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SPOUT | Rant, React, Chat, Blather

Web-only Extras: More letters from our readers

General comments

I have been disappointed in your magazine lately. I like the magazine for its information related to environmental issues. I always skip over the nature articles and lately it seems like I am skipping through the majority of the magazine. I honestly feel like I get more of my eco-friendly info fix by reading my Popular Science magazine. Please get back to what the Sierra club is all about.
Doug Stecklein
Olathe, Kansas

Some of the letters reaching Sierra are very disappointing. Pyllis Mottola complains that "the past few issues are full of places to backpack, gear reviews," etc., and then advises, "please get back to what we've always expected . . . from the Sierra Club": articles on environmental issues. Doesn't she know where the Sierra Club came from? It was started by a bunch of avid backpackers, one whose favorite locals was the Sierra Nevada. I don't know about Phyllis's chapter, but the New Jersey Sierran arrives every other month bursting with outings listings. Some of us came to environmental awareness because of our love of the outdoors. If Phyllis arrived by another route, that's OK, but she should allow us our outings information, all the good stuff in Backpacker notwithstanding.

Hugh Curtler complains that if we cut back our purchases of consumer goods, Wal-Mart won't have enough funds to support sustainability centers. C'mon, Hugh, think for a moment. If we cut down on material purchases, we'll have more to donate to good causes. By which route does more money reach the good causes: (a) if part of it goes to extraction, manufacturing, shipping, etc., or (b) if we skip the resource use and all of it goes to the good cause?
Bob Moss
Bloomfield, New Jersey

"Big Beasts and Black Rocks"

Twenty-two years ago I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks camping near the Gates of the Artic National Park. We based out of Anaktuvuk by float plane. Due to the weather we got to spend a couple of days in Anaktuvuk. The beauty of the place cannot be fully seen by eyes alone. There is a power there that has captivated me for over two decades. I often daydreamed about going back and spending a year teaching at the high school. The people were warm and welcoming (although reserved by our extroverted city standards). We talked, helped sweep out a house that was under construction and ready for the walls and roof, and I still have the beautiful masks I bought at the store made by the people of the village.

To think of the massive amount of roads and infrastructure that would be needed for coal mines my heart breaks. As an attorney, I have worked with the results of massive mining and contamination. I have since moved to Vancouver Island where we are still dealing with the contamination of land from coal mining done in the early 20th century. And now a company wants to come back in and dig again for lower-grade coal. We are in a fight here, but who will fight for the people of Anaktuvuk and the massive disruption of culture such as occurred in 1948, when the people were stopped from their nomadic life? One cannot truly understand the beauty of this place until spending some time in and around Anaktuvuk, it could not be repaired after the coal is gone.
J. Earl Rogers, JD, PsyD
Courtenay, British Columbia

"Spout" (November/December 2010)

As every Edward Abbey fan knows, it's Seldom Seen "Smith," not "Slim," as Bob Sipchen wrote in his musings on The Coyote Clan (p. 2). Admittedly, Seldom Seen Slim is the first "auto-choice" to show up on Google when the first two words are typed in the search box, but alas, he's not the man upon whom Abbey based his character. Mike Painter
Californians for Western Wilderness
San Francisco, California

Eight or nine years ago I actually visited my Huntington Beach Central Library to view a microfiche copy of an old L.A. Times article you wrote reporting on the memorial service for Ed Abbey held outside Moab, Utah. I had seen a reference or footnote to this article in a book entitled Edward Abbey: A Life by James M. Cahalan. At the time I considered myself at least a minor league Abbeyophile, although I had only read Desert Solitaire three times.

Now, I have received the current issue of the Sierra magazine and in your Spout column, "The Coyote Clan," you again refer to the Abbey memorial service, and this time how it "slopped over to Seldom Seen Slim's ranch." My question and purpose in writing is: Who the @#&* is Seldom Seen Slim? In all the material I've read by or about Abbey, I don't recall any reference to a Seldom Seen Slim. However, in the aforementioned book on page 25 the following appears: "Abbey's close friend Ken Sleight, the river guide who was the model for the character of Seldom Seen SMITH in the 'Monkey Wrench Gang' . . ." [Emphasis added.] So who is right, you or Cahalan?

