Web Only Extras
Sierra cover (July/August 2010)
With all due respect to the exuberant diver featured on the July/August cover of Sierra (and I have been in his position before, so I know how much fun that can be), I was amazed that that subject had been chosen for your cover design over a more timely and appropriate subject: the Gulf oil spill. I even expected something on the order of a special issue devoted to all aspects of what has undoubtedly become the greatest environmental calamity of our times. It could have been your magazine's finest hour. What happened????
Princeton, New Jersey
I was both interested and offended by Daniel Duane's article on ultralight backpacking on the John Muir Trail. As a High Sierra backpacker for the past 50 years, I have seen a lot of changes in backpacking in that most special range. Bear canisters have become both a necessity and a requirement in Yosemite National Park and elsewhere for easily understood reasons. Much as I dislike having to squeeze them into my pack and lug them around, I understand that they are there to protect the bears. However, Duane makes no mention whatsoever of them, thereby enabling those irresponsible ultralight hikers who seem to think that they are exempt from such considerations. It is not "all about me," it is about the wilderness and about protecting the animals who live there. This attitude seems to permeate much of the ultralight community, but here and there one can see acknowledgment of the need to carry bear canisters in places where bears are a problem, and unfortunately must be periodically killed as a result. Sadly. Sierra did not see fit to make sure that Duane made some mention of this critical requirement for anyone contemplating hiking the JMT.
Member since 1961
I had to chuckle, maybe I'm just an old guy (how'd that happen?). When I started Sierra backpacking in the early '70s (using a then high-tech aluminum frame pack!), the rule of thumb was 35 pounds for a week, all food and two liters of gas included.
I think heavy packing must just reflect the trend over time to more stuff, more complexity.
Tent? What tent? (Tube tent, cord and clothespins). Sleeping under the stars is great. Air mattress? You kidding? A thin ensolite pad sufficed. Svea 123 stove (still use it!), a spoon, and a Sierra cup (no filters then). Rain pants? Try an orange rubberized rain poncho I did have a down pack and jacket, Frostline kits courtesy my mother and aunt. And maybe I'd take a spare pair of socks.
Simi Valley, California
P.S. I did take a hardback copy of War and Peace one trip...
"North Star 2.0" In regards to the review of gadgets Steve Casimiro says in his blurb about the Spot Satellite GPS Messenger, that it uses a global satellite emergency response network, and in the very same breath jokingly suggests we could use it for personal email. Excuse me, I have a great sense of humor, but not when it comes to using emergency-response systems. Hey Steve, maybe you could think about this a bit more carefully, the next time you're reviewing emergency gear.
Bruce Smithhammer states in this article that while backpacking he stops to fish. Quoting from the article: "I get a small fire going, cut a few willow switches, whittle them into spikes, and hang a trout on each." Yet the picture shows trout with lemon slices sizzling in a cast-iron frying pan over a large fire. Shouldn't the picture match the article? I thought we were talking about minimalist backpacking here.
I only made it through the first column of the locavore article in the latest magazine before turning the page. Maybe it was an attempt at humor but it completely missed the mark. Please, give me break!
It is great that he is so superior to all at the store. I cannot believe anyone there had the gall to wear expensive clogs or outdoor clothing. They are obviously fools and he is obviously in position to judge because he is not like their poser selves. Giving space to writers like him is like Obama trying to appease the Republicans. Obama compromises and the Republicans could not care less, they still hate him anyway.
Why give Smithhammer a platform? He is not funny, cannot write, and only detracts from your mission. If he wants to support the Sierra Club, let him be a dues-paying member but keep him out of the magazine.
I was annoyed by Bruce Smithhammer's "Backcountry Locavore" for two reasons. First, he criticized (presumably) REI, which like any organization has faults, however they are far outweighed by the good it does. Second, he's a fly-fisherman who takes joy in torturing (and possibly killing, through injury or infection, post-release) fish for fun. I know he and his like are environmentalists like me, but I don't have to like his reason for being one.
"Close to Home"
I live near the anthracite region of Pennsylvania so I see the scars of mining after nearly 200 years. When I read about mountain top removal, I see some things never change. The government is still letting the coal companies destroy our forests and pollute our streams. Nothing has changed!
