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 sierra.mail@sierraclub.org. Please include your name, city, and e-mail address or phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

Sierra magazine's feature on John Woolard ("Electrify the Elements," September/October), a current board member and former CEO of BrightSource Energy, missed an opportunity to recognize individuals who actually share the Sierra Club's conservation ethic. Sierra also failed to mention that BrightSource Energy ignored a chorus of Club activists who asked the company to relocate or reconfigure its Ivanpah solar project in California. BrightSource decided to build the project on intact desert wildlands and destroy more than five square miles of habitat that biologists identified as a key corridor for the desert tortoise.

We now know that the climate crisis doesn't require choosing between generating renewable energy and protecting wildlands. This crisis is not an excuse to destroy habitat, but a reason to work harder for its conservation. Californians have installed more than 1,600 megawatts of rooftop solar panels, and large solar projects on already-disturbed lands total more than 900 megawatts in California.

Next time Sierra wants to shine the spotlight on a successful proponent of solar energy, consider the Sierra Club volunteers working to bring rooftop solar to underrepresented communities throughout California.
Shaun Gonzales
Washington, D.C.

In your September/October "Letters," a reader wrote, "The best thing anyone can do for their health and the health of the planet is to eat a plant-based diet." Actually, sometimes the most environmentally sound foods to eat are pasture-raised, 100 percent grass-fed animals (not factory-farmed animals, of course). Most plants that we eat require substantial fossil fuels for production, whereas fully pasture-raised animals require no machines to till their soil, to plant anything, to weed, to compost, or to harvest.
Robin Kristufek
Sacramento, California

"The Next Big Thing" ("Grapple," September/October, page 20) reminded me of a story my father told me. He was raised in a small German town in the early 20th century. The dairy farmers built their barns so that all the cow urine funneled into a cistern. Each spring, farmers would pump the urine into tanks on horse-drawn wagons and spread it over the fields where rye would be planted. They also kept piles of manure, which, like the urine, would be spread on the fields, as status symbols: The bigger the pile, the more status you had. I visited there recently, and these practices continue.
David Georgi
Shell Beach, California

Michael Brune ("Create," September/October) talks about the "cool generation" of the young who will lead us to a green future of fossil-free energy. These "cool"-aged folks seem more concerned with social media and greenish fads. How many consider that their mobile devices alone demand gigawatts of power to run? And how many know that this load is forecast to triple in a few years? Being hip is no substitute for being thoughtful and wise.
Alex Cannara
Menlo Park, California

CORRECTIONS In the September/October issue, "The Valedictorians" incorrectly stated the source of funding for Stanford University's new energy facility; it is part of the Stanford Energy System Innovations program. Confusion surrounding the Cool Schools survey submission process caused the following schools to be omitted from our ranking: University of South Florida (now #17) and Washington University in St. Louis (#55). "Innovate" used the wrong term of measurement for a pumped-storage project in Germany's Harz Mountains; it will store up to 400 megawatt-hours of energy, not power.


"Cool Schools"

Regarding Green Mountain School in Vermont there was an article not too long ago about two oxen that the school owned for years. So instead of sending them to a sanctuary that offered to take them, they sent the pair to slaughter. How cool is that?
Lynn Lang

I am a Life Member of the Club who enjoyed reading the articles on Cool Schools. But why do the selection criteria ignore community colleges? There must be many of them out there that are committed to environmental sustainability. The one I work at certainly is.

At the Pittsboro, NC campus of Central Carolina Community College, 2 of the 4 buildings have many green features, such as construction that maximizes use of natural light and graywater collection for use in nonpotable situations. One of the buildings has a rooftop garden. The curricula include a Sustainable Agriculture degree program with an on-campus transitional organic farm. There is also a Sustainable Technology degree program, which teaches green building and renewable energy. There is more information available at our website, www.cccc.edu.
Ram Athavale
Carrboro, North Carolina

Oregon State University has been promoting clearcutting and herbicide spraying on all ecosystems for decades. Plus it has the largest budget and funding for the creation of Genetic engineered crops. So how can Oregon State University be rated as green when it promotes more destruction across the west more than any other university in the west?

Having some "greenwashed" certified buildings and some "greenwashed" so-called sustainabull classes does not make a university green. I think this rating system is fatally flawed in many ways.