By the way, I'm retired, so I have a lot of time on my hands and this missive is all in good fun. I hope I'm the first reader to call the above inconsistency to your attention but considering the nature of your readership it will not surprise me if fifty other people have beaten me to the punch.
Gene Axelrod
Huntington Beach, California

"Create" (November/December 2010)

We now face the emergency of melting Arctic sea ice and permafrost leading to release of methane and likely to runaway climate change. Jim Hansen has said we have until 2016 to turn around increasing CO2 in the atmosphere to avoid climate hell. The solutions offered by Michael Brune and Carl Pope in the Nov/Dec issue are necessary but not sufficient. I've received Jim Hansen's emails for years, and he thinks we can address the Global Climate Crisis by phasing out coal worldwide by 2030 and not using tar sands, shale oil, coal to liquids (the touchdown) and using soil carbon sequestration and reforestation to bring down CO2 (the extra point). Unfortunately, Holistic Range Management, International Biochar, and others quote Hansen on the extra point but leave out the touchdown, phasing out coal. Hansen emphasizes a carbon tax with 75-100% return across the board as the means to do this--in the US and then globally.
Roland James
Seguin, Texas

"Enjoy" (November/December 2010)

I was horrified to see you giving prominent space to toothpastes that don't contain fluoride. Perhaps you are too young to remember the advertisements for the first fluoridated toothpaste that said, "Look, Ma, No Cavities!" Fluoridated toothpaste is one of the great public health advances of the 20th century. It prevents cavities not just in children but also in the older generation with receding gums. If you want one that is more natural, use Tom's of Maine Whole, which uses natural fluoride, but please don't use the non-fluoridated toothpastes. Young children must be supervised so they rinse afterward and don't swallow it. Otherwise it's perfectly safe. Who wants a mouth full of cavities, even if you have dental insurance to pay for getting them filled. And many people don't have dental insurance so they don't go and don't take their kids until a tooth has to be pulled.
Marsha Epstein, MD

Your eco toothpaste article was an interesting read. However, it does not seem that any of the tubes are recyclable—are they? Do you know of any ecofriendly pastes in recyclable containers?
Steve Karas

"Escape" (November/December 2010)

For gosh sakes, why would the author, Avital Binshtock, even recommend the restaurant Granzella's? Why would I even put a foot in the door to see dead animals on the wall? If I have to close my eyes, what is the point? It wouldn't matter how good the food was. Surely there is another place in that area that would be more deserving of our business. It is amazing to me that he is recommending a nice sanctuary for animals but seems to be ok with dead animals on the wall. No way for this person!
Bonnie Scott,
Ravensdale, Washington

"Grapple" November/December 2010)

Shouldn't the Sierra Club be doing something to identify and pursue any legislative or regulatory changes needed with respect to the Helium Reserve depletion described in the item in the current Sierra Club magazine? I would like to see an in-depth article about this in the next issue of the magazine. Mary Ogle

I'm disappointed in the faulty advice given in your November/December 2010 issue's "On the one hand . . . On the other . . ." You essentially advise against owning an all-electric car if one lives in a state like Indiana or Kentucky with its coal-generated electricity.

I've closely followed electric-vehicle (EV) issues for several years and have consistently gotten the message from sources as varied as Science and the EV World Web site that EVs have lower carbon emissions than comparable internal-combustion vehicles, even if the EVs are charged with coal-generated electricity. Furthermore, in the unlikely event that you are correct and I lived in a state like Indiana and Kentucky, I would much prefer to own an EV and work towards cleaner power generation (either statewide or on my own roof with solar panels) than continue endangering the environment and enriching huge subsidized oil companies by burning gasoline and diesel fuel.
John Fieser
Highlands Ranch, Colorado

Your decision to publish Paul Rauber's short piece entitled "Dodging the Bullet" represents a clear case of journalistic and editorial malpractice. Mr. Rauber's statement that Judge Molloy reversed "a Bush-era decision to remove [the wolf] from the endangered species act" is completely factually false. If Mr. Rauber had taken the time to actually read to page 8 of Judge Molloy's opinion, he would have learned that the current litigation revolved around the April 9, 2009 decision to delist the wolf, a decision which occurred four months after President Obama assumed office.