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
Bashing fossil fuels is like bashing our own parents. Not one of us would be here if it were not for coal, peat, oil, and natural gas. It is currently fashionable to condemn highly concentrated nature produced fuels as evil, but if humans never used them there would be no modern medicine, no efficient transportation system, no electronics or modern conveniences, and no large scale human food supply. Fossil fuels helped create our bodies: our blood, bones, muscles, and our large intelligent brains.
Without fossil energy there would be human beings on earth, but not us or anyone we could recognize. Earth would be populated by fragmented tribes and primitive nations, without global communications, and stuck in largely stone age conditions. Remember that coal has been used by humans as fuel for at least 3,000 years. Any early fossil fuel free human civilization would have to be based on subsistence farming, domestic animal grazing, hunting and fishing. That may sound like wholesome bucolic fun until you realize that the average human life span would be somewhere between 20 to 35 years, and the total world population would be a billion people at most.
When people say using fossil fuels is foolish, it is like saying that our own vast human food supply is foolish, and that our lives are all worthless. The food we need to survive is created with fossil energy, and that incredible concentrated energy reservoir cannot be replaced with the weak, inefficient, and horribly expensive energy of solar, wind, and biofuel schemes.
EXAMPLE: To provide 100 percent of New York City with electricity from wind power would require impossible around-the-clock winds within a limited speed range, and a wind farm the size of the entire state of Connecticut. To meet 100 percent of United States electricity demand with wind power would require the same impossible weather conditions and a wind farm covering an area larger than Texas and Louisiana combined. [Source: Scientist Jesse H. Ausubel, Director of the Program for the Human Environment, and author of "Renewable and nuclear heresies"] The only energy source big enough and concentrated enough to replace fossil fuels is nuclear power, specifically the use of abundant thorium as fuel.
We have enough thorium to last for thousands of years, and the liquid fluoride thorium reactor is so efficient, clean, safe, and affordable, that it is a tragedy the United States government is ignoring this treasure of engineering while wasting billions on the mathematically absurd renewable energy bandwagon. Renewable energy projects other than traditional hydroelectric power are not sustainable environmentally, economically, or politically. Our attempt to rely on solar and wind power as anything more than costly symbolic window dressing will lead to runaway energy cost inflation, which instantaneously results in runaway food price inflation. Most Americans already realize that biofuel production has been a tragic mistake and has caused skyrocketing food prices and massive environmental damage all around the world. It takes so much energy to produce food that one can say that food equals energy and energy equals food. The quasi-religious cult of renewable energy is leading the world to mass starvation on top of industrial and economic collapse.
Christopher Calder (nonprofit food security advocate not associated with any energy related business)
"Spout" (July/August 2010)
To Patricia who commented in the July/August issue: Originating in Africa hundreds of years ago, the banjo is used around the world to play many kinds of music. It has an outdoor heritage. A well-played banjo and a mountain or other country setting just goes well together. Add a canoe trip and you've got something special. I see a positive here. Perspective is in the mind.
Santa Barbara, California
In reading the most recent letters in the "Spout" section, I realized that many people are probably unaware of how pheasant hunting happens in our state parks. It begins when park worker grabs a bird from its cage while a dog and hunter await in a blind. The worker holds the bird tight so that it cannot breath and is forced to unconsciousness. After the bird is placed, it will wake up, get startled by the dog, and fly away only to be shot and fall back to the ground. I was unaware of this disgusting practice until last year, and I think that it should be noted when people talk about hunting. Deer, birds, rabbits, and fish all feel pain, and personally I wouldn't want to be misled by bait, trapped on a hook, jerk around frantically only to lodge the hook deeper, get pulled out of the water, and have some larger animal use plyers to jerk the hook out of my mouth only to throw me back in the water. This doesn't sound like recreation, and this doesn't sound natural. In nature, animals aren't meant to suffer. Hunting is not natural.
I am writing to you about your response to a letter S. Premena of Boulder, Colorado, wrote to you in your May/June issue. This person was confused about the physical design of a bicycle because your photograph misrepresented which side of a bicycle the chain wheel belongs. You simply responded. "The left-side drivetrain is what you get when you reverse a photo for design purposes."
