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 longtime practicing Buddhist, I have to say that Naropa University students grossly misapplied a key Buddhist principle when they objected to banning plastic water bottles on their campus ("The Nonconformist Class," September/October). The principle of nondualism--a nonjudgmental embrace of and oneness with all that is--should always be balanced with a scrupulous ethical discernment in thought and behavior. That is the famous Buddhist "middle way," which includes both the absolute truth (the ultimate mystical essence, unity, and "suchness" of reality) as well as the relative truth that everything we do matters because we are intimately interconnected with all beings.

In fact, Buddhism explicitly warns against using the absolute truth of nondualism to justify or explain away harmful actions. That would be nihilism, not Buddhism.
Bob Morrison
Arlington, Massachusetts

Thank you for publishing "My Life As a Diver" (September/October). As an active dumpster diver, I'm disgusted by the quantity of discarded quality items--which I recover--each time I shine my headlamp into the containers. I'm grateful there are many like-minded individuals in my community, and I wish the best for the author.

Unfortunately, I was disheartened by their need to clean out moldy and twice-wasted food items to make room for this week's score. Even as a food rescuer, there is a fine line when considering consumerism and wasting. What good comes from redistributing the waste to your own container if it has the potential to be discarded once more? At the very least, one could anonymously hand-deliver a box of goods to the local shelter at the end of a night's run.
Courtney Gilman
Norman, Oklahoma

I wanted to address the article in which a reader inquired about the sustainability of bamboo ("Ask," September/October). The Forest Service lists several types of bamboos as invasive non-native species, and as a park naturalist and educator, I know firsthand the damaging effects that non-native bamboos can cause.

Bamboo spreads by rhizomes underground and will return each year, even after herbicide treatment. While bamboo may be a more efficient and sustainable plant as a product for use in different markets, when unchecked, it can invade delicate areas that have no defense against such a tough, fast-growing plant.
Brian McKnight
Atlanta, Georgia

Seeing the picture of the treed bicycle ("Last Words," September/October) brings fond memories. Every Christmas Eve since our two boys were four and five years old, I have read them Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed. The story takes place on Vashon Island. It now is clear to me where Mr. Breathed was inspired to write his story.

My sons are 23 and 24 now, and I still read the book as we huddle around the fireplace on Christmas Eve. Thanks for making me a believer.
John Cohn
Telluride, Colorado

The "Last Words" picture is so sad. No child would have willingly left a bike chained to a tree. What could have taken a child away, never to return?
Janet McLane
Dandridge, Tennessee

In the September/October issue, the greenest colleges list should have given the full name for the University of Minnesota, Morris. "Coal-Free Quads" had the wrong location for the Missouri University of Science and Technology, which is 94 miles south of the main University of Missouri campus in Columbia. "Lighting the Way" had an incorrect title for Sid England, who is UC Davis's assistant vice chancellor for environmental stewardship and sustainability. "Create" should have noted that soot from coal-fired power plants is responsible for $100 billion in health costs (not healthcare costs).

Web-only Letters

Sierra (September/October 2011)

I do believe the current issue of Sierra is the finest ever. The practical suggestions ("Forest in a Box," "Blazer Backpack," etc.), and the fine articles (especially the one on Florida's panthers) make me proud to be a Sierra Club member! Keep up the good work.
Dr. Bill Perry
Statesboro, Georgia

"Cool Schools"

I enjoyed your "10 Coolest Schools" article because it showed that in some cases natural gas fired cogeneration (CHP) systems can be used to reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency. However, there was one omission that I think should have been included. Several colleges and universities have been using purified biomethane derived from landfill gas to fuel their CHP systems and even produce chilled water. The University of New Hampshire and UC Davis are examples.
Martin L. Pomerantz, Ph.D., P.E.
Vice President, Renewable Solutions Group, LLC
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Your researcher seems to have missed a college. Butte College, a community college in Butte County, California, is now "grid positive," producing more solar energy than the college can use and selling the remainder back to PG&E. In addition, the college's new ARTS building, a 77,000-square-foot building including classrooms, labs, ceramics studios and a state-of-the-art black box theater has been certified LEED, a first for any college in Northern California. The list goes on as to environmental sustainability, but you get the message. How your researcher missed all of the above is beyond us, for the environmental and sustainability practices of Butte College certainly deserve recognition, especially from such an organization as the Sierra Club.
Steve & Sue Wolfe
Chico, California

