Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
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"Wilderness Diplomacy"

It's difficult to say in how many ways your "Wilderness Diplomacy" article in the current issue of Sierraoffends—by patronizing Afghan citizens, by promoting American exceptionalism, or by the shallow sentimentality of suggesting that a photo of Grand Teton National Park "whispers to the [Afghan] woodworker that the American soldiers patrolling his streets come from a country that abounds in natural beauty."

The naiveté of these images would have been laughable to my late son, who spent fifteen months in Afghanistan's notorious Korengal Valley. Rather than posing Afghans with pictures of America's rapidly disappearing wilderness, perhaps Americans should be photographed with images of the civilian victims of our drone attacks. Or at least have the courage to ask Afghans to pose with photos of the Deepwater Horizon disaster or Texas City refinery fire or our clogged highways, which are really why we're there in the first place.

Sierra magazine is better than this.
Bob Sommer, Chair
Sierra Club - Kanza Group
Overland Park, Kansas

"Can photos of America's natural wonders inspire a cultural cease-fire?" I doubt it, unless USA changes (1) our belief that the oil over there under their natural wonders (Ecuador, Nigeria, Middle East...) is our oil, and (2) our huge carbon dioxide emissions (5 to 50 times per capita more than much of the rest of the world) that are already causing climate change havoc from Bangladesh to Africa to the Arctic Circle.

"You should take a picture of this place and show it to people driving big cars in your country. Tell them it's a preview of what South Florida will look like in 40 years."--Samir Ranjan Gayen, Bangladesh nonprofit ("The Coming Storm...Bangladesh...much to teach us about adapting to rising sea levels. For them, that future is now." --National Geographic May 2011)
Roland James
Seguin, Texas

"Create" (May/June 2011)

Your article "Deadly Nostalgia" was informative, but maybe like "preaching to the choir." What percentage of your readers are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents?
Neil F. Payne

Michael Brune's commentary included this: "the price of healthcare is the single biggest contributor to our national deficit."

I think that honor goes to the Pentagon and the military whose $1.3 trillion budget, as far as most of the Congress and the administration are concerned, is an entitlement.

While the EPA is required to regulate the polluters that Brune mentioned, there is one polluter, the biggest in the world actually, that is safe from such regulation. Not coincidentally it's the Pentagon.
Henry Lowendorf
Greater New Haven Peace Council New Haven, Connecticut

While we all support the need for continued effective environmental regulation, it is important to get the facts right when making the case. Brune cites "half a million annual cardiopulmonary deaths from fine particle air pollution," in the context of coal-fired power plants. CDC reports a total of 756,219 such deaths in 2006; is it reasonable to expect that air pollution could be responsible for two-thirds of them? Perhaps the decimal point slipped during the editing process.

More important than these admittedly uncertain numbers is the correct identification of the most hazardous sources. Pollution from power plants is decreasing and directly affects only a fraction of the U.S. population. By contrast, pollution from vehicular traffic is increasing (since we continue to pack more vehicles into the same real estate) and affects most of us where we live, commute, and work. On-road measurements show that the bulk of vehicle emissions is produced by a small fraction of the vehicles, over which EPA has no jurisdiction. This issue may also be neglected because power plants and factories are operated by "them" while traffic is operated by "us".

The recent epidemiological literature strongly supports the toxicity of vehicular traffic emissions, both here and abroad. I would be happy to share this information with interested parties. Meanwhile, the Sierra Club could perform a valuable public service by recognizing that the blame game has changed.
Frederick W. Lipfert, Ph.D
Environmental Consultant (retired from Brookhaven National Laboratory)
Northport, New York

"Enjoy" (May/June 2011)

Please, please, please no more stories about rich "environmentalists" with three kids and a 6,500-square-foot house. No one needs 6,500 square feet, I don't care how rich they are. If her justification is that she is inviting in busloads to view her supersized house, a canvas reception tent might be in order.

And surely this lifelong environmentalist knows that reducing our unsustainable population is the single most important thing we need to do. She may be training her children to pick up trash at the beach, but her example of building a huge house and having more children than the earth can provide for sort of negates this small gesture.

If she truly believes that she is trying to "live an ethic and set an example," she might want to review the ethics of her lifestyle and what the effects of her example might result in if everyone deluded themselves into believing that this is environmentalism.

How about an article about people who can afford to build a stadium-sized house but are evolved and caring enough to recognize that our fragile environment can't. Nature really wasn't set up to create special rules for the rich and clueless.
Erika Shriner

I am writing because I have comments about two of the articles in your May/June 2011 issue.

The first one is about "Storied Objects." I was seriously offended and disgusted when I read it and immediately wanted to write you this email. Do you really think that the average American consumer, Sierra Club member or not, can afford a $950 stool or a $600 Adirondack chair? And are you doing the right thing by promoting such products? I'm really starting to wonder who your magazine is aimed at?

I have been an interior designer for 18 years and I am now a LEED project coordinator. I struggle every day in making the right choices as a mother, consumer, home renter, and professional. I look to your magazine for resources that will help me make better choices, and like most Americans, I have a budget. I would hope your magazine would focus on solutions that make sense to the average American family.