The decision to delist the wolf in the Northern Rockies rested entirely with Secretary Salazar and the Obama Department of Interior. When a new President assumes office, he is under no obligation whatsoever to pursue any executive branch regulation that was being considered in the previous administration. In fact, within days of assuming office, President Obama issued a government wide order to immediately suspend all existing regulatory rulemakings to insure that proposed rules were consistent with his policy goals. Secretary Salazar had complete discretion to kill the delisting process with a stroke of his pen. Had he done so, wolves would not have endured any of the horrible recent events that have transpired in Idaho and Montana. Furthermore, had Secretary Salazar stopped the proposed delisting, there would have been no legal recourse by the state of Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming to stop Secretary Salazar from doing so. Instead, the state would have had to begin the multi-year delisting petition process anew. Such a petition would most likely have been denied, since Wyoming continues to be intransigent in its opposition to wolves. And, to emphasize the point, Secretary Salazar also had the discretion to stop the delisting process for the Great Lakes wolf distinct population segment. Here again, Secretary Salazar chose to pursue the delisting of the Great Lakes wolf. Again, a successful legal challenge by environmental groups stopped a legally inadequate decision by Secretary Salazar.

Mr. Rauber's article repeatedly glosses over the role of the Obama Department of Interior, led by Secretary Salazar, in pursuing an anti-wolf agenda when he writes "Various parties are promising an appeal of Molloy's decision." While I do not know the precise editorial timeline of your magazine, recent developments in the wolf litigation suggest that you should have, at a minimum required that Mr. Rauber update his article. On October 2nd, the Obama administration chose to appeal Judge Molloy's ruling. Again, this was a choice by the Obama administration. There is no requirement whatsoever that the Executive branch appeal a District Judge ruling on the validity of an executive regulation. But, Secretary Salazar has continued to pursue an anti-wolf agenda at his own discretion. Mr. Rauber's article does not even remotely recognize the critical role that the Obama administration has pursued through the last two years. Had the Obama administration chosen a different path, the current political controversy in the Northern Rockies might well have been avoided altogether.

It take very little courage to blame President Bush, arguably the worst environmental President in this country's history, for all of our current environmental woes. It is long past due for the Sierra Club to start calling out the Obama administration for its many, many failures in protecting the environment adequately. In particular, it is time for the Sierra Club to call out Secretary Salazar for what he is, a pro-ranching, pro-gas and oil development, anti-endangered species advocate. I, for one, am tired of seeing environmental groups use President Bush as a punching bag, and blaming him for what is happening today. The Obama administration has had two full years in office, which was more than enough time to get this country's executive branch departments in order. Instead of a reinvigorated Department of the Interior, re-dedicated to protecting the environment, we got the BP oil disaster. So, I respectfully ask when the Sierra Club will start shedding light on the many shortcomings of the current administration.

Finally, I urge Sierra Club magazine to remember that if it believes its role is to educate its readership, then it needs to do some basic fact-checking to ensure that its articles provide the full picture of the facts.
Brett Hartl
Solana Beach, California

"Innovate" (November/December 2010)

Your November/December issue presents some interesting, contrasting information: on page 18, under the heading "Innovate" a feature on prototype airships, the largest of which, at least, is filled with helium. Page 24, "Woe Is Us" explains that the earth's dwindling supply of helium may be exhausted in three decades. The large airship alone, at about 7.5 million cubic meters, would use about .01% of known reserves, by my rough calc's. What are you advocating here? Perhaps a return to local commerce would reduce the need for air freight.
Clayton Smith AIA LEED AP
Seattle, Washington

If he doesn't mind the distance, Mark Summers can come to Southern California to test his airships. We're used to seeing blimps floating around in the sky all the time—the Goodyear blimp from Carson and two or three smaller commercial blimps/airships that have appeared in recent years.
Gail Marie Noon
San Pedro, California

Once again, the magazine contains two clearly contradictory short pieces, along with a number of other interesting misstatements.

