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SPOUT | Rant, React, Chat, Blather

Chainsaw Compromise | Letters | Spout Extras

Chainsaw Compromise

I once picked up a microphone to argue for chainsawing down healthy trees. Here's the series of moments that knocked loose that repressed memory:

I breathe the scent of fresh-cut grass and admire how the evening sun mottles the sycamores, oaks, and cottonwoods that frame this park in Los Angeles' Arroyo Seco. Eleven years ago here I'd coached my then-12-year-old daughter Emily Sage's soccer team: Tic Tac Terror. Now I watch her pace the sidelines, skillfully shepherding her own ragtag band of 10-year-old girls.

The next morning, I stumble into the kitchen of the friends I'm staying with and hand them a gift: the 2011 Sierra Club calendar. They ogle its photos of forested landscapes and close-ups of leaves. Coffee in hand, I turn my focus to the Los Angeles Times that's spread on their kitchen counter and come across a story about an ailing 350-year-old, 90-foot-tall oak that towers over endless acres of soybeans surrounding McBaine, Missouri (population 17). That tree, it seems, is an almost sacred site for marriage proposals and beer parties and a final resting place for the ashes of loved ones.

The story reminds me that an organization called Zocalo Public Square has invited me to moderate a panel discussion this spring at

L.A.'s J. Paul Getty Center. The topic: trees. I mention this to my friend. He yawns--maybe even smirks. I launch into a defensive rant about people's deep-rooted psychological connection to trees, which unearths the memory of that long-ago chainsaw speech. Our local youth soccer organization had wanted to expand our park's fields to accommodate an influx of young players from surrounding neighborhoods. Residents offered heartfelt pleas to spare the majestic trees that shaded their picnics and harbored so many possums and squirrels. I took the mic and presented an inexcusably saccharine but equally heartfelt analogy: Children are like trees. They, too, need places to grow.

By now you're probably wondering why I've subjected you to this "story." Here's why: We environmentalists are going to have to be problem solvers, and sometimes that will mean making the sort of tough choices this magazine increasingly explores. If we want clean energy, for example, we can't just say no to every windmill that might kill a gull or block a beautiful view. Resolving such conflicts is part of helping a planet grow up. —Bob Sipchen, editor in chief


The photo of the Citarum River completely covered in garbage in West Java, Indonesia, is the saddest and most repulsive photo I have ever seen ("Last Words," November/December 2010). Will the moneymakers of the 500 factories that dump there ever take responsibility? My husband and I pick up bags full of trash at a local beach, and we volunteer for the annual beach cleanup. But is this enough? Will we all witness our rivers and oceans filling up with trash, as in Indonesia, until there's nowhere left to swim or drink or fish? Tragic and preventable and so very sad.
Nancy Clements
Hobe Sound, Florida

Twenty-two years ago I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks camping near the Gates of the Arctic National Park ("Big Beasts and Black Rock," November/December). We got to spend a few days in Anaktuvuk Pass. The beauty of the place cannot be fully seen by eyes alone; it has a power that has captivated me for more than two decades.

My heart breaks when I think of the massive amount of roads and infrastructure that would be needed for coal mines. As an attorney, I have worked with the results of massive mining and contamination. But who will fight for the people of Anaktuvuk and the massive disruption of a culture? After the coal is gone, it will be impossible to repair.
J. Earl Rogers
Courtenay, B.C., Canada

A reader complained that "the past few issues are full of . . . places to backpack, gear reviews," etc., and then advised, "Please get back to what we've always expected . . . from the Sierra Club . . . articles on critical environmental issues" ("Spout," November/December). Doesn't she know that the Sierra Club was started by a bunch of avid backpackers? Some of us came to environmental awareness because of our love of the outdoors.
Bob Moss
Bloomfield, New Jersey

As every Edward Abbey fan knows, the name of the character in Abbey's book The Monkey Wrench Gang is Seldom Seen Smith, not Seldom Seen Slim, as Bob Sipchen mistakenly wrote in his musings on the Coyote Clan ("Spout," November/December).
Mike Painter
Californians for Western Wilderness
San Francisco, California

I was horrified to see prominent space given to toothpastes that don't contain fluoride ("Enjoy," page 8, November/December). 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. Young children must be supervised so they rinse afterward and don't swallow it. Otherwise it's perfectly safe.
Dr. Marsha Epstein
Via e-mail

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