservationists offers hope for Africa's wildlife. I hope others will be inspired by the story and follow in his footsteps.
Arden Buck
Nederland, Colorado

"Create" (January/February 2010)

Carl Pope missed the forest for the trees in his "Burger Roulette" piece. He wrote about the health risks of eating hamburgers, but he missed the larger dangers that result from raising cows for beef and dairy products. Both the United Nations ("Livestock's Long Shadow," 2006) and World Watch ("Livestock and Climate Change," November/December 2009) report that the methane produced from animal agriculture is a huge contributor to global warming. So where a burger may kill you (New York Times, October 2009), our continuing desire for meat and dairy products is slowly destroying our planet's ability to support human and nonhuman animal life. Additionally, the waste produced by billions of cows, pigs, and chickens is fouling our waterways and air. So the next time Mr. Pope writes about burgers, I hope he will recognize that burgers are a threat not only because of E. coli poisoning, but also, and primarily, because of their impact on our climate, air and water.
Patti Breitman, co-author How to Eat Like a Vegetarian, Even If You Never Want To Be One
Fairfax, California

Testing is important but the root problem is the appalling, filthy conditions the animals are kept in. If the large-scale producers would pasture the cattle for a month before slaughter, the animals would be cleaner at the start of the meat processing. Of course this would cost more, driving up the cost of beef, which would drive down beef consumption, which would be a good thing too.
Conan O'Harrow
Lake Oswego, Oregon

In Carl Pope's article "Burger Roulette: In Public Policy, Corporate Profits Still Trump Public Safety," he quotes the assistant administrator of the USDA's Department of Food Safety & Inspection Services as saying, in essence, that he bows to the needs (whims?) of Agribiz, not "just" public safety. That this is the case should not be surprising, even were we in an era of honest politics.

The USDA is the Department of Agriculture. Their job is to make American agriculture as successful as possible--which, as crazy as it seems, has nothing to do (from a very short-sighted perspective) with public safety, health, or even "food" or "farming" anymore. In this country and era, "agricultural success" is all about the profit margins of large "Agribiz" corporations. So we should hardly wonder that USDA policy and nutrition recommendations promote Agribiz interests--not ours, the Earth's or growers'.

(Ironically, most Agribiz corporations aren't even in the business of raising food--the traditional definition of agriculture. That gets contracted out to farmers and ranchers--who are definitely not the ones benefiting from America's "agricultural success". Nor are they even all that interested in food--real food--really. Food is simply the raw materials (think highly processed convenience and junk "foods") or substrate (think pesticides and genetic engineering) for these corporations' products. So then we have even less reason to wonder about the direction of USDA policies.

Our mistake is in failing to recognize this, and in not putting the regulation of food--processing, packaging, labeling claims, safety issues, etc.--into the hands of departments whose job actually is to watch out for food and health issues: the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) and the Department of Health and Human Services. At least until they get hijacked by Agribiz interests, as well . . .
Erica Bolliger, nutritional therapist
Portland, Oregon

"Enjoy" (January/February 2010)

Increasingly, parents and caregivers are learning that wasting water and wasting plastic are not their only options when it comes to the Great Diaper Debate.

All over the world, in places where diapers do not exist, people employ knowledge and techniques that allow their babies to wear few or no diapers at all. This process of dealing hygienically with babies' waste is variously called "Elimination Communication," "EC," or "Infant Potty Training" by people who are re-learning this ancient art of baby-care.

Elimination Communication involves observing a baby's signs and signals, providing cue sounds and elimination-place associations, and can be done with or without any diaper use. Another bonus, besides reduced diaper costs and laundry: no potty training necessary, since baby hasn't been diaper-trained in the first place! And, EC can be practiced full-time or just occasionally, started at birth or at nine months or older.

The best part: learning to communicate with your baby is fun, something that changing poopy diapers really isn't, whether they're plastic or cloth. For more information and resources, visit
Sarabeth Matilsky
Ithaca, New York

"Ask" (January/February 2010)

I enjoy reading Mr. Green's "Ask" column each month. One thing he forgot to mention, in response to the question of whether cloth or disposable diapers are better for the environment, is memories. Myself, I think cloth are better, economically and the avoidance of landfill. But also, it's the memories: Cloth diapers go on forever. I can't help getting misty when I wipe my hands off in the garage with a 30-year old diaper from my daughter. It's got to be the last one around this house but it has a lot of memories from a brief period of my life and is still useful to this day. Don't know how I will get rid of it someday, all covered with grease and oil, but then I probably will never want to!
Allen E. Horner

"Grapple" (January/February 2010)

As someone who spent several years intimately involved in policy matters relating to the Bonneville Power Administration I have some familiarity with the intense passions and difficult choices that roil the debate about hydroelectric dams on rivers in the Pacific Northwest. Consequently, I found the article "Liberating the Klamath," by Dashka Slater, sadly lacking, whether intentionally or not I leave it to others to say.

Everything is a trade-off, and when it was decided to build hydroelectric dams in the Northwest the trade-off was between fish and people. The policy decision was to provide electricity to people who didn't have it or couldn't afford it. The cost was damage to the environment and specifically to salmon.

Now the same trade-off comes to a different conclusion, but it would have been helpful if Slater had made it clear that the policy decision in favor of salmon carries a cost too. What is it? Less electricity? More costly electricity? The Pacific Northwest is not exactly thriving; recently Alcoa has folded its tent for example, in part because of the price of electricity.

I am not for a moment suggesting that the decision to bring down the Klamath dams is wrong. On the contrary. What I am suggesting is that the cause of restoring and preserving the environment would be better advanced by arguments that have more nuance than this one and that deal with the concerns of the other side of the issue in a thoughtful manner.
Bruce Carnes
Springfield, Virginia

Electric cars are not zero emission vehicles. Miles away in the rural landscape lies a coal-fired power plant that recharges the lithium ion batteries of these vehicles. The coal that powers the steel turbines and sends energy through the line, burns with great emission into the air.

Embedded in this industrialized process is the intensive coal mining powered by the combustion of diesel fuel. The relentless boring into the earth and the subsequent transport of the harvested coal across great distances has not been accomplished without the release of emissions into the air.

When we never observe or pay for true energy costs, we over consume. To ever turn towards real change, we must recognize and acknowledge our true impacts. Every string is tied to another and when we pull, they all feel our hand. Our impacts extend beyond our local community into every corner of the earth from which we draw our energy.

Technological advancements have great promise, but we must refrain from embracing advancement without the diligent consideration of all associated costs. To see our impact is to understand consequence and then we can reach towards the strands with clear intent and a gentle hand.
Jason Brown
Raleigh, North Carolina



Sierra Club® and "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet"® are registered trademarks of the Sierra Club. © 2014 Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club Seal is a registered copyright, service mark, and trademark of the Sierra Club.