What? Stanford University among the 10 greenest colleges? Stanford lands are so huge they deserve no credit for building on only one third so far. They ignored environmental protests to build condos in a sensitive habitat along San Franciscito creek. They also bullied Santa Clara County with the threat of lawsuits into a rezoning plan allowing 2 million square feet of new buildings. Then they made a mockery of their agreement to provide a trail on Stanford land by placing it along a busy road in a way that will further impinge on creek habitat. Stanford has some good programs and excellent PR departments, but notably "green"? I don't think so.
Gail Sredanovic
Menlo Park, California

I question the methodology used by the Sierra Club to rank institutions with such "accuracy" based upon such subjective input. It would seem that a comprehensive rating system might be more meaningful.

I might suggest a joint effort between the Sierra Club and the Sustainability Endowment Institute for the annual Sierra Club coverage of Cool Campuses. Your article could use the Institute's more meaningful, and perhaps more recognized Green Report Card, which rates institutions, and subjective commentary by Sierra Club on programs which demonstrate progress, creativity or uniqueness. This joint effort would reduce the number of reports by the institutions, use a comprehensive rating system, demonstrate cooperation on sustainability, and provide valuable information for your members and the participating institutions. I believe there would be benefits for all.
Sherm Rounsville
Greenville, South Carolina

As a fan of Oregon State University and someone reasonably knowledgeable about it, I picked up this month's issue expecting, given what I know, to see OSU ranked pretty high.

It is, for instance, the #1 university purchaser of green power in the nation, as rated by the EPA, and its purchases have been voluntarily funded with student fees as voted by the students. They recently opened a co-generation facility, which is the first platinum-rated energy center in the country. They consistently win the PAC-10 championship in Green Power. All buildings built recently are at least LEED Silver. Etc.

I appreciate the value of digging in the dirt —I've been an organic gardener for 40 years —but Sierra Club does not want to confuse the romance of kids growing organic lettuce in the quad with the work of actually cleaning stuff up and making it better.
Jay Sperling
Tangent, Oregon

Did you include in the UCSD data carbon emissions from the spectacle that is known as the Sun God Festival that used to be a quaint social gathering but has morphed into an over-the-top headline concert. While having my lunch overlooking the Rimac Field (concert site) I saw for a full week (how long it takes to set up the stage, etc.) no fewer than 17 big rig trucks at a time parked on the field. Add to this the myriad cranes and personal vehicles and you get a whopping carbon output for one night of fun.

Further, in conducting this ranking did you happen to visit the campus? There are new buildings going up everywhere and the north part of campus has been transformed into a miniature New York City, complete with high-rise buildings. In the name of "progress" (read: greed), UCSD continues to expand, bringing in more people, vehicles, congestion to an already over-crowded and biologically sensitive area. As a seventh-generation southern Californian, I have seen "progress" on an apocalyptic scale.

I'm not sure how these "Green" rankings work, but I can't make sense of it. If you are destroying natural habitat in order to put up a massive "Green" building, subsequently filling said building with waste producing humans, how is this considered "Green"?
Casey Johnson

I read your article in which you evaluate colleges based on their ability to induce students to "help save the earth." Nowhere did I read anything about diet. This is a glaring omission considering that one's diet affects the planet far more than any other aspect of one's life.

I am sure that the Sierra Club is aware that a recent University of Chicago study found that consuming no animal products is 50% more effective at fighting global warming than switching from a standard car to a hybrid car. Moreover, a typical meat-centered diet requires 4,000 gallons of water per day. A vegan diet requires just 300 gallons. I could go on and on with facts that demonstrate that a vegan diet is far more environmentally friendly than an omnivorous diet. I am sure you can research this on your own if you aren't already aware of these facts.

In the past, I have noticed that Sierra magazine occasionally refers to the merits of a vegan diet, but I expect more emphatic references more often. By far, the most effective way anyone —college student, college graduate, or college dropout — can help save the planet is by switching to a vegan diet.

