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.

Cool Schools
I always knew UC Davis [named America's greenest college, "Top of the Class," September/October], my alma mater, was cool. Now you've absolutely confirmed it.
Deborah Kadin
Oak Park, Illinois

Your annual ranking of America's greenest universities ignores community colleges, which serve 43 percent of all undergraduates. Including community colleges would render your rankings more valid and inspire further environmental activism on those campuses.
Scott Zaluda
Westchester Community College
State University of New York

Make That "Oz"
As I was reading "The Wizard of Oberlin" (September/October), I kept waiting to read about the new, earthshaking things that David Orr is doing at Oberlin College. I waited in vain! Here in California, many colleges and universities and their surrounding communities have done so much more, for a lot longer, than Oberlin. Is it just that Orr is the "media darling" of the moment?
Mary Ann Leer
Santa Cruz, California

I was educated and moved by your article about Oberlin College.
Estelle Weissburg
Katy, Texas

Windows of Death

The wonderful looking Branson High School structure you feature in the September/October issue may also be a serious bird killer. This is sadly unnecessary. Please see the Bird-friendly Building Design article on the following American Bird Conservancy's Web page.

If you all would do a feature on these issue I, and others, will be grateful.
Katy Belt
Silver City, New Mexico


"Cool Schools"

How did you miss Warren Wilson College? WWC was green before green was popular!
Cheryl Harper
Arden, North Carolina

I always knew UC Davis, my alma mater, was cool--now you’ve absolutely confirmed it. Thanks.
Deborah Kadin
Oak Park, Illinois

Just so you know, your annual ranking of America's greenest universities ignores colleges that about half of American college students attend: community colleges. By the Higher Education Research and Development Institute's last count, community colleges serve 43% of all college undergraduates. While this fact hardly diminishes the achievements of your top 96 schools, noticing community colleges would certainly render your rankings more valid. Faculty and administrators at my own community college care deeply about the environment and work hard to pass along their high level of commitment to our over twelve thousand students. For example, with a colleague in biology, I run an annual seminar (funded by the local power utility) to support faculty from across the curriculum to integrate the subject of sustainability into their courses and administrators to design sustainability initiatives in their areas. Like many of the schools on your list, we are also members of AASHE. If the purpose of your ranking is to inspire further environmental activism, then why not urge on campuses that serve the other half of all students.
Scott Zaluda
English Department
SUNY Westchester Community College

I am a student at Dartmouth College who recently saw the list of 96 greenest universities. While I am not familiar with the sustainability endeavors of the 96 colleges, I am pretty confident that any list of green colleges that does not include Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire is incomplete. Off the top of my head, here are some of the number of green initiatives at Dartmouth.

  • The campus is incredibly green, full of grass and trees. Green is our college color.
  • All the food in dining services is purchased locally, and students pay heavily for such a privilege! We have vegan dining and composting.
  • We have our own organic farm and partnerships with many other farms, including a farmers’ market every week in the middle of our giant green lawn.
  • We have one of the strongest outdoors programs, if not the strongest that I know of. 90% of incoming freshman participate in an outdoors trip. For my trip, I worked on an organic farm in Vermont.
  • We have the largest forestland grant in New Hampshire that is of access to the college.
  • The furniture at Dartmouth is constructed from wood that is harvested sustainably from our land grant.
  • There are numerous sustainability awareness groups that host discussions and events, including a Sustainable Living Center and a Big Green Bus, which runs on biofuels.
  • Students walk or bike to class, and everything is within walking distance. Most students live on-campus or less than 5 minutes walking distance from campus.
  • Facilities are being upgraded and new buildings are constructed with greenness in mind.
  • Macs are one of the greenest computers, and Dartmouth students and professors overwhelmingly use Macs.
  • We have numerous course offerings in environmental science. I took a seminar in sustainability and consumption in my first term at Dartmouth.
  • We have student groups focused on educating and aiding other countries in environmental/conservation/sustainability concerns. I am currently in Tanzania doing a fuel-efficient stove internship.
That list is far from complete, but sustainability and environmental concerns are very prevalent at Dartmouth. I strongly believe Dartmouth College merits inclusion on the list of greenest universities. Please consider Dartmouth College for next year's list.
Curtis Lim

