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Thank you for your professionalism in presenting the 12 victims' stories in their own words and for capturing such poignant images ("The Cost of Coal," November/December). Sitting at my computer in Illinois, I realize glumly that half of my electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. The presidential election will be over by the time this letter appears, but whichever candidate has won will need steady reminders that coal kills, that alternatives exist, and that a transition to those alternatives, though politically challenging, is a must.
"The Cost of Coal" brings to mind the shortest dirty joke ever uttered: "Clean coal." Sadly, the joke's on us.
San Ramon, California
As the owner of an all-electric Nissan Leaf since February 2012, I read Reed McManus's article "Plugged In" (November/December) with great interest. All the writing about EVs that I've seen focuses on "range anxiety," but for most two-car families, range anxiety will almost never arise. This past September, for instance, 90 percent of our mileage was done in the Leaf, and we used our other car not primarily because of its range but because sometimes we needed both cars. This has been a consistent, anxiety-free pattern since we bought the Leaf. When we needed to make long drives, we happily used the other car.
We're also amazed at what a joy our Leaf is to drive. Its handling, peppiness, and blessed silence immediately won us over. As an engineer by training, I revel in the thousands of parts that aren't there, and therefore won't break. No transmission, no exhaust system, no carburetor or fuel injectors, no choke, no timing belt, no oil changes, no antifreeze, no emissions testing--the list goes on and on.
The failure to produce an electric car that is affordable for the average American--let alone the emerging middle class in India, China, and Mexico--shows clearly that they are not the answer for a sustainable world. What we need is electric mass transit produced sustainably, and we need it now.
"Cost of Coal"
"The Cost of Coal" (Steve Hawk and Ami Vitale) does an excellent job of highlighting some of the terrible damage coal mining does to the environment and to people near such mines. "Plugged In" (Reed McManus) gives a thorough review of the latest electric vehicles available in the U.S, while noting that coal supplies a substantial fraction of U.S. electricity. Neither article mentions that all electricity consumers can easily unplug themselves from coal-generated electricity (as well as from nuclear and natural gas fired plants) either by buying renewable energy credits from one of several suppliers or by buying wind energy directly from a wind developer. The cost of wind electricity is slightly more (10 percent) than what my local utility charges for power from nuclear, coal and natural gas generators, but is completely affordable. Unfortunately such "Clean Choice" programs are virtually unknown and woefully undersubscribed; if a significant fraction of utility customers participated in such programs, coal would most assuredly be left underground where it belongs.
Ten years ago we replaced our oil burner with a geothermal heat pump, which heats and cools our house and provides some hot water. With renewable energy credits or wind electricity, our house is virtually carbon emission free; such a strategy is well within the reach of many homeowners.
Princeton, New Jersey
I am astonished that you published in the same issue (November/December) a long description of the environmental pain of the coal industry and the praise of electric cars. The major problem of the environmental movement in this country is that people don't connect the dots.
Here's the connection: The reason electric cars are cheaper to operate than gasoline cars is that electricity is mostly generated by coal, which is far cheaper than oil. While I don't want to burn more oil, is burning coal, with emissions of sulfur and mercury, and acid rain, and destruction of local environments, really any better?
The Sierra Club, if it cares about the environment, should look at the total cost of our activities. As I said, I am astonished by this apparently complete disconnect. Do you have any logical thinkers on your staff?
Keith Jenkins, PhD
I found it ironic that in the "Cost of Coal" issue, electric cars were given such great hype when the electricity they use continues to be powered by the coal-fired power plants that create such havoc and suffering in places such as the ones mentioned in the previous article of the same issue. At what point does the root of the problem, connected with supposedly safe and better alternatives, become acknowledged? I look forward to when electric cars are charged by wind or solar power. Until then, we remain between a rock and a hard place.
The increase in electricity from natural gas compared to electricity from coal is not good news. Fracking for natural gas in 34 states across the U.S. is polluting drinking water for thousands of Americans, releasing deadly chemicals into the air, and contaminating hundreds of miles of streams and rivers and millions of gallons of groundwater. Those in doubt should watch the documentary Gasland. All Sierra Club members need to let our President and legislators know that the natural gas industry should not be exempted from regulations under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. And keep pushing for renewable energy before we all go the way of the dinosaurs.
Rich Thompson Tucker
I appreciated and benefited from reading McManus's "Plugged In" article, but was left wondering about the batteries themselves. I'd like to know their impact on the environment both in terms of their production and end of life. Are they relatively harmless, or hazardous enough to justify hesitation in buying an electric vehicle, or somewhere in between?
Just read the article on electric cars. The failure to be able to produce an electric car that is affordable for the average American, let alone the emerging middle class in India, China, Mexico, show clearly that they are not the answer for a sustainable world. What we need is electric mass transit produced sustainably, and we need it now.
I also read in that article that the Sierra Club's position is a 50% reduction in oil use by 2030. Seriously! We will be way too far down the path to ecological destruction by then. We should have a goal of sustainably driven mass transit in all American cities by 2020. Mass transit attractive enough and practical enough that no city dweller will have to have a car to get around. What is the point of having a goal if it will not save our planet? Having a goal that might actually save the earth is not radical, it is essential.