The Sierra Club's mission is to "promote the responsible use of the world's ecosystems and resources." You failed to do this in your 2011 survey of America's colleges, but I hope (and expect) that next year you will include the vital component of diet in the evaluation process.
Jason Folkman
San Diego, California

In the article "Making the Reservation," writer Vince Beiser twice tries to place Bluff, Utah, in the Navajo Reservation. Bluff is not on "the vast Navajo Nation's northern edge" but is completely north of the Reservation. If Maxine Begay's home was built in the Reservation as stated, it certainly is not in Bluff. We visit Bluff often to visit relatives and enjoy the unique character that is Bluff and it's surroundings, as well as enjoy associating with the native Navajos who have businesses or work there. But geographically, Bluff is Bluff and the Navajo Reservation is the Navajo Reservation.
Dick Wolf
Venice, Florida

As we know, a picture is worth a thousand word; so what was the purpose of showing "desert Mark Twain Luis" smoking a cigar at his wall-less woodshop (DesignBuildBluff)? Isn't a smoking cigar, kind of like a small coal power plant? Did we get a commission for plugging Dominican cigars? I would hope we could find a better photo to demonstrate Luis's unique character.
Dale Hillard
Salinas, California

I live in Portola Valley, California, happy to have a LEED-Platinum Town Center and help with local sustainability committee. Our Sustainability Coordinator Brandi deGarmeaux is great:

But when one says America's coolest schools ... it might be nice to mention Canada as well. We ski in British Columbia every year. BC works pretty hard on sustainability issues.

I did a lecture series last April for the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, (PICS: with talks in Victoria (U VIC), Vancouver (for UBC and Simon Fraser) and in Prince George, for University of Northern British Columbia:

That is a fairly young school, few in USA would have ever heard of it, and it is intensely involved in sustainability. They call themselves "Canada's GREEN university" and from my visit, I'd say they mean it.

Of course, BC cares about the timber business, too ... and I've sat in the ski lodge with lumber guys who were well aware of the global warming allowing the surge of the bark beetles Northward through BC.

Anyway, BC, at least, is trying hard on sustainability. (Alberta ... not so much ... tars sands are just worth too much $$).
John R. Mashey
Portola Valley, California

The "Welcome to the Jungle" article states that sixth graders calculate the school's carbon footprint and plant enough bamboo to offset it. I am afraid that this is impossible. You cannot offset fossil fuel use by planting trees, you can however REPLACE the use of fossil fuels by growing trees and burning them, a point made by Middlebury College's (page 31) wood chip fired cogeneration plant.

I appreciated your article on "Coal-Free Quads," but if you wish to visit the Missouri University of Science and Technology campus in Rolla you had best go 94 miles south, not north, of the University of Missouri campus. I speak as the proud parent and grandparent of MUS&T grads.
Vic Miles
Kansas City, Missouri

Great to see so many young people standing up for new technology to provide electrical energy and eliminating old coal fueled plants on their campuses. If not entirely eliminating them, making them more environmentally friendly. However, Brian Kevin needs to improve his map reading skills or proof reading skills. The Missouri School of Science and Technology (MST) in Rolla, MO, is 94 miles south of the main campus in Columbia, MO, not 94 miles north. Not that location is very important to the article, but facts are facts. Many people have not heard about our great engineering school.
Walt Dietrich
BSME UMR 1969 (now MST)
Fayetteville, North Carolina

As a native Missourian and a graduate of the University of Missouri, I was surprised at the location you gave for Rolla on page 37 of the September issue of Sierra. Rolla is in the southeast part of the state, not 94 miles north of Columbia. Just a minor detail, but an important one for those of us who love MU as well as Missouri S&T!
Donna Hardy
Professor Emeritus of Psychology
Calif. State Univ. Northridge

As a long-time practicing Buddhist, I have to say that Naropa University students grossly misapplied a key Buddhist principle when they objected to banning plastic water bottles on their campus. The principle of nondualism, which they cited--a nonjudgmental embrace of and oneness with all that is--is always balanced with a scrupulous ethical discernment in thought and behavior. That is the famous Buddhist "middle way," which includes both the absolute truth (the ultimate mystical essence, unity and "suchness" of reality) as well as the relative truth that everything we do matters because we are intimately interconnected with all beings and thus every action has an impact. In fact, Buddhism explicitly warns against using the absolute truth of nondualism to justify or explain away harmful actions. That would be nihilism, not Buddhism.
Bob Morrison
Arlington, Massachusetts

"Last Man Standing"

Thank you for the environmental justice article about Hilton Kelley and Texas. I would like to see more articles that combine environmental, working class and racial justice themes. More people need to a chance to understand how one man's "progress" may lead to anothers' "loss."