I just checked out your website on the coolest schools in the nation. It was great! However, how about adding some health indicators like having tobacco-free policies to keep the litter and indoor pollution down?
Sieglinde Prior, MA, MPH
Community Health Consultant, Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control
Iowa Department of Public Health
Des Moines, Iowa

Imagine my dismay to see UCLA excluded from the ranking of America's Greenest Colleges in your latest issue. Considering it's the largest campus in the UC system and home to the rapidly growing Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, this omission seems especially glaring.

I knew I wanted to work on paleoclimate change in Southern California when I applied for graduate school, and UCLA has been the perfect choice. There is a vibrant, extensive, and collegial community here involved in the campus and the world around them. In my time here, I've attended numerous lectures and seminars on environmental issues that were well attended by both students and the community. There are programs to add composting bins to recycling stations, student housing with real-time utility use feedback, and CSA box distribution, much of this initiated by students. Research programs with environmental implications is high-powered and collaborative, with results and impact that will certainly drive policy in coming years. I work in a research group that's involved in vegetation survey of California's coastal marshes, a collaboration with the US Geological Survey to predict California sea-level rise, water rights and usage throughout the southwest, and past vegetation change in the San Bernardino Mountains.

I did note that you only ranked those universities that responded to a survey; if so, then fair enough and we dropped the ball. However, what was especially misleading was that on the lead page of the article, one of the illustrations includes a rendering of UCLA's iconic Royce Hall!
Katherine C. Glover
PhD Candidate
UCLA Dept of Geography
Los Angeles, California

In the September/October issue, I was impressed and encouraged by the "Building the Future" series of articles. However, in the "Measuring Up" article I looked in vain for my alma mater UCLA, which I had expected to find on the "Honor Roll" list since the artwork on the "Building the Future" page had featured a representation of UCLA's iconic Royce Hall. Hopefully next time! Thomas Cockle
McKinleyville, California

"The Wizard of Oberlin"

As I was reading the article, I kept waiting for some really new earth shaking things that David Orr is doing at Oberlin. I waited in vain!

I've been reading about earth-friendly projects that colleges and universities undertake for at least the last 15 to 20 years (some mentioned in Sierra). Especially here in California, many colleges and universities, and their surrounding communities, have done so much more, for a lot longer, than Oberlin.

Is it just that Orr is the "media darling" of the moment?

I hope that the young folks who may read this article don't come away with the idea that Oberlin represents the most that is going on at colleges in the US.
Mary Ann Leer
Santa Cruz, California

I was educated and emotionally moved by your article about Oberlin College and the list of colleges where creative and active students made their schools listed among best in environment issues. The courses or teachers, I’m sure, helped and motivated them. I was surprised and disappointed that my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the alma mater of my husband and two sons, were not included. I also noticed that University of Michigan, University of Texas, and University of Arkansas, where my grandchildren currently attend were not named. I am appalled and I ask your assistance in bringing this deficiency to the attention of the faculty and governing boards. Please guide me. I am one person, far removed from these so-called towers of education. My letter, if published, in my alumni magazine, would be like a drop of water in the ocean.
Estelle Eeissburg
Katy, Texas

Make Light" I found your article "Make Light" very interesting but for me it raised some obvious and important questions that were not addressed by the author - the nitty gritty statistics of the project. By statistics I don't mean how many children these women had, which was dealt with too much, but who paid the airfare for women from Fiji and South America and Africa to fly to India, who foots the bills for the housing facilities and the technical materials the women use and the teachers' salaries, etc. etc. I love reading upbeat articles like this, but if the realistic financial underpinning of a project is not discussed the story is only half told.