I don't know if the person who made this decision went to journalism school or not, but as a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and as a former newspaper photojournalist, I will have you know that it is never okay to flip a photo for design purposes. As if your reader's confusion was not enough of a reason, there are many others, too many to list in a short letter to the editor. The most important reason why you should never flip a photo is because it destroys the credibility of your magazine. If I know one photo is a misrepresentation, why should I believe the photo on the next page is telling the truth? Would you allow a writer to state that bicycles have left-side drive trains when they actually do not? I doubt it. A photograph is no different than the written word, insofar as it should tell the truth.
If you want your readers to believe what you publish, then you should issue an apology to your readers in your next issue. Explain why you were wrong in flipping that photograph, and let them know it won't happen again. I have lost confidence in the editorial integrity of your magazine, and won't be satisfied until you acknowledge your mistake.
David Wood Photography
"Act" (July/August 2010)
I am appalled by your article "Islamic Environmentalism." "It's almost as if you are walking in verses of the Koran." How ridiculous. Have you looked for inclusions about "nature"? Have you read Sura 5 of the Koran concerning women? Or should I say the abominable treatment of women? This inclusion is a slap in the face of Sierra Club supporters, of which I am no more, including all those who contacted me who felt the same.
"Escape" (July/August 2010)
Reading the "Escape" article in the July/August edition of Sierra really irked me. The first words in the article, under "Getting There," say, "Fly into Flagstaff Arizona." Reading down the page in the "What's Not Green" section, you mention the sack lunch, the nonorganic snacks, and other food-related things but you forget to mention the biggest offender--the ton (literally) of greenhouse-gas emissions that it might take to fly in to Flagstaff in the first place. I realize some of the trips you promote are moneymakers for the organization, but is there a better way? Whatever happened to the good old days of the "staycation"? A real vacation is nice once in a while, but how about encouraging people to enjoy the beautiful places in their own corner of the country instead?
Hopkinton, New Hamphire
"Grapple" (July/August 2010)
Thanks to Paul Rauber for noting the effort of the Obama administration to gut the moratorium on commercial whaling at the June International Whaling Commission meeting ("Up to Speed"). Fortunately, no thanks to the U.S., the sleazy deal to renew legal whaling fell through, in part due to Australia's, the European Union's and several South American countries' diligence in protecting whales and in part due to Japan and Iceland refusing to accept restrictions on their whaling activity. The Obama administration let the whales down, and we need to ensure that the administration stops negotiating away the whaling moratorium and other environmental protections that have stood the test of time. Plus Japan, Norway and Iceland continue to kill whales outside the IWC and must stop!
Mark J. Palmer
International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute
(Former Chair, Sierra Club National Wildlife Committee & NCRCC)
I don't need an app before I discuss climate change with a denier ["As the World Warms"]. I require the following or I walk away: no charged language (e.g., Al Gore, liberal, hoax), statistical terminology (confidence interval, p-value, margin of error) and consequences of being wrong. If I am wrong, it will cost money as we move to alternative energy earlier than planned, which we will eventually have to do anyway. If they are wrong, we lose the planet as we know it. If they say they aren't wrong, they are not using statistical terminology. I always end up walking away. Always.
I liked the "Good Intentions" graphic feature that purports to illustrate commitment to various conservation practices, but, judging from the results, it appears that saving money is probably at least as important. With the exception of "Buy locally grown food," "Recycle," and "Compost," all other practices listed are money-saving as well as conservation options. While composting takes some effort (and potentially also saves money), buying locally and recycling don't take much effort in most areas.
I have to take issue with the somewhat flippant close to this feature: "But anyone can ride a bike." That's not true, and there are also areas where riding a bike in place of a car can be downright dangerous.
As always, I read this issue's "Grapple" with interest. When I got to the "Good Intentions" segment, my eyes immediately went to the graphic, and of course, immediately began calculating my own "score" (grin). Only after that did I read your introductory comments, and was so saddened by your last words:
"Remember that things like public transit and locally grown food are not equally available. But anyone can ride a bike [emphasis added]." Oh Mr. Rauber, if only that were true! I fear that a fair number of us simply escaped your notice. There are many who cannot ride a bike, for reasons that are far beyond their control.
