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  Sierra Magazine
  September/October 2008
Table of Contents
Cool Crowd
Ten That Get It
Five That Fail
Hot Jobs to Chill the Planet
Talk of the Quad
Good Green Reads
Staring Down Doomsday
Profiles in Courage
Carbon Confessional
Hey Mr. Green
Mixed Media
Comfort Zone
Sierra Archives
About Sierra
Internships at Sierra
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Spout | rant, react, chat, blather
September/October 2008

Letters, editor's note, and corrections | Web-only letters

Seizing the Masthead

Lea: We need more duct tape--I can still hear him mumbling.

Michael: Got it. Maybe we should poke some airholes.

Lea: Attention, readers: In the age-old tradition of student takeovers, Researcher Michael Fox and I have seized control of this magazine. As a recent Sierra intern, I figured I knew more about colleges than the stodgy guy who sits in the editor in chief's office.

Michael: Most of what you'll see in Sierra's second annual "Cool Schools" is our doing.

Lea: The massive research we did for this package got us thinking about what motivates colleges to adopt environmental policies.

Michael: And why so slowly.

Lea: As a 2007 graduate of Pomona College, I found my school's recent annual report annoying. On the cover, students with shovels and spades work a disorganized garden plot. The headline: "Toward a Sustainable Pomona." But when I was a Sagehen (the school's feathered mascot strutted the football field demanding we chirp our support for the team), the administration tried to uproot and relocate this same student-run organic farm and supplant it with a manicured soccer field. The only reason the garden survived is because students protested tirelessly--a fact the report conveniently fails to mention.

Michael: My alma mater, Emory University (class of 2005), only recently cut through the problem of urban sprawl traffic with biodiesel-powered shuttles to popular shopping areas and bars. If Emory had done this sooner, when I was in school, our designated driver wouldn't have been the one who was the least drunk (sorry, Mom).

Lea: What was that noise?

Michael: Nothing. The editor guy's chair fell over.

Lea: It's easy to be cynical about colleges' efforts to green themselves, but schools really are starting to get that students don't want to spend four years at an institution that is contributing to the ruin of the world they're about to inherit.

Michael: So which colleges and universities lead in environmental policies? Many established eco-achievers made this year's "Ten That Get It" list, including the college our editor-in-duct-tape's daughter attends (no, he didn't try to influence us--as if we'd listen), while others from last year got bumped.

Lea: But there are several newcomers and surprises--and we also profile five universities that fail the green test. So dig in and enjoy.

Michael: As for our demands, we'll take cash, pizza, or carbon-offset credits.

—Lea Hartog and Michael Fox

Burned Up!
I was scandalized by the unconscionable and downright criminal waste of propane and jet fuel, plus the senseless air pollution from nonproductive and utterly frivolous fireworks [in the 2007 Crude Awakening performance] ("Burned Out on Burning Man," July/August). That was supposed to be art? Some kind of protest? Or just a brainless, childish display of nihilistic destruction?
Tom Johnson
Lakewood, Colorado

For 40,000 people to show up in the desert for a week, bring in everything, and remove every trace when they leave is an accomplishment and one of the driving goals behind the Burning Man festival. I am an artist, and Crude Awakening was the most awesome art installation I have ever seen. To focus the crowd's awareness on our dependence on oil and the need to find alternatives was eye-opening.
Linda Pollini
Hawthorne, Florida

Good Story Raises Ugly Question
Senior Editor Paul Rauber's report on Ethiopia ("Life in Abundance," July/August) helps us realize how important human population is to all the issues we care about. In addition, Rauber made it clear that consumption in rich countries is out of control--and is just as serious a problem as the rapid growth in poor countries.
Richard Grossman
Durango, Colorado

Paul Rauber states that Ethiopians are "a very handsome people" who "have better cause than many to procreate." Who, may I ask, are the uglier peoples who do not have as good an excuse to procreate? Does he mean Native Americans? Japanese? Brazilians? How about Caucasians? Does he mean Eskimos? Are they uglier than Ethiopians?
Robert Catlin
Redmond, Washington

Peak Roots
I very much enjoyed the article "I Was Here" (July/August) about summit registers. I have been mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada for over 50 years and am happy to see that the Sierra Club has not lost its roots.
Rick Jali
Mammoth Lakes, California

Stroking Our Egos
Have you done something different in your editorial style? Whatever it is, keep it up.
Vickie Birdsall
Scotts Valley, California

"Burned Out on Burning Man" incorrectly described the Mechabolic art vehicle's combustion process. It is propelled by burning garbage at a high temperature with low oxygen.