This particular article resonated and gave me hope on several levels. As an American, I want every one of my countrymen to experience "liberty and justice for all." As a white woman, I am striving to develop anti-racist perspectives and practices, such as trusting and supporting leadership by non-whites. Lastly, I have black relatives by marriage who were born not far from Port Arthur who do indeed love east Texas, even the summer heat!
Anna Rudd, Lifetime SC member
Seattle, Washington

"My Life as a Diver"

Natalya Savka's story reminded me of my "diver days" while living at the Catholic Worker in Chicago and studying at CTU. One person would hold legs and the other would go head first into the dumpster. Often our favorite "finds" were behind pizza parlors. Thanks for the memories.
Sr. Betty Obal, SL.
Denver, Colorado

I am afraid that Natalya Savka did not learn much from her experience as a Sierra intern. Instead of engaging in dangerous dumpster diving, why not work with the grocery stores to organize a Second Harvest program? Avocados, which have traveled two thousand miles from California to Pennsylvania are too precious to be wasted and a comprehensive program could get nutritious food to many in her town who are in need.
Mia James
Santa Rosa, California

No one makes minimum wage after union dues —union dues are 1% —and if they do, it still is an insult to the 70% of US who support unions to take this negative stab at unions by putting down having to pay dues.

And by the way, regarding the article on the holistic dorm, I don't think Diet Coke is anything to laugh about! It is a neurotoxin that can kill at high amounts. Sorry to have no sense of humor, but we are far beyond laughing at this point, thank you.
Val Sanfilippo,
SEIU, Sierra, Moveon

Thank you for publishing your article on dumpster diving. It is reassuring to read about fellow divers' rescue efforts of waste that is created by profiting companies. As an active diver, among an active community of divers, I am disgusted by the quantity of quality items continually discarded, which I recover, each time I shine my headlamp into the containers.

While I respect the authors attempt to highlight some of the etiquette of recovering trash for reuse, I am disheartened by their admittance of needing to clean out their last weeks moldy and twice wasted food items to make room for this week's score. It also saddens me to read their feeling of needing to hide the abundance of the score from friends and neighbors. Even as a food rescuer, there is a fine line when considering consumerism and wasting.

What good comes from redistributing the waste to your own container if it has the potential to be discarded once more? My and many of my diver friend's philosophy revolves around recovering only as much as you can use, or redistributing and sharing the food with those in the community who may not be divers, but are like minded when it comes to wasting. It is unfortunate that many divers may feel the outside pressures of the act, keeping others from benefiting from the fortune. I guarantee, that if divers hand deliver the goods to or prepare a meal for friends, more likely than not, that food will not go to waste, nor will the new recipients of the bounty look down upon their Foodie Robin Hoods. At the very least, one could anonymously hand deliver a box of goods to the local shelter at the end of a nights run. Dumpster diving takes a lot of time, energy and planning in order to make the best use of the activity. I am grateful that there are so many like-minded individuals in my community, and I wish the best for the authors. Perhaps with their article, they will encounter a new camaraderie.
Courtney Gilman, MSW

"Solar's Moment in the Sun"

So . . . this is the "future as seen from the rise": "large new tract home, two refrigerators, a freezer, a wine fridge, lots of computers, enormous television, and air-conditioning." In addition, an attitude such as "I do want to cut down on my footprint on the planet but I won't do that at a major expense to myself." Good grief, at a time when the natural systems that sustain our very existence are in deep trouble, we see this as the future? I certainly hope not!

