Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
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Readers are encouraged to post comments online. You can also e-mail us at Please include your name, city, and e-mail address or phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

As a follow-up to the delightful "Interview With a Bug-Eater" (March/April), how about a story on recent reports that eating insects and other invertebrates would help reduce greenhouse-gas production, since much less energy is required to raise such organisms than other sources of protein?
Lester Goldstein
Seattle, Washington

I was stunned to see the carelessly done illustration that accompanied the rafting story ("Survive," March/April). No rafters would run a river like the one described dressed even remotely like the people shown. They would absolutely have helmets on, and they would not wear plaid cotton shirts. The illustration promotes a dangerously careless attitude toward whitewater, which we've seen all too often among inexperienced river runners.
Beth C. Geiger
Seattle, Washington

My thanks to Peter Frick-Wright for his "Digging a Hole for China" (March/April). That important story bears a striking similarity to a proposed project set for Cherry Point, north of Bellingham, Washington. If this facility also ships coal to China, as intended, all the statistics cited in your story could be doubled.
Mark Flormann
Everson, Washington

I enjoy the magazine, but the caption for the photo of the train wreck is very misleading. The culprit is coal dust spilling from the cars, not coal ash, and the mechanism is more complex than what's implied. Mainline tracks are built on a deep bed of crushed rock, called ballast, to maintain drainage. This keeps the roadbed solid and prevents it from getting spongy. Coal dust clogs the drainage, resulting in a soft roadbed that at times cannot support the trains. The remedy is expensive undercutting and cleaning of the ballast. Railroads are trying to get coal shippers to use covered cars or dust-control treatments, but coal companies don't want to spend the money.
Rick Aylsworth
Ely, Minnesota

Your blender lamp article contains some dangerous misinformation ("Repurpose," March/April). I spent 30 years manufacturing steam-bent oak lamps, and the first thing I learned is that "portable lamps" must be polarized. They're one of the few electrical devices that are routinely disassembled by untrained users while still electrically live. When you screw a bulb in or out of the socket, you can be touching the metal base of the bulb as it connects with the metal shell of the socket. If it's hot and you are also touching a plumbing pipe or radiator, are barefoot on concrete, or are otherwise grounded, you can get a shock strong enough to badly burn or kill you. It happens. I know Sierra wouldn't publish an article about the environmental benefits of recycling used clothesline into climbing rope, but the article about mis-wiring a blender lamp is almost as dangerous.
G. Leslie Sweetnam
Woodstock, Connecticut

Web-only Letters

Several of your recent issues have cover photographs of people engaged in some adrenaline rush "sport" in the outdoors. Aren't you telling people that wilderness is a place that should be used as their own personal playground? When an activity becomes more important than the place where it is done, expect to see problems. What happened to "leave only footprints" and "leave no trace"? You cannot do a rappel without leaving something behind.

A magazine once published a photograph of a particular canyon with a person rappelling down its most outstanding feature. The magazine also gave the spot an enticing name. Now many climbers go to that canyon for that one activity, then go on to seek their next conquest. A ranger there told me he has had to go in and clean up what is left behind.

I barely looked at the article "Slickrock Redemption." I have seen enough books, articles, and television shows about dramatic rescues of people in natural areas who overreach and get into trouble. I cannot see why publicizing such activity is within the sphere of the Sierra Club.

Why not encourage people to use their energy to do a service trip?
Harry Lofton
Portland, Oregon

"High Plains Poison" I read your article "High Plains Poison" and want to emphasize that water being more valuable than gold needs protection. Yes, coal is fuel, but wind and water also generate clean power. The question also is, why aren't we doing more to protect our water supplies from coal runoff. Water benefits all of mankind, agriculture, and livestock. Without clean water, we die.

Loved your article "Innovate: Energy for the Developing World." We need more men like [John Barrie]. Where are the Edisons and Franklins of our times?

On a political note: The Democratic Party has controlled the Senate and Congress for over a decade, but yet our environment has suffered with no real push for alternative energy. As an independent voter, I see that both houses can be bought by the highest bidder, and that isn't us, the environmentalist. We need to expose those in both houses that don't vote for alternative energy.
Frances Enman
Marco Island

This topic dovetails with articles in Trains magazine surprisingly (see "Coal, Lifeblood of American Railroading," April 2010 issue), which focuses on coal's influence on energy use.