Due to an editing error, "Are We There Yet?" (May/June) misstated the source of the study showing that annual vacations cut men's heart attack risk by 32 percent. The authors are Brooks B. Gump and Karen A. Matthews of the State University of New York at Oswego.

CONTACT US Tell us what you think about Sierra. E-mail or write to us at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105. Please include your name, city or town, and e-mail address or daytime phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

More Readers Spout Off Web only!

"Life in Abundance" (July/August)

The article on Ethiopia by Paul Rauber was very informative. It correctly states "the average American produces 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide gas per year and the average Ethiopian only a tenth of a ton." The world average is about 4.7 metric tons per capita annually. This does not include carbon dioxide produced by our own body's metabolism, however. Both Americans and Ethiopians exhale about three-tenths of a metric ton per year.
Robert Shafer
Los Alamos, New Mexico

Are your editors on vacation? I was taken aback by the statement in the otherwise well-written article on Ethiopia and family planning: "Ethiopians, a very handsome people, have better cause than many to procreate." Since when do American perceptions of who is beautiful give some folks more rights to procreate? Sounds just too racist, too selective, too much like our American belief that we have a right to have too much while so many have so little. Since Americans constitute about 6 percent of the world's population but use over half the world's resources, the planet would be best served if Americans were the first in line for highly restricted birth rates.
Lee Sonne
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

As a Sierra Club member for several years, I've consistently budgeted the time it takes to read your magazine thoroughly, in order to stay informed. That means I've given up reading other material because I have only so much time. In the July/August issue, Paul Rauber wrote parenthetically in "Life in Abundance" that Ethiopians are "a very handsome people" with "better cause than many to procreate." The statement is offensive in many, many ways. It's especially offensive because it's in a paragraph about hunger and population growth overwhelming Ethiopia's natural environment. It's important to be clear and straightforward when writing about the consequences of procreating. You chose to wink and nudge. How cute.
John Reed
Little Rock, Arkansas

I enjoyed the article on family planning in Ethiopia. Population stabilization is fundamental to any kind of environmental policy. And it is just as essential that each nation take responsibility for the size of its own population. Those of us in the United States should be asking ourselves the question, "Just how many people do we want to have?" (My own answer, admittedly unrealistic as things now stand, is around 200,000,000.) Garrett Hardin's famous article "The Tragedy of the Commons" makes clear that this must be the collective (rather than individual) responsibility of every nation. It can neither be decided globally nor individually. If Ethiopia can face up to its responsibility, then so can we.
James Lane
Alhambra, California

Nice work by Paul Rauber and photos by Ian Berry in your July/August issue. Population control is obviously a major challenge for our world's future. Nature's brutal but effective way is to thrive and grow and grow, then crash, red in tooth and claw. Modern man's idealistic way is to care for and educate, thus control our populations by friendly persuasion. One wonders which will work best. Probably here too the answer will be to muddle through and compromise--meaning some starvation and some education. Alas, this seems to be the best we can do, as we must get along with the Republicans and religious fanatics who oppose all measures of effective birth control and family planning. Such evil compromises that appear to be necessities in our democracy are just about enough to turn many of us away from it all. Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others." Often I wonder. But then again Bush has shown us the awesome dangers of a dictatorship.
Jeff Douthwaite
Seattle, Washington

I was impressed by Paul Rauber's excellent article "Life in Abundance" in the July/ August Sierra. Awesome photos too. The plight of Ethiopians, especially pertaining to family planning, is close to my heart.