You guys are awesome but I gotta tell ya I'm disappointed. In the September/October issue there are pictures of women welding (pages 38,39), and they are definitely not wearing the proper clothing or eye protection. She is going to be blind, that flash will burn the retina in her eyes, but it's probably too late, it only takes a few minutes, along with those around her. I don't see a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water can electrocute them, her clothing is loose and should be at least natural fiber. I see highly flammable fabrics. Try to get her a leather apron, with no pockets or folds for sparks to rest in. She needs a welder's mask and gloves and a curtain to protect those around her who may be exposed to the flash. I will supply the stuff if you make sure she gets it. If you're going to teach and support, do it right without blinding and setting people on fire.
Steve Fox

Keeping Bugs (and Bears) at Bay" Nice that you covered non-DEET insect repellants, but you left out my favorite. I spend a lot of time in the woods, and this stuff works great at keeping away mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and chiggers. It is White Mountain Insect Repellant, made from 4% cedar oil, 4% mint oil, 4% citronella oil, and the rest corn oil. When hiking, I apply it in the morning and it stays active all day. A little bit goes a long way, so it is great for backpacking.
Franklin Marra

Spout" (November/December 2012)

I enjoy reading Sierra" and always learn something. However, I’m concerned that the list of corrections from the previous issue often has several items. I sometimes like to quote the magazine, but if I can’t count on the information being correct, I won’t continue to do so. At best, I might wait a month to see if there are any corrections. Shouldn’t need to do that, right?
Paula Brennecke
Bonham, Texas

The last few issues of Sierra magazine have been full of numerous small errors. I was surprised to learn in the article on horseshoe crabs ("The Original Blue Bloods") that Delaware Bay is located in Maryland. It must have moved, because the last time I saw it, it was between Delaware and New Jersey. Another article in this same issue on Oberlin College ("The Wizard of Oberlin") states that "Callenbach's big ideas were woven into the Emersonian warp and Orwellian woof of many a college rap session." I assume the author, editor in chief Bob Sipchen, is referring to the two components of woven cloth, which are more commonly known as the warp and the weft, not the woof, which is an obsolete old English term. I also noticed a number of similar minor and not so minor inaccuracies in the July/August Sierra article on shale gas and hydraulic fracturing.

To be sure, most of the errors in Sierra magazine are small, but added together they harm the credibility of Sierra magazine and the Sierra Club. You are obviously aware of them--the "corrections" section is as long as the letters to the editor. The most important possession the environmental movement has is its credibility. Undeniable evidence and rock-solid proof of industrial air and water pollution are what got the movement started. These days, accuracy is more important than ever, as small uncertainties in the environmental concerns over global climate change, genetically modified food and fossil energy production are challenged and exploited by industries with deep pockets, clever PR staffs, and lots of lawyers. Please take greater care in future issues of Sierra to make sure all statements, no matter how minor, are accurate and credible. Thank you.
Daniel J. Soeder
Morgantown, West Virginia

Reading last month's "On the One Hand...On the Other" really made me want to know more about the pros and cons of various outdoor" fabrics. Obviously the old re-use, reduce, recycle (and repair!) is great once you already have something, but when buying something new it would be interesting to be able to weigh some of the options, such as, "If this fleece will end up shedding polyester fibers into the ocean, what are the alternatives? Are things made out of bamboo really more eco-friendly, or does the processing involved have side effects we should be thinking about? Etc, etc." I'd love to see an article devoted to this sort of thing!
Sara Donnelly
Brooklyn, New York

"Enjoy" (November/December 2012)

I followed the link from my Sierra Club Insider email to the article on the annual green college guide, and on the sidebar there was a link to an article called "Pimp Your Dorm Room." I know the intentions here are good, but please think before perpetuating the use of the term "pimp" as a way to signify coolness. "Pimp" is used as pop culture shorthand, but this can undermine the fight against actual pimps. There are thousands of young women in this country--mainly underage runaways--who have been sexually enslaved by pimps. I'm sure I sound like some easily offended, humorless do-gooder, but I would hope that an organization dedicated to protecting the planet might be open to such a critique.
Melissa Brown