From where it's mined (the Powder River basin out west produces the most at 42%), to the industries that use it and with numerous stats thrown in, these articles point out coal's undeniable impacts. Mountaintop removal is mentioned; overall, environmental impacts are mentioned only sporadically; the exception being on the increased use of "scrubbers" at more plants to facilitate high-sulfur coal.

Anyone concerned with coal's environmental and economic impacts must read these articles to understand more about our country's realistic energy "landscape."

There are legitimate reasons why just saying "no" to coal doesn't work; one is that right now, when we turn on our lights at home, somewhere down the line coal is probably being burned. Alternatives? Do we want more nuclear (I don't) or dams? Wind farms only work in certain regions, and solar (I'm for it) needs lots more investing to make even a tiny impact.

Are we willing to conserve much more and use a lot less energy? It'll be hard, but we better get busy, because that's just the start to offset what coal is doing to our air and water.

Whether we like it or not (and I don't)--and until comprehensive, reliable alternatives are implemented--coal, as much as I hate to admit it, is here to stay.
Ron Thuemler
Florida Master Naturalist
Tampa, Florida

This Sierra article "High Plains Poison," in both print and electronic form contains a glaring error. The photograph captioned "The Colstrip power plant burns a boxcar-full of coal every five minutes around the clock" shows neither boxcars, nor Montana coal.

Coal is transported in hopper cars, as illustrated, not "boxcars." You wouldn't do a story about SUVs and illustrate it with a Mustang convertible. The hopper cars in the photograph (viewed in the print version of the magazine, and clearly evident in the online version) are entirely Norfolk Southern Railway cars. Norfolk Southern is an eastern carrier and does not serve the states of Montana or Wyoming, and their cars are never used in Powder River Basin service. Further, the largest percentage of the coal carried by those Norfolk Southern cars is of Appalachian origin, for export via the port of Hampton Roads, Virginia. It is also doubtful that the coal illustrated is for consumption in any power plant.

I would expect a publication of your caliber to be edited by someone who has taken some care to research the subject a little better.

I know railroads. Such glaring errors make me wonder what other kinds of factual errors are sprinkled in subject matter about which I have less knowledge.

The editors of your magazine might be encouraged to regularly read Trains magazine, to better understand the business of transporting coal, as well as the environmentally friendly business of railroading in general. Trains writers Fred Frailey (former editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine) and Don Phillips (former Washington Post transportation writer) are without peer when it comes to coverage of contemporary railroads.

Your editor-in-chief, Mr. Sipchen, came from a newspaper (Los Angeles Times) whose coverage of the rail transportation industry was, at best, functionally illiterate.
David Busse
Diamond Bar, California

"Look Ma, No Car!"

My dander got up when I read the biking article. My carbon footprint is small because I had only one child and my son had no children. I drive 7,500 miles a year. I do not bike. I am 79 years old and use my car for pleasure, taking my dog to the vet, grocery shopping, etc. I need my car. Would you want me on a bicycle at 20 below zero with two sacks of groceries on the handlebars riding in slushy, icy potholed streets?

I walk several miles a day on a shared bicycle-pedestrian path along the Mississippi River. Maybe one bicyclist in ten gives an audible warning when passing my dog and me. We banded together and had tee shirts made with lettering on the back stating, "Cyclists, give me an audible warning when passing," but sadly this didn't work. Most cyclists I encounter are arrogant and rude. They rarely stop for me when I am in the crosswalk either, they just go through the stop signs. They also have "critical mass," where they disrupt rush-hour traffic downtown once a month to promote their agenda and demand everything under the sun but want the property taxpayers to pay for their fun.

Until the majority of the cyclists stop acting like they own the city and obey the laws like everyone else, consider me disgusted.
Janet Llerandi

Although you acknowledge that cycling is not only for the "young, the superfit, and the spandex-clad," the references to special buses, showers, and paying for secure parking still sound to me like the fancy side of the tracks.
Jane Arnold

Being an avid bicycle rider, any positive article on the subject I find interesting. One as supportive as this is great. However, being a rider I am interested in the new bike shown in your article. This is the first one I have seen with the kickstand on the right and the chain on the left. Unless this is a new trend, the photo is reversed.
Terry Henderson
La Quinta, California

As an older person who went to using a bicycle for transport exclusively over 5 years ago, I appreciate your promoting bicycle use for everyday needs. I bike several thousand miles a year and can even fix my machine, mostly--bikes are not so complicated. The cost of owning and running a bicycle is nothing like a car.