During my seven-week journey through Ethiopia last year, I experienced emotions ranging from deep sorrow to joy. I was moved by the profound reverence and ecstasy displayed by the worshipers in the Ethiopian Orthodox church, followers of ancient Christianity that first arrived on Ethiopian shores in the fourth century. Although the poverty may be heartbreaking, the resilience of her people is remarkable, and Ethiopia's rich culture(s) fascinating.

With a land so dry, forest and soil so depleted, and a burgeoning population, one fears what the future may hold in the face of global warming. In my mind, family planning and education are the areas that need the most attention by those who give aid to Ethiopia. Thanks to the Sierra Club, USAID, and other organizations for having the clarity and vision to make that a priority.
Gabriela Taylor
Conservation chair, Kauai Group Executive Committee; Hawaii Chapter

I was just reading your July/August issue, and I read David Gross's reply to Carl Pope's "Not Broiled Yet" ("Ways & Means") in May/June, where Gross said that "the number one cause of all our environmental problems-- including global warming--has been and will continue to be overpopulation," and then I went on to read the article in this issue about Ethiopia and family planning by Paul Rauber. I had the same reaction to both. Basically, there are 6 billion people on this planet, and how we use our planet is very important if we want our species to survive.

I have been macrobiotic and vegan for 30 years, and it takes 20 times less land to fix a dinner for me with sauteed vegetables, brown rice, and tofu or tempeh than it takes to fix a meal with hamburgers as the main dish. OK, maybe I put a few flaxseeds, toasted brown sesame seeds, lotus root seeds, or hemp seeds on top, but I don't think that changes the proportions. Now most of the people in the USA eat mainly meat, and it sounds like in Ethiopia it is the same. In Ethiopia they're trying to find ways so the women can have more birth control, yes, but even with that they're running out of land to raise their cattle, donkeys, goats, and sheep on. If the world could drastically cut down on the amount of meat it uses, we could save so much land it would be amazing. With 6 million people eating meat times the 20 times as much land it takes to fix a meal for meat eaters, [that] means it takes 120 million times as much land for our planet for people relying mainly on meat for their diet as it would for a vegetarian, or mostly vegetarian, planet. Just think of all those rainforests we wouldn't have to cut down for all those goats, cattle, donkeys, and sheep to find grazing space. Just think of all the wonderful parts of nature that could remain on our planet without forcing animals in the wild to either go extinct or become domesticated. Just think how many more forests could still be left to soak up our CO2 pollution while we still have it. This could be a far more admirable planet if we didn't eat much meat.

And if you want to read Will Tuttle's book The World Peace Diet, he believes that we can't stop our wars till we stop being cruel to the animals and basically have all become vegetarians. Basically we are what we eat, and if we eat tortured animals that were raised in horrible conditions, tortured, and killed cruelly, then we become people who are cruel to others. Plants have no nerves. Animals do. The first part of the world to have domestic animals was Iraq about 10 to 12 millenniums ago! Is there peace there today? People have wanted peace forever. But the last golden age ended around the time that domesticating animals for food became popular. They started fighting wars over the land that the animals were raised on to get control of the animals. We could have far more people living on this earth in a far more peaceful way if we could be far more concerned about the food we eat, how much land it takes to produce it, how far that food has to travel before it gets to our dishes. And the effects of the foods we eat on the type of people we are.

In not too long our population will be up to 7 billion. I hope by then that we are all eating healthier diets with little or no meat included and that our new path to peace has been found and accepted worldwide.
Jacob Litoff
Millis, Massachusetts

"Burned Out on Burning Man" (July/August)

It is so easy to take potshots at Burning Man and burners. I wanted something deeper from Sierra. And when people complain about amplified music as if it were somehow connected to environmental waste--well, they've just gone too far. Give me techno and trance over unplugged bluegrass any day.

I also believe art is allowed to be "wasteful."

The fiery heart of Burning Man lives in all of us who call ourselves burners. And, yes, some of us are loud.
Kitty Dingo (submitted by e-mail)

It is disappointing that Sierra chose to sensationalize the Burning Man art festival by alleging "profligate drug use" and stating, in the caption accompanying my photograph of environmental manager Tom Price, that burners "revel in sex" and "drugs." What do these salacious--and unsupported--charges have to do with the ecological focus of the article? Valuable caption space would have better served readers by describing the wonderful art installations seen in the photographs.
Gabe Kirchheimer
New York City, New York

I read, of course, with interest the story about Burning Man and the environment, and while the reporting was generally quite good (I've spotted perhaps three mistakes so far), there were some clear mistakes/exaggerations made that I can't let go without comment.