I'd say go back to the drawing board and do some more in-depth homework, Sierra Club.
Oregon resident since 1973

Once again Florida, a state that cannot figure out how to count votes in a national election or write a fair and just law that protects its citizens from aggression, dishonors itself again with not a single college or university in the list of Cool Schools. With a governor and legislature more concerned with the tourist dollar, than having a clean, environmentally sound state for them to come to, Florida continues to be the nation's #FAIL.
Bart Cassel
Orange Park, Florida

"Electricians of the Elements"

Thanks for publishing the challenging articles featuring the potential of wind, sun and water power. But note that the watt is a unit of power like horsepower. We do not say "terawatts of electricity that the country uses annually."
Charles E Wilson
Winston Salem, North Carolina

I enjoy reading your annual report on the Ten Coolest Schools, although my near neighbor, Bowdoin College, no longer participates in the survey.

I noticed that many of the top-ranked schools receive credit for their requirements to meet LEED standards for new buildings. This is problematic, as revealed in a recent study reported by the American Physical Society [in June 2013]. LEED Certification is having little or no impact. There is no LEED requirement for public disclosure of energy consumption data, nor are there mandatory energy performance requirements.

In light of these findings, little or no credit should be given for a certification process that is largely window dressing.

Kermit Smyth
Brunswick, Maine

"Green Fleets"

The September/October 2013 issue has a section on the wonderful job Staples is doing (page 54) taking their environmental responsibilities seriously. My own recent experience with Staples makes me feel like they're playing some kind of joke. Just last Thursday (8/15/2013) I bought an inexpensive Staples brand 8-digit display calculator with their Staples Eco Easy logo on the packaging and indicating it is solar powered with battery backup. So far so good. However, when I opened the package to read the instructions, I discovered (1) no off button, whether you leave the case open or shut, it stays on; and "the calculator will turn off after approximately seven minutes of inactivity." And (2) Under Important Safeguards: Do not expose it to direct sunlight.

In my opinion, their Staples Eco Easy logo is just an advertising gimmick.
Nancy Paul

I was expecting to see mention of Westport Technology's technology that allows regular gas or diesel engines to optionally run on natural gas. This reduces operating costs and reduces pollution considerably. They have contracts with Cat, Cummins, Ford, etc. Several fleet bus and trucking companies have implemented this system. Ford has used it in their F250/350 trucks. Washington State Ferry system is evaluating it for their very large ferry system.

Being natural gas is a by product of oil drilling and most of it is burned off, it is cost effective. The lack of natural has stations along interstates limits use but companies are starting to install natural has stations across the country.
Robert Beers
Redmond, Washington

"Spout" (September/October)

Regarding John Brennan of Oakdale, California's comment, "The best thing anyone can do for their health and the health of the planet is to eat a plant-based diet" in the September-October issue of Sierra magazine:

Actually, sometimes the most environmentally sound foods to eat are naturally pasture-raised, 100 percent grass-fed animals (not factory farmed animals of course). Pasture-raised animals require no fossil fuels for their growth at all, whereas most plants that we eat require substantial fossil fuels for production. Here's the breakdown:

Growing most edible plants in this country requires the use of large fossil-fuel-powered machines, repeated many times, during their production. Tractors are used for the tilling of the land, then for the planting of the seeds, then for weeding, and then for the harvesting of the plants. Plus, the plants we eat often require delivery of compost and mulch by fossil-fuel-powered trucks, (even if we don't use artificial fertilizers) as the land we are growing them on is usually not quite fertile enough without such supplementation. Finally, many of our edible plant crops need irrigation; that water is pumped by electricity, most of which is made with the burning of fossil fuels (water that is basically stolen from the salmon and otters that really need it, an additional environmental problem). Fully pasture-raised animals on the other hand require absolutely no fossil-fuel-powered machines to till their soil, to plant anything, to weed, to compost, or to harvest. And if they are naturally raised, the land does not need irrigation as the grasses grow completely with rainfall. The animals simply live on the pastures, fertilizing them naturally with their manure, and the grasses grow back readily year after year if they are not overgrazed. The only fossil fuels used for us to eat 100 percent naturally pasture-raised animals are for their transport to stores and homes; and this is the same as with plants that we eat.

We need to remember that much land on this continent was inhabited by grazing animals before Europeans arrived. Forcing the animals off this land and planting vegetables and fruits for us to eat did not help those animals; some of them are now nearly extinct. These particular lands are naturally suited for grazing animals. These particular lands are not well-suited for growing vegetables and fruits that continually need supplementation with compost or fertilizer, and often supplementation with water as well. We are doing the planet a service to return those lands to grazing animals, not to force the unnatural production of plant-based crops for our use.