I think Mr. Rauber and Mr. Peacock should both read Bill McKibben's great book entitled Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
Mike McKinne
Mount Joy, Pennsylvania

I enjoyed the article about leasing solar panels as very innovative way to get more solar power on rooftops. Indeed, this is an exciting development in solar. However, I continue to be mystified why the Sierra Club doesn't publicize the benefits of geothermal heat pumps more. I installed a geothermal heat pump last year and am easily getting much more savings and displacing more carbon at lower cost and quicker payback than a typical 4KW solar array on my rooftop. The payback period is about twice as fast than with solar panels. Two additional benefits of geothermal heat pumps are that (a) unlike solar, where home-owners need to "do something more," all home owners eventually need to replace their heating systems anyway, so moving to a geothermal system can be part of the natural cycle of home maintenance; and (b) unlike traditional heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps work very well in all climates providing heating, cooling and optional hot-water heating. I am still very excited about the new and better financing options for solar panels, but for the benefit of the earth as well as my pocketbook, going geothermal was the obvious first step before going solar.
Dale McMillen
North Potomac, Maryland

Paul Rauber's otherwise-fine article has an important error that needs correction. On page 51 it says, "Sounds cool, but even if they produce more energy than they use, Pacific Gas & Electric Company isn't going to pay them for it. Any extra power produced is a freebie for the utility."

This was correct up until last year, but Assembly Bill 920 that was signed into law on October 11, 2009, and took effect this year has changed this. In March 2010 I received information from PG&E on choosing my 12-month true-up period and also the rate I would be paid if I were a "net generator." I would then "receive a once-per-year compensation for the excess electricity you supply to the PG&E grid. (Unfortunately, this last year I actually used a net $17 worth of electricity and so got no compensation.)

When I had solar panels installed on my roof in 2006, I was astounded to find out that at the end of each year my net surplus ($94 for the first year) wasn't even carried over to the next year, let alone PG&E paying me for the extra net energy I contributed to the grid! I suspect this irrational procedure was just an historical anomaly, from the early days of solar when almost no one had a net surplus due to inefficient technology.
Peter Ross, Sierra Club member since 1984
San Jose, California

Today's news accuses the Energy Department's investment in Solyndra, after its going bankrupt spending $528 million in our tax dollars, of potential fraud. This, in light of the September issue's story "Solar's Moment in the Sun" is disturbing to say the least. Is our nation this disjointed? What's going on?
Bob Lewis
Citrus County, Florida

"Cheap Night Out"

Starving students don't buy new. Craigslist, etc., have good stuff for less than half the new price. Why not at least mention how to get on the trail REALLY cheap? Re-member re-duce, re-cycle, re-use?
Lifer Lloyd
San Diego, California

"Enjoy" (September/October 2011)

"Nukeable Nutrition" is an oxymoron!

Time to look at the internal environment too! Although 90 percent of American households have a microwave, not to mention their presence in dorms, offices, and break rooms at every workplace, they are far from harmless. The truth is that ingesting food cooked in microwave ovens alters your blood chemistry. The more often you use one, the more significant and permanent is the damage. Not surprisingly, the research that shows the real effects of microwaves has been done in other countries. The most conclusive research was done by Swedish investigator, Hans Hertel, in a small but well-controlled study where he concluded that microwave cooking changed the nutrients in food so that, when it was eaten, there were resulting degenerative changes in the subjects' blood, consistent with degraded health status. Nuke your microwave forever!
Gloria St John
Ione, California

"Mr. Green" (September/October 2011)

I wanted to address the article in which a reader inquired about the sustainability of bamboo. When reading the article I was sure that you would give reference to bamboo as a destructive non-native species. The US Forest Service lists several different types of bamboos as invasive non-native species in the book Non-Native Invasive Plants of Southern Forest.

As a park naturalist and educator, I know first-hand the damaging effects that non-native bamboos and other foreign species can cause on a native ecosystem. Bamboo spreads by rhizomes underground and will return each year even after herbicide treatment. Many non-native species are threatening the nation's natural heritage and here in the Metro-Atlanta area species like Chinese Privet, English Ivey, and the ever-famous kudzu out-compete our ecologically important native plants.