Some of us are of an age that we can no longer ride for any length of time. Or we live in an area where the terrain or the weather (especially in winter) make biking impractical. Or we live in rural areas, where it's 12 miles or more to the nearest store. Or we live in apartments where there is no place to store a bike. Or we live in places where it is too dangerous to ride a bike because of the traffic, or where the bike would be stolen the first time we chained it outside the place we were going. Or we can't even afford a bike or an effective chain in the first place. Or, most sadly, we have some physical condition that makes it impossible to even sit on a bike, let alone balance on it, or push on the pedals to make it move.
In short, there are people for whom a bike is just not a realistic option, even though they might love to be able to use one. And many of these are poor, or older, or disabled, or some combination of the above--and thus perhaps used to being ignored or forgotten or dismissed or (most likely) never even coming to mind.
Now I am sure your words were not meant to be hurtful. (I note in passing that you did not say "anyone can walk," although the relevant graphic was headed "walk OR bike instead of drive", and the problems I have outlined with biking apply equally to walking.) But the next time you start to write that "anyone can ______," please stop and think: "Is that really true? Aren't there SOME people in this world who cannot _____ because of conditions beyond their control? I suspect that if you consider carefully, you will soon realize that in fact there is absolutely NOTHING that EVERYONE can do, with one exception. All of us can (and will) die.
On a cheerier note, I hope you will take my words to heart, and demonstrate that Sierra Club really embraces all of us, regardless of our physical, financial, or locational situations.
In "Good Intentions" you say that "anyone can ride a bike." Try telling that to my 79-year-old father who is otherwise active, my 75-year-old mother with arthritic knees, or the millions of elderly, disabled, or unfit people to whom your snarky comment can be a turn-off for getting them to sign on to our environmental agenda.
New Providence, New Jersey
Your excellent magazine is entitled to a stupid statement now and then. Nevertheless, I can't let one pass on p.21 of your July-August issue, the "Good Intentions" article.
The introduction ends with the statement "But anyone can ride a bike." Aside from those who don't have two legs and two arms, think about the weak, the elderly and the inept. If I rode a bike in my town, I'd be as much a danger to others as vice versa. And Main Street has three lanes one way, but no room for a bicycle.
Well, enough. Thanks for all you do to preserve nature, which in return preserves species such as us.
Enjoyed the aspiration/reality mismatch summary "Good Intentions" in your July/August magazine until the last line, which read: "But anyone can ride a bike".
Wrong, and you should have known better. Suspect the writer is an able-bodied individual, perhaps caffeine deficient. Some of us have disabling conditions. Some of us have no practical or safe routes upon which to ride as a means of transportation. As you noted, "Public transit and locally grown food are not equally available." Neither is biking. Which is why doing what you can and not making sweeping simplistic assertions are good approaches for us all. Let's get serious about making better choices more possible for more of us.
Marie Valleroy MD
Apparently I don't fit the profile of Sierra Club member, so will discontinue my support of that elite group. Still affected by a stroke, which I experienced 9 years ago, I strive to be as green as I can, reusing, recycling as much as possible and even growing some of my own food. My late husband and I began our first compost "pile" in 1965, and I continue to compost yard and kitchen scraps.
However, I am greatly offended by your arrogance as shown on page 21 of July/August Sierra magazine: "anyone can ride a bike." I can only guess that the average age of your magazine staff is well below my 73 years. I can also guess that none of your staff must use a leg brace and cane to walk about your offices.
This is not a plea to honor the handicapped. It is only a hope that you who are so superbly able bodied allow a little slack for those of us who struggle to get through each day and still try to treat our Earth as well as we can. I was once young and arrogant as you are and you will one day be old and perhaps even disabled as I am.
For your sake, I hope the next generation of Sierra Club members are a more compassionate group.