The land that I live on, the huge central valley and the foothills of California, is a primary case-in-point. 500 years ago it was teeming with elk and hill sheep; now there are almost none. Instead, we now grow vegetables and fruits that are not possible to grow without importing fertilizer, compost, and water. The most natural and therefore environmentally-sound food to eat right here where I live would be a grazing animal that eats the grasses that naturally grow without any tilling, any weeding, any supplementation of compost or water. What a myth it is that forcing plants to grow here (using huge tractors powered by fossil fuels and stealing water from the rivers nearby to feed those water-guzzling plants) is somehow better for the planet than eating pasture-raised animals that require no fossil-fueled machines at all for their growth!
Robin Kristufek
Public Health Nurse
Sacramento, California

"Create" (September/October)

Will Sierra publish a critical letter? Let's flip a coin...

Michael Brune talks about the "cool generation" of the young who will lead us to a "green" future of fossil-free energy.

My fellow Sierra members and nonmembers who are leading where I live are anywhere from 70 to 90 to 95 years "young." The "cool"-aged folks seem more concerned with social media and greenish fads, like windmills and kites with prop-generators flailing around on them.

Oops, Brune's piece is printed with a windmill pictured--perhaps Sierra will pay for each wind tower to be emblazoned in big letters: "Sierra Club" down its 100+-ton length. Thus will our descendants will know whom to thank when they must clean up massive arrays of such after climate change they didn't avoid has ruined their evanescent winds?

Perhaps it takes education, experience, and age all together to foster wisdom? For example, how many of the "cool" young'uns realize their mobile devices alone demand a full GW (billion watts) of power to run every second of every day? How many at Sierra know also that this load is forecast to triple in a few years. Being hip is no substitute for being thoughtful and wise.
Alex Cannara
Menlo Park, California

"Enjoy" (September/October)

I would like to make comment on the "How Convenient" piece. It's a great step that some products are being produced using "green" manufacturing facilities and made with healthy organic ingredients, but we must be aware that, while the parent companies are seeing nods these markets as important, the noble efforts of a few of their products do not necessarily extend to their basic corporate endeavor. Naked Juices are owned by PepsiCo and Honest Tea is owned by Coca-Cola. Both of these companies invested heavily to defeat GMO labeling legislation (Prop. 37 in California), limiting our right to know the nature of products that we buy. Sun Chips actually contain GMO corn and vegetable oil, though marketed as "natural".

I don't mean to throw a wet blanket on the positive aspects of advances in product and manufacturing quality, but as consumers we must be aware what we are supporting. If we invest in these companies by buying these products, we should let them know that, while we applaud their positive advances with our dollars, we do not condone restricting our knowledge of product content, especially when it comes to questionable food technologies as GMOs. If they do not respond with specific and timely actions, boycotting their products may be the alternative.
Marc Arthur
Saugerties, New York

Questions: How convenient is it for people ingesting this that Sun Chips contain no less than three GMO ingredients? The jury is no longer out about the health hazards of GMOs.

How eco-conscious is that on the part of Sierra Club magazine?
Helen Lubin

I'm disgusted you will continue to promote crap poisonous food made by crap environmentally destructive companies 1st in your magazine, now in Sierra Insider.

Coke floods the environment with millions of plastic bottles and depletes and pollutes aquifers in the manufacture and of their packaging and their products, not to mention their abysmal human rights record ,particularly in Colombia and India.

Coke contributed over a million dollars to defeat Prop. 37 in California and so-called independent Honest Tea zero dollars to support GMO labeling. Coke and Honest Tea continue through the Grocery Manufactures Association to pour money into Washington State to defeat the ballot initiative there with no money being donated by Coke or Honest Tea to support GMO labeling. Honest Tea is one of Coke's products that is actually a model of ingredients, though Coke's other products are jam packed with GMOs in form of aspartame and corn syrup and GMO sugar.

Again why are we promoting this company?

SunChips is owned by Frito-Lay and Naked juice by Pepsi. Pepsi also fills environment with millions of toxins through their use and manufacture of plastics and their pollution and depletion of water resources.

SunChips contain GMOs. Pepsi also contributed to defeat GMO labeling laws and continues to do so. Naked Juice paid out 9 million for deceptive labeling. Their drinks are full of synthetics some derived from formaldehyde according to the lawsuit and GMOs.

Cliff is an exemplary company in many ways and claims to use no GMO ingredients, though there is no third party verification of this and they use hexane derived soy in many of their products. Buy some quick oats and nuts and dried fruit if you must shop in 7/11 (but beware of GMO canola, soy, or cottonseed oils) and you can make your own muesli.

How about an article on why food companies continue to try to sell us crap and the environmental effects and health effect of being a disposable society. The thing I think Americans fear the most is inconvenience. We need to get over it.
Don Walsh

"Ask Mr. Green" (September/October)

I have two comments about short pieces in the September/October issue of Sierra.