For example, in the text on the first page, you printed a line that reads "It made an obscene mess," the clear implication being the mess was left behind. Nothing of the sort is true--in fact, Burning Man has been repeatedly recognized as the largest "leave no trace" event in the world, and our cleanup efforts are now used by the Bureau of Land Management as a model for all other special recreation permit users. Your editing, while sensationalized, distorted a very clear truth.

And on the next page, I was very disappointed to read, under a photograph of me, about people swarming to "revel in sex, drugs, and art for art's sake." Would you mind showing me where, anywhere, in the reporting there was either sex or drugs? Would you mind showing me where, anywhere, at the event there's any proof that more of either takes place than does in any other comparably sized city? Of course you can't, because it doesn't exist. Believing something to be true has never made it so; the words shoddy and lurid come to mind.

Finally, the cutline on the cover: "Gonzo greens blast Burning Man." Was that supposed to refer to the woman quoted in the story? Was the "gonzo blasting" referring to her critique we shouldn't allow water bottles? Really? And if so, do you think that justifies the implication of the headline on the cover? I just read the story again carefully, and as I read it, the summary of her critique is: (1) It's smelly, (2) it's loud, and (3) too many water bottles.

That's it? Sounds like your average NASCAR race or rodeo to me and hardly warrants the implied critique.

I understand you want people to open the magazine and read it. But you bear a responsibility to your readers to prove what you imply, and the substance--at least in the story as printed--proved about as much about Burning Man's alleged lack of green sensibility as did Dick Cheney's vague and ultimately unproved claims tying Iraq to September 11. Your work is important--vital--but it was ill served by the decisions noted above. To paraphrase what I was quoted as saying in the story, if in our rush to prove our green cred we exclude those making genuine attempts to do better, then we'll succeed only at limiting the reach of our collective successes.
Tom Price
San Francisco, California

Regarding "Burned Out on Burning Man": It has pained me that the concerns about Burning Man have been limited to carbon and trash. What about the impacts on the playa caused by the invasion of 40,000 egomaniacs with their noise, lights, vehicles, bicycles, and aircraft and the self-absorbed wanderings of 80,000 ignorant feet? A look at the ground in the photo on page 33 reveals a completely trampled salt pan, its structure destroyed. For a festival full of "visionaries," I see nothing but absolute blindness when city dwellers refer to the desert as "empty" or the "middle of absolute nowhere"! And I particularly resent arrogant "artists" going out into the desert to change it. The Burning Man festival succeeds very well each year in creating a (not so) temporary Las Vegas. Go to Google Earth and navigate to UTM coordinates 11T312000 E by 4515000 N and see the indelible marks on the dry lake bed compared to nearby playas.
David Kozlowski
Santa Fe, New Mexico

One wonders about the editorial process of determining Sierra magazine content after seeing the July/August cover story abut the Burning Man event. Of all the possible environmental topics, why write about Burning Man? Has any mainstream magazine ever had an article about this event? None that I am familiar with.

As a longtime member of the Sierra Club, I have in recent years noted a trend in the magazine away from articles that are attractive because they inform me about the wild and wonderful places on our planet and the need to protect them toward the political and, now, toward the weird.