That said the picture on page 47 represents a machine the like of which I've never seen--chain wheel on the left side? I know we all have different preferences, but is this for real? Ride on!
Boulder, Colorado

I am pleased to report that several municipalities in Texas have adopted local "Safe Passing" ordinances since a state version was vetoed in the last legislative session. Austin, Helotes, and San Antonio to date have elected to put laws on the books that mandate motor vehicle operators take due care when passing "vulnerable road users," including pedestrians and bicyclists. Though enforcement may be challenging, the ordinance promotes tolerance as well as the duty to obey the rules of the road by all users. More than anything, the ordinance provides a foundation for an education and awareness campaign that will contribute to everyone's quality-of-life.
Julia Diana.
Senior Management Analyst, Sustainable Transportation.
City of San Antonio
Office of Environmental Policy

"Enjoy" (March/April 2011)

Now that it's becoming clear that there is at least some possibility that dogs are a not-insignificant source of greenhouse gases, potentially comparable to an SUV (or at least a sedan), I was appalled to see your "Go, Dog, Go" article. Perhaps, instead, you should have suggested that people get rid of their dogs, or at least reduce the number of them.

And the consumerist content of the pages was disgusting. Buying expensive things that are made from recycled materials is still buying things, so please don't misrepresent it as being green.

We all need to get much better at use of the word "green" and some of your content is disingenuous at best.

Your advocacy of taking dogs on vacation trips in the article "Go, Dog, Go" is most unfortunate. The destination of many of these trips is a national park. Having volunteered for the past 6 summers as an Interpretive Ranger in national parks I can speak from experience that pets and parks don't mix. Pets are not permitted in Visitor Centers or on the trails of these parks causing much frustration on the part of the owners who do want to go on trails. This sometimes even leads to nasty confrontations between unhappy pet owners and the rangers who must enforce the rules which have the appropriate purpose of keeping the parks as safe and comfortable as possible for its wildlife. Sometimes it also leads to a dangerous situation for pets left too long in vehicles on hot days. Pets in the national parks are only permitted on roads, picnic areas and sidewalks around facilities.
Ruth Graves
Ypsilanti, Michigan

[Regarding "Green Biz":] 1% of the profits ? Only 1%? $42 million is a lot of money, but do people realize how tiny the fraction of the purchase price 1% is? It's a nice thought, but 1% is so minuscule, it's almost not worth bothering about. Now if they offered 10 to 20%, that's a good start; I don't even bother with sales that are below 30%, because it ends up being such a small amount deducted from the total, that I'm almost not saving anything . . . maybe the tax, but that's about it.
Gail Noon
San Pedro, California

Escape (March/April 2011)

I read with dismay the full-page account of a trip by Steve Hawk to a surf camp off Vancouver in your most recent magazine. The essay strikes me as an exercise in self-indulgence that has nothing whatever to do with what I thought were the goals of Sierra Club. I am a lifetime member and give money from time to time to help you with your endeavors, but if this is a new direction it will leave me and my wife behind. I do not condone that sort of hedonistic nonsense--complete with details of the "twin 180 horsepower outboards" that took the author to his surfing spot where he annoyed the otters.

Truly an irresponsible act on your part to condone that sort of thing. What next? Off-road excursions in ATV's? Count me out!
Dr. Hugh Mercer Curtler
Cottonwood, Minnesota

I am dumbfounded by an oversight in the Vancouver Island surfing "Escape" profiled by Steve Hawk. The "What's Not Green" section lambasted the hour-long powerboat ride to the surf (sailing would be greener?), but made no mention of the gallons of fuel burned on the jet flight to Vancouver, the ferry to the Island, and the miles of driving spent crisscrossing a massive and mountainous island. After all that, why poke fingers at the resort operator for a mere powerboat ride?
Alan Shusterman
Portland, Oregon

"Grapple" (March/April 2011)

I was extremely disappointed with the sentences in the article "The Future of Garbage" that read:

"In the oxygen-deprived environment of a landfill, rotting food produces methane, a gas with 72 times the global-warming potential of carbon dioxide. Landfills are the largest human-made source of methane emissions in the United States, with a greenhouse-gas impact equal to one-fifth of that produced by the nation's coal-fired power plants."

While the first sentence is technically correct, it is misleading, as it is a measurement over a 20-year period and does not take into account the longer-term impacts of the breakdown products from methane. The IPCC uses a 100-year timeframe and the climate change impact of methane is generally put in the range of 21--23 that of carbon dioxide.

