Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
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LETTERS | What our readers have to say

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.

I loved the cover story on the climber photography ("High Art," March/April). The splendid pictures made my hands sweat. I seldom keep any magazines, but those pictures will probably hang around the house for quite a while.
Pat Geisler
Grafton, Ohio

When my issue of Sierra arrived, I thought the magazine had mysteriously morphed into Outside. The article about climbing photographers was interesting and beautiful, but what does it have to do with conservation? Maybe I'm becoming dumber in my dotage, but I just don't see the connection.
Valerie Kozlovsky
Maple, Wisconsin

The March/April cover featured a young woman hanging upside down with her breasts dangling almost out of her tank top, but the ensuing article focused only on men. This leads me to think that you used her as a sexual lure to entice gents to buy your magazine; how disappointed they must have been. Are you in such dire straits that you have to turn to such tactics?
Ft. McCoy, Florida

Regarding the article "Move Not Those Bones" (March/April), about coal mining companies destroying cemeteries: It turns my stomach to see the desecration of any grave site. My heart goes out to the citizens of West Virginia.
Maxine Ramsay
Ocean Springs, Mississippi

I was shocked to read the article "Cheese Graders" ("Enjoy," March/April). The average American family is not going to pay between $20 and $38 per pound for the milk-based cheeses you recommended.
Conservationists are already perceived as elitist, and sustainability as only for those who can afford it. The Sierra Club should not reinforce those negative stereotypes.
Michael J. Painter
CoordinatorCalifornians for Western Wilderness
San Francisco, California

"Garbage in, Garbage out" ("Grapple," March/April) raises an important concern about the EPA's apparent underestimation of how much trash Americans produce annually. But in proposing waste-to-energy plants as a solution for municipal solid waste, the article contradicts official Sierra Club policy, which rejects that approach because it would destroy recyclable materials while salvaging a mere fraction of their energy.
The Club encourages the composting of organics and supports programs that would require manufacturers to take back packaging and discarded products, thus giving them incentive to design materials that can be recycled. Such practices could greatly limit our waste disposal.
Roger Diedrich
Chair, Sierra Club Zero Waste Team
Fairfax, Virginia


"High Art"

I loved the cover story on the climber photography.

The pictures made my hands sweat just thinking about where they were taken and how good a climber the photographer had to be to get one. They were absolutely splendid photos.

I seldom keep any magazines but those pictures will probably hang around the house anyway for quite a while.

My congratulations on the great piece.
Pat Geisler (member)

When my March/April 2012 issue of Sierra arrived today, I thought the magazine had mysteriously morphed into Outside. The cover of this issue and a 13-page article (18% of content) had climbing photographers as its subject. Interesting article with beautiful photographs, but what does this article have to do with conservation? Maybe I'm becoming dumber in my dotage, but I just don't see the connection.

The publications of all the other conservations organizations to which I belong print articles which are relevant to their goals. I expect the content of Sierra to do the same. There is certainly no lack of potential subject matter. Would this article have passed muster if John Muir were on the editorial staff? Please leave the thrills and chills to Outside, and get back to the hard work of protecting the environment.
Valerie Kozlovsky
Maple, Wisconsin

I have been and am a supporter of Sierra because you have done a great job of keeping the focus on protecting our environment and avoiding nonissues. However, the March/ April issue with two (2) boobs staring me in the face and the "Nude Dude" on page 40 makes me question my support. Stick to your agenda. You do not need boobs and men who look like Florence sculptures to promote the environment. It detracts from the environmental message and there is no valid reason for pandering to these interests. I am a forgiving type and will continue to support Sierra but if you continue in this direction I am I am sure others will rethink their support. You may be so insensitive to what I am saying that you do not even understand my point. Perhaps if you look at the images it will assist you.
Samuel L. Roseberg

In the "High Art" article, you talk about how Jimmy Chin is "almost certainly" the only person to be highly recognized as both a photographer and climber.