Leave Tina Fey and Burning Man to the tabloids, and give us articles on the beautiful places in our world and our need to organize to save them.
Phil Aaron
Dayton, Ohio

Thanks for the Burning Man article. It will bring more awareness about this festival of "radical self-expression," which is how some people think of the Sierra Club. What impressed me about this festival is how 40,000-plus mostly environmentally conscious people come together in the spirit of creativity and kindness to form a self-supportive, leave-no-trace community in a very barren, uncomfortable location. And we can always benefit being reminded how we can do better.
Tom Patton
Captain Cook, Hawaii

The people that attend Burning Man don't find any seriousness in this festival, so why all of a sudden is Burning Man trying to make an environmental statement? How can they say they are promoting green when they contradict themselves with wasting 2,000 gallons of propane and 900 gallons of jet fuel? That doesn't make a bit of sense.
Paul Dale Roberts
Elk Grove, California

"Whatever Happened to 'Save the Whales'?" (July/August)

As a neuroscientist and environmentalist, I have a problem with Douglas H. Chadwick's "Whatever Happened to 'Save the Whales'?" The reason we are opposed to hunting whales for food is that they are endangered and not because they are geniuses with large brains. It is now recognized that the association between brain size and cognitive development is simplistic, generally not true, and will soon go the way of phrenology. Sperm whales have the largest brain mass of any extent animal averaging 7.8 kilograms, compared with 1,100 to 1,700 grams for humans. Male humans have a slightly larger brain than females. By some measures of the brain-to-body-mass ratio, the tree shrew has a larger brain to body mass ratio than humans, cetaceans, or nonhuman primates. Much dubious research has been published on the cognitive function of cetaceans--some of which Chadwick alludes to. The Japanese should be encouraged to eat more dolphins if it would reduce their consumption of bluefin tuna, which are at risk of extinction in the wild. In our quest to save the planet earth, we should distinguish our effort to preserve biodiversity from animal worship.
Alfred Levinson
Tucson, Arizona

"Vice Presidential Matchmaking" (July/August)

How ironic that the cover of your July/August 2008 issue read "Tina Fey for Veep?" That is almost exactly what we got--on Saturday nights, that is.
Julie Garrett
Gainesville, Florida

I was distressed to see you pick Christie Todd Whitman as a veep choice. She is the one who certified the air at ground zero and sickened 40,000 to 400,000 people in lower Manhattan. You needn't choose Arnold either; he cheated his election and refuses to tax the rich, chooses instead to cut the workers and poor. Why do you feel you have to be bipartisan when 99 percent of the time we back Democrats?
Valerie Sanfilippo
San Diego, California

"I Was Here" (July/August)

The July/August edition contained an article titled "I Was Here" by Andrew Becker. It described some of the issues regarding summit registers in the Sierra peaks. It was interesting and informative--maybe too informative.

There is a serious problem with many of the old registers disappearing. Over the past 15 years of climbing in the Sierra Nevada, I have seen many old and cherished historical peak registers disappear. It appears that the thieves, culprits, or however we refer to these people often target registers that have great historical value. One of the few remaining registers with original, old, and famous signatures remained on Black Kaweah. It was a more or less carefully guarded secret among climbers of its value.

Unfortunately, with the broadcast to all humanity by Becker, this cherished register will most certainly be gone soon. It will fall to the cowards who are too yellow to admit removing the registers. Also, unfortunately for Becker, sometimes we write something of interest and have no idea that it will destroy something of great value. It is too bad, and I am sure Becker had no idea that he may be contributing to the very mess he described in his article.
Nile Sorenson
Technical snow chair, Angeles Chapter

"Ways & Means: Clean-Tech Kitcheree" (July/August)

News about the Sierra Club's work for energy justice in India was enlightening. There are two points in the global energy crisis that need more attention among the environmentalists. First: When we talk about energy, we're talking about human rights. All people, in all nations, need adequate sources of energy that are safe, affordable, and sustainable. Second: Global problems require global solutions. If we want to stop global warming, we need to support the developing nations in their development of clean-energy technology.
Robert F. Murphy
Falmouth, Massachusetts

Any enthusiasm for powering isolated Indian villages with renewables must be tempered with a strong dose of reality. Renewables may be fine for LED lighting that consumes a couple of watts. But we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that it can have any substantial impact, such as for powering hot plates for cooking that typically consume 1,000 watts each. In fact, for most families, little can compete with wood and dung, no matter how much wishful thinking we apply.
Allen Inversin
Riverdale, Maryland

Carl Pope's "Clean-Tech Kitcheree" offers his surprise to see India perhaps surpass the United States in clean energy despite India's apparent lack of a real energy or climate-change policy. While India might be making roundabout progress moving forward with clean energy, they're headed in the right direction compared to America's "lost decade," which has seen us move backward on clean energy, denying subsidies and the tax credits necessary for the new market to develop and achieve scale. Which is in no way surprising given George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's hostility to anything that threatens fossil fuels.
Jay Lustgarten
Westerly, Rhode Island

"Lay of the Land" (July/August)

Interesting coincidental pairing of the column titled "The Diesel Car Dilemma" with "Big Black Cloud", the fourth item under the heading "As the World Warms."