On page 18, an interesting description of the possibilities of helium-filled air transport is presented, including the amazing statement that blimps are free of gravity and the expense of fuels. Only a little physics is required to disprove the first statement, since gravity is very much still active and important for these systems. The second claim is very neatly answered, and the inverse problem expanded upon, on page 24 in a write-up subtitled "Ready, set, panic," about the dwindling of the Earth's supply of helium.

As another misstatement example, consider the picture caption on page 30 that claims "cruise past their zero-carbon footprints." I am pretty confident that those footprints were accompanied by plenty of exhalation, the article mentioned nylon in the first paragraph (among other supplies that require substantial carbon processing and releases), and the perspective in the picture could have been taken from a helium-filled blimp (but I would bet on a petroleum fueled helicopter).

It appears that Sierra magazine could use an editor or review board with a high-level technical perspective on environmental issues and choices.
David Janecky
Los Alamos, New Mexico

"Mixed Media" (November/December 2010)

I am a great supporter of Sierra in all areas except your continuing disdain for nuclear power. Coal-fired plants cause untold deaths and sickness continually. Three Mile Island was not a disaster but a success in that the containment worked perfectly. You should mention that the adjoining two reactors at Three Mile have continued to work at full capacity ever since the event. Alternates are still in the future. The fusion project started at Princeton in 1952, and continued around the world is still years and maybe centuries from developing a practical fusion power station. Wind, sea, plant, etc., power will only fill a small percentage of the world's needs while nuclear can fill the gap without destroying the landscape and our health until fusion or some future breakthroughs can do the job.

So, please, let's see some positive articles on this crucial stopgap nuclear power in the meantime. The world desperately needs it!
Dr. William H. Duerig
Venice, Florida

"Comfort Zone" (November/December 2010)

In the same issue you have a small piece on Global Forest Cover Loss, you have a larger article on a family who built a tree house with Brazilian hard wood. Using all these resources for a tree house on their vacation property? There is nothing green about that. Mark Schneider Pleasantville, New York

No hangups about ecological footprint here. Two houses 900 miles apart, an all-electric tree mansion, and even a dog that harasses wildlife. Or perhaps I missed the point of this article. Ummm . . . what was the point? Robert A. Herendeen
Burlington, Vermont

Your "Retreat in the Trees" portrays an obvious invasive practice to be a shining example of green living or workspace. If everyone follows you endorsement, just perhaps in the future there will be more employment opportunities for Tree House Guides. Joey Salisbury
King George, Virginia

P.S. Oops, I overlooked the use of reclaimed lumber. Oh Never Mind! :)

Excess. That's really all that came to mind when reading "Comfort Zone." I read the brief article twice looking for some redeeming environmental detail I may have missed the first time. But all I found was a story about a family who built a "treehouse" more luxurious than many people's primary homes, next to their vacation home. So I presume the family has at least one primary home, a second vacation home and then this "treehouse." How does that inspire me to think about environmentally conscious home and design? Maybe it's the fact that the "treehouse" has "electricity, Brazilian hardwood floors . . ."? OK, OK, I am remiss in not mentioning that they did use "reclaimed-timber." Why are we promoting this type of excess?
Dean Wiegert
Fredonia, Wisconsin

In each and every issue of this magazine I am constantly reminded of the hypocrisy of those middle- and upper-middle-class Americans who adhere to the way of life proposed within these pages. Between the jetting around the world trips and this issue's tree house with "Brazilian hardwood floors," I just feel pushed to believe that the right wing has it right when identifying the bunch of what, Napa Valley sunsetters? who call themselves environmentalists. You can [do] many things, but to live as proposed by this magazine, you cannot offer any legitimate alternative to the current order.
John Andrechak
Fort Benton, Montana

First, thank you for all that you do to preserve the environmental integrity of North America against the corporate and government entities that would destroy and poison our natural world in the name of greed and profit.