My husband is a subscriber to the magazine and we just got the September/October issue. On page 8 there is a feature on products for students to buy for their dorms. The same day the magazine arrived, I ordered the cork board from Bambeco, assuming that if it had Sierra's stamp of approval I could trust it. I ordered a cat bed bade of recycled soda bottles at the same time. Here the deal: Yesterday the cork board arrived by itself in a box with an excessive amount of packaging, which means the cat bed is arriving in yet another package, which I can only assume will also have an excessive amount of packaging. Moreover, the corkboard was made in China, which isn't the image that your "biodegradable and renewably sourced" language conjures up. So I've bought a corkboard that was shipped across the Pacific and then shipped by itself to me in a whole bunch of unnecessary packaging. I have to say I'm extremely disappointed that Sierra promoted this company and that I trusted your endorsement. I would like to hear directly from the staff person who created page 8 of the current issue and who researched this company.
Dr. Anne S. Macpherson
Latin American and Caribbean History
The College at Brockport, SUNY
Brockport, New York

Grapple (November/December 2012)

Thanks for the brief piece about the great nutrition to be found in insects. While we’ve yet to become a full entomophgists--it is not beyond reason to become one. Like most of us, we’ve dabbled in insect consumption by eating crawfish and shrimp. Even mushrooms are not plants per se. But we’d most like to point out there is an excellent book on the subject, Man Eating Bugs by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. Peter is the author, Faith the photographer, and they eventually learned to eat cooked insects while they are warm. This duo traveled the planet studying native entomophic societies--and sampling their cuisine too. They offer a caution: not all insects are edible. Eat what others have shown are safe to eat.
Allen and Ruth Penticoff
Rockford, Illinois

Dashka Slater is right: We need to eat way lower on the food chain. But why stop at insects? Vegans eat food made from plants, about as low as you can go on the food chain. And while many people will have to overcome aversion to eating insects, most people already enjoy greens and beans, fruit and whole grains. With so many wonderful vegan cookbooks in print and online today, let's promote a more palatable and delicious cuisine that is a realistic choice for dinner tonight.
Patti Breitman
Fairfax, California

I just read Edward Humes Grapple article "An Inconvenient Subject." The comment I have is that I'm going to San Fran to be trained with 1,000 other people from all over the world by his Climate Reality Project to present Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" Lecture.

Having committed to them make a minimum of 10 presentations within a year, I'm already lining them up. Classrooms are already one of my biggest targets, as the reading of the article in your magazine confirmed for me.

I live in Boston, so I am lucky to be in a very receptive area. Especially as compared to what Mr. Humes reports is going on in places like Oklahoma, Tennessee, and . . . a bit of a surprise, but it shouldn't be, California.

I'll be going to my local high school here in Arlington, already in talked with the Brookline School system, my wife works at Harvard, so I'll be there, also Boston University, which is partnering with Brookline on climate education.

A friend is headmaster at Phillips Andover Academy, and I'm invited there. I'll be contacting my former high school, Kimball Union Academy, as well as Berklee College of Music where I graduated.

My guess is many, if not most, of the people being trained with me, will also do the same. It's pretty clear to all of us, that the younger generation coming up are the ones who vitally need this knowledge, and can't let the deniers get the upper hand based on untruths.

As mentioned in the article, we won't win this argument with browbeating. We have to win over with enlightenment, the facts, and all the data to out away any argument based on fear or greed. Young people are open to new ideas that interest them. At that time in your life, many things are still, and fascinating, and the right approach to teaching how we can all affect this issue is just what is needed. Sierra Club could help by getting the message about the CRP initiative out there in your pages.
Rick Cutler
Arlington, Massachusetts

I'm writing to express my disappointment with Paul Rauber's comments about the congressional record. First, I am an independent, so this isn't a rebuke to his clearly anti-republican rant, but I am concerned about his playing what appears to be fast and easy with the facts, as well as his "source" for his figures.