The Scripps study further undermines the arguments for diesel engines presented in the "Dilemma" column.

The question to find an answer to for your next issue is: How much soot does biodiesel produce?
Gerald Blow
Dallas, Texas

Your column on diesel cars missed a big "gotcha." While it may be true that diesel cars cannot be sold here in California (and that was news to me), diesel trucks and SUVs are still for sale and a hot commodity thanks to their being marketed as a macho alternative to passenger cars. Most of these trucks and SUVs have never seen even a patch of dirt road, let alone hauled a half ton or more of bricks, or a boat, or a trailer. It's part of a longtime trend that started with small trucks being marketed as an alternative to more expansive sedans, and continues today with such massive vehicles as a V10 diesel, 4WD, four-door truck.

In fact, lower-mpg midsize to full-size trucks seem to be the vehicle of choice for daily commuting among the under-30 male population. At least that's what I usually see in the rearview mirror of my 32-mpg Toyota Corolla. As in right on my bumper at 65-plus miles per hour. Seems they aren't a bit concerned about higher gas prices and pollution.
John Powell
Downey, California

For those who don't see the connection between population and the environment, I refer them to the visual on page 24 of the July/August Sierra ("Bright Lights, Big Emissions"). It's not a coincidence that the map showing high carbon dioxide emissions is identical to high population concentrations. We need to reduce our consumption, but we also need to support policies such as comprehensive sexuality education and family-planning programs that will lead to a sustainable population.
Bonnie Tillery
Member, Sierra Club Global Population and Environment Program
Population issues coordinator, New Jersey Chapter

"Sierra Club Bulletin" (July/August)

In "Decarbonated Travel," Tanya Tschesnok notes that "carbon-neutral travel isn't possible--CO2 is still emitted when you fly or drive to your destination," but it is not always necessary to fly or drive to your destination, so why would she make such an absurd statement?

By using human-powered vehicles, like a "velomobile," you can travel carbon neutrally. Sierra magazine, above all others, should acknowledge this and promote human-powered travel. It's not just wrong, it's disappointing.
John Stephens
Member, Angeles Chapter
Orange County, California

I had to reread the article "Decarbonated Travel" to make sure I read it right the first time. I cannot believe you are buying into the carbon-offset scheme. Considering you published a blurb in the Burning Man article titled "Ethics and Indulgences," which was Matthew Taylor essentially lambasting carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are essentially a ticket for people to absolve themselves of the responsibility to reduce their own carbon footprint. While I agree that Sierra Club Outings should look at ways to cut their carbon emissions, this is not even close to a step in the right direction. It's tough to travel responsibly, but there are better ways to do it than what you are [doing], surely?
Chris Hooper
West Pittston, Pennsylvania

"Spout" (July/August)

Along with the thrust of the editor's July/August "Spout," I would like to suggest Sister Macrina Wiederkehr's new book, Seven Sacred Pauses (Sorrin Books) (worth noting: Green Press initiative). Seven Sacred Pauses highlights being rather than doing!
Jean Ann Campana
Monroe, Michigan

"Mixed Media" (July/August)

[For a summer reading suggestion] I recommend a wonderful first novel: Flight of the Goose, by Lesley Thomas. My daughter's book group in Copper Center, Alaska, read it, and then she sent it to me. Though I thought I knew all about this problem, I was stunned by how global warming is changing and harming Arctic communities and wildlife.

In June Flight of the Goose was displayed and sold at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture (University of Washington) with the exhibit The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World.
Doris Cellarius
Member, Yavapai Group, Grand Canyon Chapter

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