Not to detract from Jimmy Chin, but I suggest you go down the hall to Sierra Club Books and read a copy of Galen Rowell: A Retrospective. Or if that's too difficult, just look up Galen on Wikipedia. Or check back issues of Sierra to see how many articles mention Galen.
Tom Combs

[Editor's note: The story specifies that Jimmy Chin is "almost certainly the only person to both shoot a cover photo for National Geographic and appear on the cover of Outside as an athlete.]

Mont Blanc, the ownership history of which is extremely complicated even up to today, is not the highest point in Europe as stated in a recent article in Sierra Magazine. It is the highest point in Western Europe. Mount El'brus at 18,506 feet, in the Caucasus mountains, which are considered a geological part of Europe, is 3,000 feet higher.
Richard Agassiz Warren

"Move Not These Bones"

Regarding the article "Move Not These Bones, about coal mining companies destroying cemeteries-it turns my stomach to see the desecration of any grave site. My heart goes out to the citizens of West Virginia.
Maxine Ramsay
Ocean Springs, Mississippi

The article on mountain top removal (Move Not These Bones, March April 2012) was sobering and unsettling: it seems that nothing will stop the coal companies from destroying large parts of the Appalachians to obtain cheap coal for cheap electricity. However, there is something that everyone who uses electricity can do to end this. It is now possible to buy renewable energy credits through your local power company everywhere in the US at a cost that is quite reasonable (less than $0.02/kWh). In our area (central New Jersey) one can buy wind generated electricity directly off the grid at a slightly higher rate than what we pay for electricity from a combination of coal, nuclear, and natural gas fired power plants.

Combined with efficiency and conservation, we do now have the ability to usher in a new, better, and cleaner world.
Alfred Cavallo, Ph.D. Energy Consultant

Why is it that your articles about the pollution, particularly coal, never seem to provide a positive 24 hour replacement for the energy provided in the use of coal. Also, why haven't you addressed the pollution caused by our jet aircraft? Having lived across the street from Midway Airport and attended school on the SW corner of the airport in the late '40s and early '50s there was a lot of house shaking noise, but, the planes did not create a cloud cover. Living in western IL as I now do, I find it discussing to look up and see con trails covering the sky. Not the normal pencil line, but, trails that had blossomed out to cover the complete sky giving a hazy appearance. There were 12 clearly identifiable trails N/S and E/W. Isn't this pollution forming a high altitude blanket that does retain heat on the planet?
Larry Frisbie
Stockton, Illinois

"When the Rivers Rise"

I have been a member of the Sierra Club for over thirty years, but I no longer intend to support your organization. Perhaps you would be interested in knowing why.

My anger centers on Tristram Korten's article in the March/April 2012 issue of your magazine, which offers high praise for Vermont's Governor Shumlin but offers not a whiff or mention of the strong opposition to the governor's welcoming attitude toward wind power in the state. Any reporter or journalist worth his salt would easily have picked this up and at the very least would have mentioned it.

Opposition to wind power in Vermont has to do not with wind power in general but wind power in particular in this state. No, it's not quire NIMBY. Unlike other states, the face is neighboring Hydro-Quebec sits there with enough excess energy to supply Vermont forever--hence no need to tear up Vermont's ridge lines, as a governor's adviser wants to do (he advocates 200 miles of wind turbines).

Meanwhile Green Mountain Power, using Federal production tax credits (my tax money) is cashing in, to the tune of 42 million dollars in the case of our Lowell Mountains. Industrializing them. It isn't as if there are no other options--solar, hydro, biomass.

The writer in the article mentioned above also talks about Vermont's local Sierra Club seeking money to protect wildlife corridors, in a coalition with ironworkers local. What a joke! Green Mountain Power Corporation is currently ripping up about two miles of wildlife corridor on the Lowell Mountain Range. They get bestowed with flashing red lights at night in the bargain.

Your local club, incidentally, recently issued a press release, giving support to wind power, saying "renewables" are good for tourism. Bless their suburban hearts! Why do they think Vermont has an anti-billboard law?

Lastly, your inept reporter's article fails to note that our governor's enthusiasm for wind power may be related to the fact that Green Mountain Power, developer of wind turbines on the Lowell Range, was a major supplier of money for his election campaign. (I would add that wind companies carefully choose low-income towns, holding out the bait of tax relief.)