My second comment is about the story titled "Comfort Zone: Retrofit Green." I very much appreciate any story about the greening of homes and buildings, as this is my passion and my profession. However I find that most stories in the media are about large and expensive retrofits, and once again, this article seems to fit in that category. This article would have been more valuable if the budget and the costs associated with the retrofit were disclosed, if resources for materials were included, and if information about return on investments was provided. The pictures of the home are very pretty and the home owner seems very happy, but how much did she spend, and again, is this kind of retrofit available to the average American family?

I live in a neighborhood in San Mateo, CA, developed in 1950. Most houses are around 1000 square feet (unless they were expanded) and have 2-3 bedrooms, a tiny bathroom, small kitchen, and a one-car garage. I happen to rent this home for now and my PG&E utility bill runs $150-200 a month, and my water bill runs $27 a month in the winter and up to $200 a month in the summer, because I have a landlord who is obsessed about watering the lawn, and as a renter, I have no choice but to pay the water bill. Paying such outrageous utility bills makes me sick to my stomach.

In the next year, my husband and I hope to purchase our first home, and if we want to stay in the same area, we'll need to spend $600K to $800K. Most homes are not energy efficient so we'll need to spend even more.

How about writing an article about how to transform the average 1950s California home into a super-energy-efficient home with interior finishes and furniture that don't cost an arm and a leg? I want to challenge your magazine to write such article and to give the average American family some real leverage on how to "green" their home. Energy efficiency and a sustainable life style should be available to all Americans, and I would hope the Sierra Club magazine would promote that. Cathy Shields, CID, LEED AP BD+C San Mateo, California

"Survive" (May/June 2011)

Your article could have included a way to retrieve the ropes, instead of leaving them there. The ropes would need to be at least twice the length. You make a loop in the middle of the rope, wrap the rope around the tree or root, pass one end of the rope through the loop, and then hold on to both ends of the rope.

When you get to the other side, you simply pull on the other end of the rope, and . . . voila!

You not only save your valuable rope for the next stream, but you also save the environment from plastic pollution. (Ropes are made of plastic)
Mike Aubert
El Cerrito, California

"Grapple" (May/June 2011)

A graphic in the May/June Sierra magazine advocated focusing on cutting federal subsidies for fossil fuels, which total $72 billion, rather than looking at reducing entitlements. I completely agree with cutting these unjustified subsidies for the oil companies, but we environmentalists are fooling ourselves if we think this is going to do much to reduce the federal deficit, which was $1.3 trillion for 2010. Fossil fuels subsidies represent about 5.5% of the 2010 deficit. A good place to start, to be sure, but it is only a start. When the rest of the world quits buying our debt and interest rates begin to rise, our deficit will begin to skyrocket. If environmentalists think their priorities will hold up against other groups like the elderly in an economic emergency, we are being very naive. If we want to preserve the environment over the long run, we need to get realistic around getting the budget deficit under control.
Greg Smith
Charleston, South Carolina

President Obama says he'd like to cut oil subsidies by $4 billion. On page 27 of the latest Sierra magazine, you have a pie plate graph of federal subsidies. It looks like Federal subsidies for fossil fuels are $70 billion or more. How much of that is for oil? (It doesn't sound like $4 billion reaches much of the present subsidies.)
Pat Bath

"Comfort Zone" (May/June 2011)

Congrats to Catherine O'Neill on her "green home." Now she needs to do something about her landscaping. Her front yard is landscaped with invasive, nonnative fountain grass. Fountain grass has spread throughout Southern California where soil has been disturbed. It crowds out our native chaparral and coastal sage and has become as big a problem as invasive species like pampas grass, dutch broom and castor bean. Hopefully readers will follow her lead in passive energy retrofitting but ignore her poor choice of landscaping.
Ron Melin
Torrance, California

There is a serious omission in the "Retrofit Green" article. Like most of your articles on building techniques that conserve energy and/or use low-impact materials, it overlooks the sheer quantity of house involved. It appears that Catherine O'Neill's 2,400-square-foot home will be inhabited by one person. A house that was originally meant to shelter a family of four to six has been converted to a luxury apartment for one. Whether measured in terms of construction impact or operating impact, the world cannot afford housing on this scale.
Alan A. Kornhauser
Blacksburg, Virginia

"Bulletin"(May/June 2011)

I had to write in after reading "Grilled" in the most recent issue.

It is clear that Mr. Kapanowaiwaiola Barboza is not interested in "visitors" of the plant or people kind to his native homeland, but I am curious about the "science" behind it. The Hawaiian Islands grew up from the sea floor and, over time, developed soil, etc., and became able to support terrestrial life.

For millions of years this was either washed up on shore (coconuts? people?) or came from bird droppings (plant seeds), etc. That same process exists all over the world. People just tend to speed up the processes by which "everything goes everywhere". So, really, what's his point? Perhaps boats (long ago) and planes (more recently) should have been banned such that it would be much harder for man to "cross-fertilize"? After all, this would reduce the spreading of global diseases too! Yes, lets turn the clocks back 2000 years! I live in South Florida which has even more "challenges" with non-native species than does Hawaii. But, at the end of the day, if the non-native species is more fit, it shall win sooner or later (I am thinking Asian carp in the Midwest too). It's planetary evolution and there is no stopping it (even if you took people out of the picture) it just a question of speed.
Rick Wernsing, B.A., M.S.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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