1. Shame on Mr. Green for not mentioning the green version of wheels for college students. Bicycles are a great way to get around on campus and to nearby places on campus. Right: Don't take your car. But why didn't he also write, do take your bicycle? It is ideal for getting to places that are just a little bit too far to walk.

2. The Next Big Thing could have mentioned an article by Smriti Mallapaty in Environmental Health News with the title "Farmers in Nepal Use Urine to Boost Crop Yields," posted online by Scientific American in December 2012.
Edith Borie
Karlsruhe, Germany

Mr. Green offers valuable suggestions for the "best thing" a college student can do for the earth: using public transit and lowering consumption (e.g., eliminating a mini-fridge) are mentioned. Other efforts might include:

1. Participating in the Sierra Club's Global Population and Environment Program.
2. Joining a campus environmental group and your local Sierra Club global population group, along with other organizations concerned with global population pressures (e.g., Population Connection, Center for Biological Diversity, Population Media Center). 3. Advocating for Planned Parenthood, and considering one's family size decisions.
Evan Jones
Sacramento, California

"Grapple" (September/October)

As a math educator, I'm highly attuned to mathematical inaccuracies in the media. But surely I wasn't the only reader puzzled by inconsistencies in the September/October Sierra magazine. First, on p.22, the graphic accompanying "Small and Getting Smaller" can't quite decide whether it is two or three-dimensional. If indeed it is supposed to represent a volume of water, as suggested by its 100 three dimensional blocks, the portion devoted to freshwater, supposedly representing 2.5 percent, is actually representing less than half of one percent (2.5 full blocks should have been shaded). The shading in the article would have been correct had only a two dimensional graphic been shown. Just because 3-D has visual appeal, doesn't make it appropriate.

Similarly confusing are the statistics in the "Innovate: Clean Energy From Old Mines" column. In the second paragraph we are told that "Germany's Harz Mountains would store up to 400 megawatts of power, enough to supply 40,000 homes." Yet on the very next page, in the middle of the page, we are told about solar panels that "create a megawatt of electricity, enough to power 500 to 600 homes." Is it true that a megawatt in Germany can supply 100 homes, but a megawatt in the US can power 500-600 homes?

I look forward to your response, and please know that some of us math geeks out here do look at these details.
David Ellenbogen
Vice Chair
VT Sierra Club

The Sierra Club audience may be inclined against the Keystone XL pipeline project but there are still questions to be raised in addition to Paul Rauber's article.

First what exactly is going to be transported through these pipelines? Certainly it is not sand but some concocted slurry. The August 2013 edition of National Geographic has an item on "dilbit" which is a ferocious compound. What exactly makes this stuff run?

What is the purpose of processing this extract except to put it onto the world market? Yes the US refiners gain but the entire burden of moving this is exported as well. The payment for this product is likely to occur at the point of shipment in Canada and not at the point of production domestically. Where is the national interest served in this era of fracking and tertiary energy retrieval, which is ultimately a positive thing and clearly a huge offset for any need for this.

Also what is the price of an accident that does not happen? There are so many vulnerabilities and risks on this project that it if ever there were a "no brainer" this is it.
Edward Kierklo
San Francisco, California

With great dismay I read the review of the poorly designed study from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, which found that cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds each year as well as millions of unfortunate mammals (mice? immature Norway rats?), more than any human caused destruction. Really? I would laugh at the enormity of misinformation, if it were not that this becomes one more in a litany of fodder for cat haters. The data quoted would rank up there with the "facts" used by Fox News. Before spewing this type of biased information, did you do fact checking on the Internet where actual research data is available? I selected the following words to begin the process "research, content of stomachs of feral cats". Try it, you might plan to write an addendum to this nonsense published which will result in the deaths of too many cats as well as members loss in confidence for other information which you publish.
Nancy Ballot
Stockton, California

Oh, please. I am so tired of reputable organizations which keep quoting that flawed Smithsonian study, conducted by cat-hating "Dr." Nico Dauphine, in which she states that cats--feral and tame--are responsible for billions of bird kills every year. Her alleged "study" used only 50 cats, from which she somehow extrapolated the incredible number of bird kills she claims, and which has been cherry-picked and used ever since by the likes of the Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservatory, and now the Sierra Club.

During this "study," Dauphine was caught by a security camera putting rat poison into the food and water dishes left for a colony of feral cats by their caretaker near her apartment complex; and while she was a graduate student at the University of Georgia she took it on herself to illegally trap dozens of cats at apartment complexes and then haul them off to animal shelters to be killed. The Smithsonian ignored repeated complaints about her and it took a lawsuit filed by Alley Cat Allies before they finally fired her. Not, however, before she had published her farcical "report."