I regret no longer supporting you; I know you have done good work. But shades of Dave Brower, the Archdruid and bedrock member of your organization! He above all would know that wilderness is a form of freedom. And he would know that wind corporations in Vermont are bent on destroying it. For profit.
Addison Merrick

"Spout" (March/April 2012)

Your reference to "our planets final spin through the solar system" caught my eye. I have fought a long battle to eliminate the use of the term "spin" in reference to the earth movements of rotation and revolution. To properly demonstrate these movements a global model of the earth would require 24 hours to make one rotation or 365 1/4 days (a year) to make one revolution. Of course, the whole solar system is also in motion. The dictionary definition and popular notions indicate a rapid movement. The fact that the earth at the equator turns at approximately a thousand miles an hour is only a tribute to the earth's magnitude. These are grand and majestic movements. (A person at the poles would just remain in place but make one rotation in 24 hours.) They inspire awe, a more reverent concept than spin.

Today on television we continue to see the globe spinning rapidly and sometimes from east to west! We live at the intersection of time and place surrounded by a culture. (A movable point)

Our life is the sum of decisions made in response to a variety of situations occurring in our cultural and natural environments over time and in association with experiences and interactions with people (parents, siblings, pals, sweethearts, wives/husbands, salesmen, singers, celebrities, authors, professors, politicians, priests, preachers) who become close to us along the way.
Robert Nelson Saveland
Athens, Georgia

In a letter to the editor (March/April 2012), Thomas Toutant reminds us that the closing of the Centralia, Washington, coal fired plant means loss of jobs also in Wyoming, and that we should not think of the environment first but the people who live in it.

Loss of jobs has become such a central focus that we lose all long-term perspective. I n that view the defeat of the Keystone pipeline meant a huge loss of potential jobs. The pipeline would carry some of the world's dirtiest oil from the Canadian tar sands, so dirty that the Canadian government has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocols, since the exploiting of the tar sands cannot be done cleanly.

We have trouble thinking both long term and out of the box. Should jobs for today's coal workers be saved at the expense of the environment for our great-grandchildren? Are we so fixated on current energy sources that we can't embrace the potentials of alternate sources, wind, solar, etc.? Are we so unimaginative that we have no confidence that our creative scientific minds can find new options not yet on the table?
Eileen Bucklin
Machipongo, Virginia

"Enjoy" (March/April 2012)

Man, am I ever disappointed in you all with this Trendsetter segment of the magazine representing the Sierra Club. I donate small amounts to you all even though the non-profit rating system I use does not rate you all very high. This Trendsetter segment has no place in your magazine. Maybe in People or US magazines. Unfortunately for you all. But if I continue to see this Trendsetter segment, I will have to discontinue sending you donations.
Lance Powell

I was shocked to read the article "Cheese Graders" in the March/April issue of Sierra. The average American family is not going to pay between $20 and $38 per pound for the milk-based cheeses highlighted in the article under the banner of "The Green Life." Conservationists are already perceived by many as being elitist, and sustainability as being only for those who can afford it. There is no need for the Sierra Club to be reinforcing those negative, damaging stereotypes. While it is important that sustainability be discussed, it would be far more effective in the future to focus on examples that are actually relevant to the average citizen.
Michael J. Painter
Californians for Western Wilderness
San Francisco, California

Apparently Carolyn Cotney had no chance to examine the Doulex LED bulb featured in her article in your last issue. This bulb that folds and will fit in your wallet won't make enough light for you to find the light switch or even light your steps across a dark room! If someone in a dark room opened it up so that it "lit" that might help a nearby person find them but would certainly not allow them to find anything. This is one DIM light! And it has an unpleasant chemical odor that I worried about so that I decided not to give them to younger family members as I had planned.

I hope the other bulbs are better examples of brighter technology!
Dee Vogelsong

While this article was somewhat informative it never discussed the light output of each bulb. While these bulbs have a longer life than an incandescent, how many of them are required to produce the same amount of light?