He starts with "This republican dominated 112th Congress," which is inaccurate, but clearly intended to generate anti-repub sentiment. Only the House is repub dominated. The Senate is democrat dominated, so it appears that it's a draw as to who dominates the Congress. He notes the most anti-environment House in history, now limiting his comments to the House rather than the whole Congress. OK, we'll go with that. However, we certainly question the validity and legitimacy of his source, which he lists as the minority staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Since the repubs are the majority party in the House, we are assuming he means the democrat side of that committee. How can he expect us to look on that as an unbiased source? We would expect the dems to skew the numbers in their favor, and they clearly are. Is there an unbiased source out there he could have drawn from? Certainly there is.

This appears to be one-sided journalism at its worst. We don't care what Rauber's personal political leanings are, although they are clear, but we would hope that he would provide an entry that isn't inflammatory and suspect in both its accuracy and its intent. Rauber is listed as a senior editor, but unfortunately anything we see from him from now on will be looked at skeptically.
Mike Fullerton
Highlands Ranch, Colorado

"Comfort Zone" (November/December 2012)

In "Heart of a High School", an article in the September/October issue, you featured the Branson School, lauding the new structure's energy efficiency and green building materials. Understood. But I don't think the area's native songbirds would have voted this glass monstrosity as a "smart design".

Was all that glass really necessary in order that the 320 students not "feel constricted"? My heart bleeds for the birds that must surely, on a regular basis, lie with broken necks around the perimeter.
Jean L. De Weil Oneonta, New York

"Innovate" (November/December 2012)

Your article talks about the use of resonate magnetic coupling to recharge car electric batteries. While I am all in favor of new energy sources and innovative thinking, I am deeply concerned that some of the ideas being proposed have not been examined from the human health standpoint. Having magnetic fields under roadways or in other places means that it will be impossible to avoid them. What will be the effect on humans, especially people with pacemakers? On ambulances with all their medical equipment? Has this been researched, and if so, what are the results and where can they be found?
Terry Mahurin
Ojai, California

General comments

I was extremely disappointed in the first issue of my new subscription. It put me in mind of someone reading a compilation of test messages. Everything was so short and choppy! The main problem for me however was how the magazine was laid out. The artwork was very distracting. I presume you think it is "cutting edge," but believe me, it is anything but. Same with the photos and how they were arranged on the page. Lining them up on the outside of the page with text in the center does not present a good visual appearance. Very busy, and most distracting. In short I thought it was the worst laid out magazine I had ever read.

You would do well to consider a total revamping of how your magazine is laid out. Maybe a new staff? The September/October cover is a good example of what I am talking about. The design is pitiful. One cannot even read what the text is supposed to say.

You would be well advised to review the Nature Conservancy and Audubon magazines and try to emulate them more. There are two conservation magazines that know how to lay out text, pictures and artwork in a visually pleasing way.

I hope this email will get to the right people that can correct your serious problem.
Travis H. McDaniel

In Sierra's annual ranking of America's greenest colleges (September/October), slight changes were made to the rankings because of mathematical errors discovered after press time. Also, complications in the data-collection system prevented a few schools from submitting part or all of their responses to our questionnaire. Details can be found at

Sierra's Cool Schools ranking continues to be a work in progress. Our primary goal is to aggregate, celebrate, and encourage the profound push toward sustainability being led by universities and colleges nationwide. Grapple's "Original Blue Bloods" (September/October) mistakenly located the Delaware Bay in Maryland; it is bordered by Delaware and New Jersey.

"Keeping Bugs (and Bears) at Bay" (September/October) should have said that Lyme disease is transmitted by black-legged ticks, not by mosquitoes.

"The Wizard of Oberlin" (September/October) should have stated that David Orr helped to raise $11 million of the $55 million that already has come to Oberlin College in the form of private investment, college funding, tax credits, and philanthropy for the school's sustainability efforts. The additional $75 million that the school hopes to raise for such projects in the future will come from similar sources.


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