It does the green community no good when you report without thinking through the whole question. I refer to the slam on Wal-Mart in the July issue ("On the One Hand . . . On the Other"). Disclaimer: I own no Wal-Mart stock, nor am I a particular fan of the firm. While we might desire a small village form of life, so long as the auto is a central fact of American life, we should not blame Wal-Mart for the outcomes. In particular, if we assert each shopper visits the store once a week for an hour at a shot, we can extrapolate that those same cars take up around 1,000 acres of hard surface parking somewhere the rest of the time and those 1,000 acres shed 21,000,000 gallons of similarly contaminated water--and that doesn't consider the intervening road surfaces which are probably good for another couple 100,000,000 gallons. In short, Wal-Mart is a small fraction of the problem and they are not the root cause--it is the car-based culture. In fact, Wal-Mart and shopping malls in general are ecologically efficient in terms of trips required and hard surface to shed rain to supply the economy since they have such a diversity of goods. Now, if we want to advocate that all big parking lots come with pollution-trapping catch basins and petrochemically active bacteria cultures to break down the contaminants, more power to us. But don't pick on Wal-Mart, which is trying to be somewhat responsible.
While I'm bitching about the magazine, when the locavore item features small trout roast on a willow twig gathered on-site, why does the illustration feature a cast iron skillet with fish fillets and a garnish of lemons and herbs. No backpacker in his right mind would cart that skillet on a trip, and if you want lemon, a squeeze bottle of juice weighs no more than a real lemon and would service dozens of fish with leftovers to flavor your water as a bonus.
Thomas M Hargrove
"Taking the Initiative" (July/August 2010)
Carl Pope says nuclear power fails the test for energy production because it produces too much toxic waste. Actually, only about 25 to 30 tonnes of used fuel or three cubic meters per year of vitrified waste is produced by a typical large nuclear reactor (1,000 megawatt, light-water type), which can be effectively and economically isolated. Also, its level of radioactivity falls rapidly from emitting hundreds of kilowatts of heat when newly discharged to only five kilowatts after one year. In 40 years, the radioactivity in it drops to about one thousandth of the level at discharge. Reprocessing used fuel, as the French are now doing, not only recovers unused uranium and plutonium but also further reduces the volume and the radioactivity of material to be disposed of as high-level waste. This is a tiny fraction of the waste generated by coal. Nuclear power offers the only serious alternative energy source that will produce the amount of electricity needed to meet the world's demands for the foreseeable future and not increase the threat of global climate change. David Fouts
Maysville, West Virginia
Carl Pope ("Rule of Thumb", July/August) attributes to philosophers the use of 'heuristics', which he recommends in answering tough questions like, "Could nuclear power help solve global warming?" He is misguided on both counts. Extensive psychological research has shown that heuristics can lead us to get things very, very wrong. This is why we philosophers actually try not to use them. We prefer to actually think about the issue. And the use of nuclear power, surely, is one such issue that deserves careful thought rather than a rule of thumb.
Having been a Sierra Club member for several years, I probably should not have been surprised by the Carl Pope diatribe in the July-August issue of Sierra magazine about coal and nuclear waste being problems. Anyone can be a critic. I was, however, saddened by the lack of a call for our young environmentalists and engineers to find ways to make these technologies viable and safe as future sources of energy. In my mind it is "pie in the sky" thinking to believe that renewable resources can provide enough high quality energy to be viable energy sources in the immediate future. Therefore, the problems that are evident need to be addressed by our brightest and best engineers and scientists right now!
Hopefully, now that Mr. Pope has changed positions with the Sierra Club, he can take a break from leading successful fights to shutter or block over 100 coal plants. Maybe he can become a positive influence in finding real solutions to our energy supply problems and successfully solve some of these problems thereby ultimately promoting the use of coal and nuclear energy sources.
P.S.: As a geologist, [I believe] neither petroleum nor coal should be used to generate electricity. These limited resources should be reserved for future use only in production of medicines and lubricants that currently have no other sources. If we use up all the accessible quantities of these non-renewable resources, what will our children's children use while paying off our share of the National Debt?
"Bulletin" (July/August 2010)
I was disappointed to have to read the inflammatory nature of your brief piece in the July/August edition. Just to get a few facts straight, your deer kill number was off a bit (http://www.iowadnr.gov/news/10feb/09deer.html). Iowa hunters harvested 136,504 deer in 2009, about one-third are killed with archery (no lead). This was not far from the 240,000 pheasants killed, a possible source of ingestible lead if this had not been the worst year in Iowa history. Good-bye to the habitat that was formerly enrolled in CRP, each of the last four years has been worse than the one before. In addition, because Iowa does not allow rifle hunting, the 28,000 milligram shotgun slug never gets to a velocity required to break into the 28,000/200=140 eagle killing doses of lead on impact with a deer. Honestly, as often as not, the slug will pass completely through and out the other side of a deer shot at 50 yards . . . typical slug range.