How about a table showing price, longevity, heat and light output for each bulb. Mike Dalton
Blairstown, New Jersey

"Repurpose" (March/April 2012)

That microwave mailbox is the dumbest idea I have ever seen. Our microwave has a glass door as does yours in your article. I can see kids coming by and smashing the door.

Very disappointed you even considered it.
June Work Locke

I received rent from one of my tenants a few months ago. It was sent in an envelope that was supplied by a company so that its customers don't have to write out the address. You know the kind that has the little window on the front.

Chris Parrish and Chris Laidley put a sticker over the window and just wrote my address. It worked perfectly. Now, I use them all the time, and have mentioned them to friends who never thought of it before.

Who would have thought of re-purposing an envelope for an envelope?
Arleen Richter

"Grapple" (March/April 2012)

Sierra magazine's publication of Dashka Slater's piece "The Next Big Thing" is an affront to all who have worked to lessen the impact of plastics on the environment. This article is largely propaganda for the American Chemistry Council, which has been very effective in blocking efforts to ban plastic bags and to enact bottle bills.

Can Slater explain how pyrolysis will solve the problem of the huge Texas-size gyre of plastic debris floating in the Pacific? Does she have a way to mine this for the fuel that we will need after all the oil has been used up making plastic throwaway objects?

Better objectives than capturing the energy value of non-recycled plastics would be to increase recycling of plastics, which saves more energy than burning it, and to stop using plastics for throwaway objects such as plastic bags and bottles. Recycling, consistent with Sierra's zero-waste policy, creates jobs and saves the resources that burning would destroy.
Dwight Adams
Florida Sierra Waste Minimization Committee Chair

"Garbage in, Garbage out" (March/April) raises an important concern about the EPA's apparent underestimation of how much trash Americans produce annually. But in proposing waste-to-energy plants as a solution for municipal solid waste, the article contradicts official Sierra Club policy, which rejects that approach because it would destroy recyclable materials while salvaging a mere fraction of their energy. The Club encourages the composting of organics, and also supports programs that would require manufacturers to take back packaging and discarded products, thus giving them incentive to design materials that can be recycled. Such practices could greatly limit our waste disposal.
Roger Diedrich
Chair, Sierra Club Zero Waste Team
Fairfax, Virginia

"Burning plastic will solve all our problems" (March/April) is mere eco-porn from the so-called American Chemistry Council, not a council at all but a cynical and vaguely academic-sounding greenwash renaming of the formerly more honestly designated Chemical Manufacturers' Association, a mere trade group, and thus almost automatically has little to recommend it being promoted in Sierra. John T. Burridge
Former Chairman, SC Rhode Island Chapter
East Providence, Rhode Island

Thank you for having the courage to publish "Garbage in, Garbage out." You will get some very irate letters by a number of Club members who oppose any kind of incineration technologies and who do not realize how far this technology has come in the last ten years.

Several years ago, when I served on the Club's Waste-to-Energy Task Force, I wrote a paper trying to convince the Club to at least consider using the BTUs in post-diversion waste, as well as sewage sludge, as a source of energy and district heating, as is done in several major European cities. Others on the task force objected, and the Board never saw the paper.

To add some balance to the ensuing discussion, I hope you will print the conclusion of my paper below, along with the letters that will criticize Mr. Humes's article:

The Sierra Club might want to consider supporting facilities that extract post-diversion MSW for energy, as long as these facilities are Sited in the municipality where the waste is generated. Designed so that they provide not only power but also district heating to the surrounding neighborhood, as well as other useful products. Equipped with the latest maximum achievable air emission control technology, that meet or exceed the strictest air pollution regulations in the area. Assume liability costs, in case of cost overruns or other facility problems. Designed in such a way that they are not visually obtrusive. Do not compete with recycling and composting programs. Sized to only accommodate post-diversion MSW in the immediate area. Designed to work as a closed system, minimizing the final amount of toxic residuals that need to be disposed.