While bamboo may be a more efficient and sustainable plant as a product for use in different markets, when unchecked (and eventually is) can invade delicate natural areas that have no defense against a plant as tough and fast growing as bamboo.
Brian McKnight
Educator and park naturalist
Atlanta, Georgia

"Act" (September/October 2011)

It is so inspiring to read about Michael O'Gorman's work with the Farmer Veteran Coalition. This could be the answer to so many problems in this country. Every veteran deserves to have an opportunity to earn a living. I was disappointed to read that he is not continuing his mission of organic farming. Not only would that turn around the many problems that we face from contamination of our land, air and water but would also provide a healthy working environment. Veterans have been exposed to harmful chemicals in every war going back to Vietnam and pesticides and herbicides are similar to many of the chemicals that have caused the health problems of many Veterans. I hope that Mr. O'Gorman retains his original vision of organic farming for all our sakes.
DM Santoro
Ojai, California

"Survive" (September/October 2011)

Sascha Paris gives wrong if not dangerous advice about safety concerning Peter Rowat's response to his misadventure with corona discharge and subsequent lightning strike on Mt. Langley. It's correct that he should not have pointed at the sky with his pole, but it's not correct to say he should get rid of it and "run like heck down the mountain"

He should have held it horizontally and low to the ground and climbed down off the rock, then huddled down on flat ground about the same distance from the object that it was high with his feet together and arms folded, making sure his head was below the height of the rock. If he runs away and becomes an isolated "pointy" object away from the shielding available from the rock, he becomes just another electrode concentrating the electric field, increasing the likelihood of being hit.

It's a bad idea to lie flat on the ground, because that provides multiple points of contact for the high returning earth currents to find you as an alternate path, with possible electrocution, unless you can arrange an insulator such as a loosely coiled climbing rope to sit or lie on.

If you go for a nearby tree for shelter, stay out from under low-hanging branches, but find a spot about a tree height away to huddle down on. In this was you're taking advantage of the electrostatic shielding from the tree, and do not form an alternate path for the charge on the tree.

Do not lean on the side of a sheltering rock either with your back or on your hand. If there's what looks like a sheltering overhang, stay out from under it. Deep inside a cave is OK, but don't touch the sidewalls for the same reason you should not lie flat in the open

If in forest sit in the clear if possible, either keep outside the forested area, or if within it, stay a couple of tree heights away from the edge of the forested area.

There's a perpetual fable about pitching your climbing hardware some distance away based on the supposition that metal attracts lightning. Of itself, this is not the case if the stuff is in a compact bundle. If the bundle is very pointy, it might initiate a corona discharge. The main hazard from metal objects on your person is burns from heating the material by passage of high currents. Return currents can be several hundred amperes.

On a ridge, a swale or shallow depression can be a lifesaver. Years ago five us on Mt. Woodrow Wilson in the Wind Rivers were caught in an electrical storm on our way down after summiting, while on a nearly flat ridge well above timberline above the Dinwoody Glacier. We luckily found a swale just off its top; we spread out our climbing ropes for insulation and lay like a pack of sardines for the entire night while all hell broke loose around us, some strokes hitting within a few yards of us around the edges of the bowl. Not fun.

I nearly forgot: if you made the mistake of wearing boots with nails in the soles, in an electrical storm you may find the nail pattern transferred to the soles of your feet in the form of little burns. I've actually seen this happen, though not to me.
Andrew N. Smifh
Eldridge, Missouri

"Grapple" (September/October 2011)

"Up to Speed" shows wind turbines against a deep blue sky with puffy white clouds, while observing: "CATS KILL more than a thousand times more birds than do WIND TURBINES." Surely, then, wind turbines aren't such a big an environmental problem after all? Now let's see: "SMOKING KILLS MORE people than COAL FIRED POWER PLANTS." Can we rest assured that coal plants aren't that big a deal either?

Nope. Both are problematic. But apparently Sierra is okay with trivializing the huge raptor and bat mortality problem caused by wind turbines. That attitude is a slap in the face of Club activists and staff who wrestle with renewable energy siting issues every day. To get an idea of the scale of the problem: each wind project can be 20 square miles or more in size.

For the record, Sierra Club and other major enviros are extremely concerned about wind power's potential to wipe out entire populations of golden eagles, other raptors, and bats. We're trying to strike the balance between ramping up renewable energy and preservation of species, habitats, and even ecosystems threatened by ill-sited renewable mega projects. So having Sierra, our public mouthpiece, parroting wind industry sound bites is inexcusable.