The main reason for the decline in bird populations is human destruction of their habitat, along with the wall-of-glass high rises that birds strike after becoming disoriented by the lighting used on/in them at night! Print that in your comments, and stop with the cat-as-ruthless-killing-machine propaganda.

That being said, I do agree with the post stating how dangerous dogs are to birds. Loose-running dogs in particular are a nuisance and a danger to birds, wildlife and people, due to the fact that they are unpredictable predatory animals that will pack up when given a chance, whether it's in a park, on a trail, or on a beach. Not to mention the feces that their entitled owners don't bother to clean up...
Susan D. Martin
Oakland, California

While Dashka Slater's articles "On the One Hand..." reveals interesting information about the killing nature of our beloved domesticated animals, I certainly hope that she is not suggesting that we have our family members destroyed to prove our commitment to the environment. The emotional lives and often the physical lives of humans have been enhanced and even saved by the love and devotion of our companion animals. It would have been a good idea to place her snapshot articles in context, so as not to arouse the negative feelings they generated.
Betty Jacobs
Culver City, California

"Explore" (September/October)

I enjoyed reading the short piece on climbing Mt. Rainier. The comment about "anchoring struggling climbers to the mountain in a sleeping bag" is correct.

I was on a four-man-plus-one-guide climbing team in June of 1988. There was heavy snow all the way down to the lodge. The crevasses were not yet uncovered or marked. The four on our rope were all in our late forties, so were put on an "old man's rope." Four other younger climbers in our party were put on another rope with their own guide.

After spending a mostly sleepless night in the hut, we proceeded over to the glacier for our summit attempt. The going was slow, and the younger rope moved out ahead. At around 12,000' or so, one of our party began pulling off his clothes, claiming he was "burning up." In a few moments he was naked from the waist up and not very coherent. Our guide got his clothes back on, put him in a sleeping bag and anchored him to the slope. The rest of us proceeded up for another hour or so. The going was very slow. We went back and forth searching for crevasses. Soon our group was very tired. At some point we did stop to see the sunrise as your photo shows.

Our guide eventually decided that the old man's rope would not make the summit. We turned back at what I guess was about 13,000'. On the way down we picked up our companion, who was resting in the sleeping bag. He was fully recovered. The younger rope went on to make the summit.

That evening we had dinner in the lodge. At a nearby table, Jim Whittaker, Sherpa Nawang Gombu, and a small group were having a 25-year anniversary dinner to celebrate the first American climb of Everest. I got Jim's autograph on a newspaper article that I had brought to dinner.
Moncure Crowder

"Innovate" (September/October)

I was impressed by David Ferris's pointing out that mines with a significant depth span could be used for pumped storage. It had never occurred to me, as I always connected it with mountaintop lakes.

On the other hand, he says that the project in the Harz Mountains in Germany "would store 400 megawatts of power." You can't store power; you store energy. Let's get it right.
Larry Berman
Cambridge, Massachusetts

"Comfort Zone" (September/October)

In the "Comfort Zone" article, the article characterized the Floating House as a "smart design for pleasure and planet."

Are you kidding me? It might be a wise idea to ask yourself WWJMD (what would John Muir do)? I cannot imagine that he would react with anything but horror at such an eyesore in an otherwise seemingly nice place, complete with a powerboat, of all things.

If the Sierra Club shares this warped, dig me vision for the future of our planet, please take my name off of your membership list.
David Briscoe
Incline Village, Nevada

General comments

I just received my new Sierra magazine. I have to say it is one of the worst-looking periodicals I've ever seen. Confusing, busy--awful headline fonts (what's with the weird "E" that looks like a backwards 3?). All very difficult to read and enjoy.

Sorry for this assessment. I hate hurting anybody's feelings.
Eric Husby-Gerry

While your magazine is generally keenly tuned to environmental challenges, the one exception might be the inclusion of ten pages of international trips. While they nearly all sound irresistible to me, international travel has a very significant carbon footprint (or, flight path)! Flying is number one on the list of environmentally harmful behavior for individuals. For example, according to www.travelnav.com, a round-trip flight from your offices in San Francisco to India, the first trip listed, produces nearly 8 metric tons of CO2, with radiative forcing factored in (I do realize that there will be other passengers on these large aircraft). This amounts to nearly half of the total emissions calculated for the average American home. In the spirit of climate concerns, please consider including the total emissions for each trip. In this way, future travelers would have that awareness, and could factor it in when they choose a trip.
Andrew Stern, MD
Executive Director
Lost Bird Project Inc.
Pittsford, New York


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