Now, a little constructive criticism I hope you will take with an open mind.

When I saw the article in my Sierra magazine about an eco tree house, I was excited. Eco-building, especially do-it-yourself projects that cost less than traditional housing (i.e., straw bale, mud flooring, etc.), is a special interest of mine.

However, as I read the article, I grew increasingly frustrated and angry. This man had not built a home for himself (he already had two!), but rather, a "toy" for his family to enjoy. At a time when so many people have lost their homes, or simply can't afford to buy one, why would you publish a story about a man who has three—and one only for play? The "tree house" pictured was bigger and more luxurious and beautiful than the apartment I (and the majority of the people in the world) can afford to rent.

Heifer International published a review of a book on green houses that illuminates another important perspective: "Can a new house ever be 'green,' or are the solutions and ideas offered . . . just more 'greenwashing' by an industry that gobbles up resources for the benefit of the wealthy?"

Your article reinforced for me that Sierra Club may be out of touch with the lives of poor and working people—a critical issue for environmental reforms. You cannot disconnect environmentalism from human lives, and the fact that poverty, extreme economic disparity, and economic exploitation of the poor by the wealthy plays a huge role in environmentalism. Environmental racism, economic and eco-justice, and peoples' struggles for basic survival are critical elements of environmentalism that, if ignored, are self-defeating. Lobbying to save ecosystems—while ignoring the economic injustices that force people to stress their local environments in order to meet their basic needs—is a limited approach.

I encourage you to take a more holistic approach to environmentalism that embraces economic justice as a critical element of environmental reform. We live in a complex world that requires complex solutions. A person who has to choose between feeding their children and cutting down old growth trees will pick up the axe every time.
Katharine Sprecher

"Mixed Media" (November/December)

Bravo on exposing Sierra Club readers to the "re-kindled nuclear (power) debate" with such extensive references and sources of information on all sides. We need to take a fresh look at nuclear power, not only because it is clean, but also because of its small land footprint, ability to deliver high-volume continuous power, and its great efficiency (orders of magnitude that of oil or coal). Including all life-cycle costs, it is also now said to be cheaper per kilowatt over the life of a power plant.

We labor under a number of myths about nuclear power: for example, that there is no safe level of radiation exposure. We all get about 350 mili-rem per year of background radiation. Those at high altitudes live with twice that. Likewise, the "terrorist threat" of theft of fuel rods, or of a power plant detonating like an atom bomb, turn out to be mere scarecrows. There are real problems to be solved: waste mitigation, ultimate waste disposal (how long until it is safe?), reducing water consumption, improving safety, etc. Considering all these factors, I believe we will want and need nuclear power in our clean energy portfolio for base-load electricity, especially in regions not blessed with hydropower (which also has its environmental concerns). We will not solve these problems if we reject nuclear power out of hand.
John G. David
Amherst, New Hampshire

"Last Words" (November/December)

I had to respond to your "Last Words" picture and caption. This color photo of the Citarum River completely covered in garbage in West Java, Indonesia, is the saddest and most repulsive photo I have ever seen. Will the moneymakers of the 500 factories who dump there ever take responsibility, or just drink their bottled water and boat and fish elsewhere? I felt compelled to show my older co-worker, who simply replied that it doesn't affect him so he's not concerned. That seems to be the feeling of my fellow co-workers. I recycle at work but it's not a law here.

Furthermore, I have never seen so much trash on the local beaches and at the Florida Keys beaches. Writing to Tallahassee got no response and telling the park ranger at Bahia Honda State Park just got a reply that someone there "wasn't doing his job." It seemed to be cruise and boating garbage as well as daily-use garbage and garbage floating in from out deeper. My husband and I pick up hefty bags full of trash at the local refuge beach on Jupiter Island and volunteer for the annual beach cleanup at the local public beach, but is this enough? Will we all witness our rivers and oceans filling up with trash like in Indonesia until there's nowhere left to swim or drink or fish from? Tragic and preventable and so very sad.
Nancy Clements
Hobe Sound, Florida

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