You may wish to go back a few pages in your same issue and note that North Dakota coal is the probable source of your lead for the primarily migratory bald eagles, which pass through Iowa. The lead being accumulated from fish (their primary diet) in Minnesota and Ontario. I might also add that if you watch Iowa rivers in the winter, fish are also the primary diet in Iowa as well.
Being a former Iowa resident and a current deer hunter, I was disappointed by this "hyped" article. I would hope the Sierra Club could something less than inflammatory and something that would be supported by facts--not just Kay Neumann's idle observation that is was "raining sick and dying eagles." It seems unfortunate that folks at Sierramagazine and the Sierra Club "took the low road" to developing hype about something that does not deserve hype. It is also possible that the larger number of eagles observed in her clinic could also reflect that there just plain are a heck of a lot more eagles around than in 2003. Ted Wilson, Ph.D
Department of Biology
Winona State University
"Last Words" (July/August 2010)
Dan Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote an excellent political-economic-environmental history of Chicago's Sanitary and Ship Canal, and its sanitation and invasive carp problems (http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/97745959.html).
He also provides a solution (http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/97779924.html). 1. Build canal/river barriers that will save Lake Michigan from invasive carp, thus protecting a $7 billion commercial fishing industry, plus safe recreation for boaters and a sustainable water source for millions of lakeshore inhabitants.
2. Create an intermodal transportation hub at the shipping canal that integrates barges with rail and road systems, thus increasing efficient shipment of goods around Chicago and decreasing transportation costs, while increasing the life of surrounding highways.
3. Bring Chicago's sanitation system up to date to include chlorination (cost of $2 to $3 per household per month), thus enabling the return of sanitized water to Lake Michigan, rather than sending 2.1 million gallons of lake water per day down the Mississippi River; and preserving a permanent source of fresh water for residents of Chicago and its growing commerce and industry.
I believe that Mr. Egan's resolution is in line with the Sierra Club's stand on the issue of invasive carp. At the same time, he addresses the positions against this solution, i.e., canal commerce and transportation, Chicago sanitation and water use issues. I think that promotion of his proposal would be worth while to the Sierra Club, and ask that his articles be mentioned and/or reviewed by the Sierra magazine.
Conservation Chair, Great Waters Group, John Muir Chapter
Comments on several articles
What should one do when an organization one's supported in spirit & funds for many years seems unaware of important realities? What to do when good information is available, yet the organization's own publications serve to mislead us all via odd biases?
For myself, I'll continue supporting the club with both funds and accurate information, within my ability & expertise. What will you do?
We have serious issues around the world. They demand honest, accurate, prompt, effective actions. The Sierra, July—August issue, unfortunately exceeded a limit on muddling both issues and actions, while excluding information all people, including environmentalists in all organizations, deserve.
1) "Taking Back the Streets" briefly discusses the many books now available deriding automobile transportation. The reviewer, Vanderbilt, pumps up his prose with phrasing like: "breathess paeans to the car have yielded to searching inquiries." Really? One of the "searching inquiries" quoted is the GM & MIT "Smart Cities" group's "Reinventing the automobile." "Smart" & "reinvent" make a salable blurb today, just as yearly model-appearance changes, invented by GM's Sloan (a later MIT benefactor), made otherwise repetitive vehicle designs seem new & so more salable, and wasteful. And, GM not only killed its electric car, it decades earlier killed city electric transit (to sell buses). The MIT text presents "a compelling case for making our transportation networks as smart as our wireless communication network." Really? GM is trustworthy now? How easily the authors & Vanderbilt forgot all the tens of millions of folks' credit cards & personal information exposed in recent years via our networks, wireless or not.
How does Vanderbilt not raise so critical an issue as the disgraceful lack of security across all our public networks, thus popping the pretentiousness of the MIT/GM thesis? The "smart" transport touted is as much a sham as Trans Ocean's safety certification of Deepwater Horizon, done in the Marshall Islands in hours rather than in many days here. But, what do I know, as just an electrical engineer and network consultant for 40+ years? Vanderbilt must know how ~40 million customer credit cards were hijacked by a few European hackers with wireless PCs a year or so ago, right? Sierra's editors know, right? And, I won't even ask if y'all know about the, inevitable failures of GPS & other satellite communications, even power grids in the coming few years. "Smart" transport indeed.