The Club must speak the truth to power —even if sometimes it's renewable power.
Joan Taylor
Calif/Nevada Desert Energy Committee

"Up To Speed" soundbites are a fun read, but their brevity sometimes begs for misinterpretation.

For example, on the surface, the factoid "China surpasses the United States as the world's top consumer of energy" suggests that Chinese domestic consumption exceeds that of the US. However, the bulk of that energy is consumed in the production and shipping of consumer goods destined for export —primarily, to the US. Thus, we haven't just off-shored our jobs, but our energy consumption and pollution as well —as alluded to in the previous factoid, which could be rewritten as "One out of every four deaths in China is caused by cancer. Widespread pollution is blamed, especially smoke from coal-fired power plants that fuel the manufacture of American toys."

"Up To Speed" then goes on to state "General Motors CEO Dan Akerson prefers a $1 increase in the gas tax to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars," which seems to imply his preference for voluntary, market-driven pursuits of fuel efficiency. Mr. Akerson's aversion to fuel efficiency mandates is part of corporate America's larger fondness for externalizing costs as well as its historic reliance on the myth of a responsive market. Or, perhaps GM's government bailout has merely whetted its appetite for taxpayer dollars.
Paul Mack
Calif/Nevada Desert Energy Committee

In the interest of accuracy, which you're concerned with as much as are we members, your "Up To Speed" section needs some wising up.

a) " the vicinity of...Fukushima...have radioactive urine." Really? Do you think so little of us readers to not alert us all that our urine is typically radioactive? What about your and our bones and teeth? Why say this without reminding readers, in honesty, that bananas are a source of radiation that stays in our bony structures forever —Potassium 40? Why not be accurate, as we long-term members work to make polluters be? Do you wish to scare readers to oppose nuclear power blindly? How about studying a scientific dose chart, as from Reed College (, then report to us on what these honest researchers say?

b) "Nuclear power stations...shut down after...jellyfish clog...water intake screens." You do know this happens, and not just from jellies, at conventional power plants too, right? What is this piece fishing for—gratuitous anti-nuke scares?

Now to "As the World Warms":

a) "The triple meltdown at...Fukushima..."—the state of the innards of the 3 operating reactors is not fully known, so this is an exaggeration, at best. If you have an anti-nuke line to push, at least stick with known facts: All reactors were properly shut down before or upon the time of the earthquake. Melting in some fuel storage occurred after the tsunami damaged poorly designed cooling. Some melting also occurred in some portions of some of the 3 reactor cores that had shut down, but lost cooling after batteries running pumps ran down. Your choice of words is misleading, and beneath the Club I've been supporting for decades.

b) Your mention of Germany AND others wishing to abandon nuclear power oddly omits the environmental cost. Even Merkel's politically motivated reaction has been admitted by German scientists as having the effect of negating all Germany's prior reductions in GHG emissions. Now there's a problem. Will they compensate other nations for unnecessarily increased emissions? Germany's nukes have not been a problem. In fact, nuclear power has the best safety record around the world of any form of mass generation.

Your editors should assume some responsibility to us members and explain what nuclear power is and how it has performed throughout Europe and the US, despite being out-of-date. Then you could address issues that nuclear power does have when in the wrong hands, such as TEPCO's or Cold-War Russia's (yes, then you can discuss how no one else ever operated reactors like Chernobyl's). And, you could then enlighten us members on safe nuclear choices in fruition now, that we've had available for 40 years. You could also explain how we're 1GWe per week behind in emissions-free power, starting at least from 2000—indeed "renewables" have no chance of catching up. That's a sad fact, despite my being fully supportive of the Club's positions on efficiency and solar DG.

Seeing some of the above in Sierra magazine reminds me of a surprising remark made to me last year by a San Francisco environmental lawyer: "The Sierra Club is too often on the wrong side of an issue because of internal politics." You might imagine that remark disappointed this 40-year member.