Based on this unorthodox analysis, the second sentence--which builds on the first--is to me an inaccurate comparison.

Both sentences mislead the reader and I think that the editorial staff should not have allowed these sentences to be included in the article.

Also, as a former county recycling manager, I disagree with the sentence that says, "Recycling advocates would like to see the 3,800 U.S. facilities that compost leaves and yard debris begin to take food waste as well."

While some recycling advocates might like to see this, based on the studies that we did, we preferred to see household food scraps handled at home. With an average generation of only one pound per person per week, we concluded that the environmental impacts of a separate collection system would be considerable and that our strategy should be to promote systems with smaller environmental impacts. (And, a comprehensive study done by someone else for her PhD thesis found that in our area, garbage disposal systems also had a smaller environmental impact than separate collection and centralized composting. The waste-water treatment plant not only has the capacity to handle the material, but it recovers energy from the decomposition process and beneficially applies the residues to agricultural land.)
John Reindl
Madison, Wisconsin

In the section "Up to Speed" of the March/April edition you mentioned that at the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen "many countries announce substantial commitments to reduce carbon emissions, but despite strong personal intervention by President Barack Obama, there is no final binding climate accord." This is a strange analysis of the President's climate position, especially when his position is compared to the Sierra Club's position to work for federal legislation "that curbs U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, puts a price on carbon in order to internalize the cost of climate change into markets and policies." The President didn't work at Copenhagen to make either of these goals mandatory. In fact, he worked for an almost-meaningless voluntary program, not a binding climate accord; and offered a measly 3 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels. So how could you characterize those efforts as "strong personal intervention" towards a binding climate accord?

Certainly an appropriate climate treaty would have a tough time in the Senate, but we have no choice. We need to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Anything else (like what happened at Copenhagen) is simply failure.
Howard Mechanic
Prescott, Arizona

The figure on page 20 of the March/April 2010 issue of Sierra ("Global Conspiracy") depicts a graph from four separate labs all showing a similar warming trend for the global temperature. The red line shows the temperatures tracked by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA). Surprisingly, these data go all the way back to approximately 1875. Did not know that NASA existed way back then. Perhaps a correction is in order before the true conspiracy theorists accuse you of making up some of these numbers.
Jim Menegazzi
Sierra Club Member since 1994
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Editor's note: No correction is necessary. The temperatures predating the 1958 establishment of NASA were collected at meteorological stations of the various nations in NASA's data set. Most analyses do not extend much further back in time than 1880 because of the decreasing scope and reliability of the measurements.

"Mixed Media" (March/April 2011)

In the past few months the question of global warming due to human activity has again been called into question by the behavior of climatologists and the director of the IPCC, who try to dismiss scientific evidence that counters their heartfelt but unsupported hypotheses. The science is, as we all know in spite of statements to the contrary by most climatologists, still unsettled and their computer models do not appear supported by the facts!

David Arnold's photographs certainly show melting glaciers but he (or Sierra's editorial staff should have provided some context in the interest of science and truth since these glaciers have been melting and "retreating" since the last ice age covered most of Canada and the US with ice several thousands of meters high. Indeed Captain Cook in his mid-18th-century circumnavigation noted that the entrance to Glacier Bay was blocked by a wall of ice about 2,000 meters high, long before the industrial revolution! Due to human activity? Hardly likely wouldn't you agree?!

While we would all appreciate a more pristine world less dependant on fossil fuels, abuse of science to achieve our ends will discredit us and our message as it has done with the East Anglia university climatologists!

Let us take evidence-based decisions instead of arguing for rapidly developing global warming based mainly on our fondly held convictions and acting as though with respect to climatology, the end justifies the means no matter how weak the science!
Michael T Newhouse MD, MSc

On page 68 of the magazine is a pic of David Arnold inside a helicopter. Interested in knowing as much as possible about this copter please.

Because of an editing error, the letter titled "Fuel for Thought" ("Spout," March/April) gave an incorrect estimate of the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the 6.9 billion people now living on Earth. The correct figure is 1.5 to 3.6 gigatons of CO2 annually. Also because of an editing error, "Ask Mr. Green" (March/April) incorrectly stated the timeline of a resurgence in the U.S. deer population. The number of domestic deer has grown from a low of 500,000 in the early 1900s to an estimated 30 million today.

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