2) There's no doubt we've wasted vast energy, wealth & land on roads & cars. But the biking/walking books reviewed (and the reviewer) seem to miss the reality that the USA is not Europe, Japan, China, or any other nation where compactness is necessity or convention. Even our eastern states (I'm from NJ) were populated by citing cities a day's horse ride apart. Washington walked across all Pennsylvania, but he didn't walk that far to work. Our cities aren't designed well for any vehicles, but many bicycle advocates even miss the realities they'll face in commuting in old age & real weather -- forget obligations to kids, traffic laws, etc. It's instructive that one author advises us to "to carry a smart phone when walking". Having walked or biked for many years in college, and commuted regularly across Silicon Valley with only a 4-cylinder car, for over 30 years, I fully agree with our responsibility to choose environmentally good forms of transport. But, neither biking nor walking is the solution -- efficient vehicles & public transport will be.
3) But by far, the most unfortunate piece in the issue is "Innovate, a New Wave of Energy". We have a responsibility to the environment & fellow humans to debunk fads & scams. David Ferris seems oblivious to the key environmental parameter of any energy source that will be viable for our future -- energy density. Wind, wave, tide, "biofuels," even geothermal, all fail on this alone. They also fail, along with desert solar, on that nasty reality of transmission loss -- now 7% on average. We engineers make an implicit oath to serve humanity. That means we try to be honest brokers of information about the real world. When we allow our honest appraisals of reality to be nudged in favor of some money-making opportunity, we fail, and not just in keeping the oath, but in endangering others -- of any species.
The "renewables" myth has become so exploited by those seeking subsidies & quick profits from the gullible that we're being asked to support ridiculously wasteful fads like wind 'farms' that generate a fraction of a megawatt per acre, require ~400 tons of steel per 5MW wind tower, ~2000 tons of coal (to make the steel), a thousand cubic meters of concrete, roads for frequent maintenance, yadda, yadda, and no laws in many locales requiring site cleanup after it's obsolete - take a look at defunct Hawaiian & California wind "farms." Did Ferris ask Dehlsen if any like those were Zond's? Then, each of the wave-generator schemes Ferris reviews so uncritically fails even more seriously than wind -- the huge "oscillating wave surge converter" (a techy wow name) yields 1/6th of what a 30-meterdiameter tidal generator can, and that's less than 2MW per 1000 cubic meters. Any idea what 1000 cubic meters looks like? Any idea about resources consumed per unit? Transmission losses? Any idea on vessel & species impacts? You surely could have asked, for we the readers' benefit.
Thank goodness, there were no "biofuels" mentioned this time in Sierra, since we should now all recognize their stupendous inefficiency of 0.3% storage of solar energy (less than a cow's), just to be burned in engines with inevitable thermal wastes of over 60%. Sierra editors should then easily question espousing anything that not only nets just 0.1% of sunlight, but sacrifices millions of acres of land (plus water) we'll need to feed the 3 billion new folks alive by 2050. If so, then why allow the absurdities in Ferris's piece to go uncritiqued?
And that brings us to the focus Sierra Club policy needs to adopt: honest, clear, valid assessment of energy alternatives. We have them. We can solve our energy & water needs while preserving more of the environment than we do now. But, Sierra Club seems willing to risk its future believability & our environment by presenting fallible information. If the club's policy on energy misses what others realize as valid, it will lose credibility in any environmental efforts it pursues. People who have their own exploitive interests in the environment will simply be able to point to naive policy/publication statements by the club as indicative of untrustworthiness of our club's opinions.
I don't ever want that to be true. That's why I write this. That's why I've been a supporting member for decades. And, that's why I work with other environmental groups, just in case Sierra directors don't get the idea, reminiscent of what happened when we were saving our SF Bay. Director Brune has information from me that I'd happily discuss with him & Sierra Club policy folks. I hope that will happen.
Dr. Alexander Cannara
Menlo Park, California
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to us at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105. Please include your name, city, and e-mail address or phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.