Caroline Snyder Ph.D.
Vice-Chair and CCL Representative NH Chapter Professor Emeritus
Rochester Institute of Technology

Maybe you can pass this on to the appropriate Sierra editor. In the March/April 2012 issue there is a short article by Edward Humes on the need for USA to follow Europe's example in building the new generation of low-emission waste-to-energy plants. (I heartily agree!)

But he leaves out Austria in his list of European countries having such plants. The Spittelau District Heating Plant (using non-recyclable garbage) is especially noteworthy because its exterior was designed by an internationally known Austrian artist (F. Hundertwasser). Consequently, the plant has become something of a tourist attraction as well as serving environmental and heating purposes.

It might be very worthwhile to include an article about Spittelau, and photographs, in a Sierra issue to help stimulate more serious thought about building such plants. I have pasted in a few websites about the plant:
Ruth L. Love
Sierra Club member
Portland, Oregon

"Innovate" (March/April 2012)

Your article "Manure to Money" overlooked some very important environmental issues. I began to craft a letter to the editor in response but realized the issue was too complex to be able to cover the necessary points in the space of a letter to the editor. Would you be willing to give me an opportunity to respond to the two-page article that unwittingly advocated for industrialized animal production and its attendant soil, water and air quality problems? I could do it in half a page or less.

I am a dairy farmer with a Ph.D. in Soil Science, and I was the 2010 Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. Below is an excerpt (on the digester issue) from the book I wrote for my campaign for Secretary of Agriculture. I would revise the verbiage below to concisely address the points raised by the Sierra article.
Francis Thicke
Fairfield, Iowa

One "solution" that has been proposed to solve the problem of methane emissions from stored liquid manure is to build anaerobic methane digesters next to CAFOs to produce and capture methane from the manure. While it is true that methane digesters will reduce methane emissions and produce methane fuel, it is important to also consider some of the limitations of methane digesters. One limitation is that methane digesters require animals to be in confinement so that their manure can be collected to be put into the digester. Animals that are out grazing in properly managed pastures spread their manure on the landscape in a way that is ecologically sound. On pastures, the manure decomposes and returns the manure nutrients to the soil through an aerobic decomposition process, which emits very little methane. Also, when animals are housed on deep-bedded manure packs that are composted, methane emissions are much less than when manure goes into liquid manure pits, which become anaerobic and emit significant amounts of methane. In other words, methane digesters not only require an industrial-style livestock production system in order to operate, but also, they are only needed for prevention of methane emissions in an industrial-style livestock production system. Also, methane digesters are very expensive to build and almost invariably require large subsidies to make building them feasible. While many types of energy systems are currently being subsidized, it should be noted that subsidies for CAFO methane digesters also indirectly serve as subsidies for industrial livestock production systems. CAFOs already often receive subsidies to build liquid manure storage systems. Subsidizing CAFO methane digesters will amount to a double subsidy for the growth of the industrial livestock industry. When considering the benefits of methane digesters to reduce methane emissions from stored CAFO manure, it is important to consider that pasture-based livestock production systems circumvent the need for methane digesters because they do not use methane-emitting liquid manure storage systems. Considered solely from the energy-production point of view, methane from manure is not a high-producing source of energy. That is because when animals eat feed they utilize most of the energy of the feed for their own metabolism, which means that their manure is much lower in energy than the plant materials they ate. For methane generators connected to CAFOs to produce a lot of energy, additional biomass will need to be added to the manure.

"Comfort Zone" (March/April 2012)

For those of us on a fixed income whose entire retirement portfolio is about one-tenth of the cost of the Scekic-Osborne's "green" home, it's nice to see how the upper class live.

Perhaps we are the minority of Sierra Club members, since very few of your articles on building "green" pertain to, or are affordable to, the working class, unless we should win the lottery.
Patience B. Dougherty
Hoosick Falls, New York

Ask Mr. Green" (March/April) misstated the amount of U.S. energy that comes from coal; the correct figure is 39 percent. It wasn't the Philips Ambient 12.5W LED, shown in "Bulbs for a Brighter Future" ("Enjoy," March/April), that won the Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize, but the 10-watt Philips LED bulb.


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