Let's see more thought going into statements in the magazine, even if official Club policy has rough edges. And, let's see a bit more space for letters. Good publications are for communication, both ways.
Dr. Alexander Cannara
Menlo Park, California

As an Australian living in Kentucky, I am increasingly frustrated by the misinformation and myths about Australia that persist in this country and the short piece on the satin bowerbird ("Blue Period") added more. This species does not—;and never has—;existed in the outback, occupying instead a narrow strip of coast and hinterland in central- to south-eastern Australia with an isolated population in northern Queensland. It is endemic to eastern Australia, though if the team you quote has found it in Papua New Guinea, I would be delighted to hear of it. Though urbanization and the resultant rise in numbers of cats, dogs and foxes have taken their toll, it is still holding its own.

A ban years ago on the use of blue retaining rings on the caps of plastic milk containers saw the elimination of one source of avoidable mortalities.

In some areas, blue plastic clothespins are seen as fair game by bower-building males and they will actively seek them out on backyard clotheslines in homes adjacent to bush. I'll grant you that no wildlife is truly safe in the Australia of today, but misinformation such as this only aids the case of the development-at-any-cost brigade. I will concede that, for many Australians, the outback begins where the suburban commuter trains end, so the Maryland research team is not alone in that misconception.

Incidentally, the human bowerbird is Australia's equivalent of the US packrat.
Frank Povah
Kentuckyfied Sandgroper
Stamping Ground, Kentucky

"Taking the Initiative" (September/October 2011)

Re: "Hostile Takeover of the GOP" by Carl Pope:

This process was beginning to become obvious as early as the 1980s, with the election of the late President Ronald Reagan—;maybe even, but, to a lesser extent, Richard Nixon, and, now has steadily progressed to where the Republican Party no longer reflects an image of what it once did. While book authors Thomas Frank and Kevin Phillips have elaborated upon these developments, neither they nor anyone else yet to my knowledge has provided a rational solution. A brief synopsis of a recent scientific research study suggests the cause might be an inherent characteristic of human nature, and thus far more difficult to correct. The only difference today from before is in how the Republican Party has become exceptionally proficient at exploiting the self-serving characteristic—;some would say "flaw"—;in human nature. Rather than appealing to human kind's better angels, they are appealing to their more primordial antitheses. A solution would appear to involve harnessing the spirit of The Three Musketeers (Dumas, 1841), "all for one, and, one for all," wherein people clearly understand how we all are on this Earth together, with no means of escape, and, what we do to serve ourselves will affect everyone else, as well as vice versa. Eventually, what goes around does come around; and, we all have to drink from the same river. Therefore, let us not spoil the river, or, we all, without exception, will be sick. The challenge is having people perceiving themselves as one in the grander cosmopolitan or holistic picture.

Humans are not the only species in the animal world that bears the burden of a limited perspective or perspective deficiencies; however, not being able to grasp the larger picture, does not spare the animal from the consequences. The consequences, while often momentarily appearing blissful, eventually, without exception, have the appearance of being terrible as a result of being accompanied by what is humanly considered pain, suffering, misery, destruction, bloodshed and death. None of the wars and military engagements fought in history were imperatively necessary at the most fundamental level of understanding; and, the fact the wars and aggressive engagements were waged only reflects the incapacities of human intelligence and nature that basically functions on approximately the same level, despite all the paraded illusions to the contrary, as the "beasts in the field." We are only different because we can say we are. However, when seen from a distance, the reality is far less laudable.
Stu Luttich

"Last Words" (September/October 2011)

Seeing your "Last Words" picture of the treed bicycle brings fond memories to my wife and myself.

Every Christmas Eve since the my two boys were 4 and 5 years old, I have read them the story Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed. The book is a fantasy illustrated Christmas story about a young boy and his wish to an aging, and hard of hearing Santa, for a special bike in the 1940s. The scene takes place on Vashon Island. It now is clear to me where Mr. Breathed was inspired to write his story.

The book is a must for all children and adults alike. I still read the book, as we all are huddled around the fireplace on Christmas Eve. They are 24 and 23 and this book reading with that treed bicycle is a family tradition. Thanks for making me a believer.
John Cohn
Telluride, Colorado

The picture on the "Last Words" page is so sad. No child would have willing left their bike chained to a tree. What could have taken a child away, never to return?
Janet McLane?Dandridge

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