The ultimate environmental impact of personal motor transport goes far beyond tail-pipe emissions. Driving an electric car from a suburban house on a big lawn to a big box mall with free parking is not a sustainable future. Instead of doing stupid things in a more efficient manner, it's time to stop doing stupid things. Making people feel good about their driving is endorsement for more sprawl. The Sierra Club should instead be campaigning to make driving slower, less convenient and more expensive. We must begin to reverse the 100-year trend of building civilization around cars rather than around people.
Whistler, BC, Canada
I did appreciate your EV buyers guide article, however one tremendously important factor that your author, and others who have written similar articles, fail to mention and include are the maintenance costs!
The regularly scheduled maintenance fees and expenses from driving an EV are way less than a gas car.
My Prius required about $5000 of regular service over its first 6+ years. A Chevy Volt comes in just under $1000 for the same scheduled maintenance—that's a huge savings! I imagine a fully electric car will even increase those savings.
And it gets better as time goes by. Electric motors are so much simpler, and that will translate into savings. This should be added to comparative charts in your future articles.
Regarding Reed McManus's "Plugged In" article: His comments on the Tesla Model S are not sufficient. We are not CEOs or CTOs with IPOs. The Model S deals with the big issue of electric cars. Extended range makes the difference. It gets rid of range anxiety. We have reserved a 230-mile car, which we hope will be delivered in the spring of 2013. We are also installing solar photovoltaic panels on our roof so our conservative "friends" can't say it costs as much to run an electric car as a gasoline car and pollutes as much. Tesla is installing charging stations powered by solar for its buyers. We are willing to pay through the nose for an extended range car because if Tesla doesn't make it, that may be the end of the electric car as the major family vehicle. We have a Prius for longer drives. We hope Tesla makes it.
Santa Monica, California
We love our Volt. After 30 years in a Mercedes, we are amazed at how comfortable the Volt is and the handling is absolutely superb. The Mercedes of yore are not missed at all. With our now eight-year-old solar panels, we feel as though we are freed from energy costs. Except for a once or twice a yearlong drive, we do not have to buy gas. The state rebate and the federal tax credit help to make it more affordable.
Now if only they will make a convertible!
Patricia L Moore
Los Angeles, California
About 14 years ago, I read, "Electric cars ready to take over the road." I was considering to wait 1 or 2 years for an electric car, but I bought a new 1999 Chevy S-10. Now my S-10 pick up has 100,000 miles on it and it still is driving like new and will outlive me (80 years old). I only drive my vehicle two or three times a week, less than 30 miles each trip.
I would still like to buy an electric car, but the car I was dreaming about 14 years ago is not for sale.
A golf cart with glass windows and locks on the doors, lights and blinkers in front and rear, and a big solar panel on the roof.
For long trips, I will fly and rent a car.
"My Big Backyard"
What an enjoyable, beautifully written narrative by Leath Tonino about his and his partner's trek through Vermont. I hope to see more of his writing in the future.
Have you found much red sea glass? A state park ranger at Glass Beach in Mendocino County told me that red was the most prized color of sea glass because it comes cars of long ago, which had glass, not plastic, tail lights. So glass hunters especially treasure those little red gems.
I enjoyed your article about sea glass. Being a collector I can appreciate your passion. When you are in the Seattle area let me know and we can hike out to Glass Beach, and maybe add some Pacific Ocean yellows, reds, oranges, and marbles to your collection.
Keep up the good work you are doing at Sierra Club.
Regarding "Trendsetter," November/December 2012:
Maggie Q states that she wants "to see shark fin get banned in Canada." As with everything else (drugs, rhino horn, etc.), banning shark fin would
create a black market and make the price goes up. This, in turn, would create the shark fin equivalent of drug lords.
A better approach would be to encourage all of your readers to read
restaurant menus carefully before sitting down. If shark fin is on the menu,
calmly explain to the restaurant manager why you will not be dining at his
or her establishment.
If every member of Sierra Club did this, it could effect change without
creating a lucrative black market.
I was interested in purchasing some bottles of the pink Himalayan salt described in the latest issue of your magazine. When i went to the company website, there were numerous complaints from customers evidently, people who purchased items from this company 4- to 5 years ago were happy, but the recent reviews are all very negative. I thought that you might want to be aware of this
"Grapple" (November/December 2012)
Apropos of "Where the Jobs Are," would it not be more accurate to indicate a higher number of coal related jobs when considering all the medical personnel needed to handle the effects of coal?
Unfortunately only half the story is told in the subject graphic.
In this case, the other side is the cost per kilowatt-hour for all those green jobs, to be placed on the backs of the energy consumers. Let people make informed decisions by opening the kimono all the way.
I am a longtime member and I enjoy reading the Sierra magazine. I am also an entomologist by training and work at a vector control district. I was interested in the November/December 2012, "Up to Speed" note on the CDC information on the outbreak of West Nile virus (WNv) infections for 2012 on track to be the worst in U.S. history. This is a disease spread by several species of mosquitoes but you had a picture of a crane fly, which does not bite or transmit vector borne diseases. You're not the first to get this wrong but I expect better from Sierra Club.
Lawrence H. Shaw
Director of Operations
Orange County Vector Control District
Garden Grove, California
Editor's note: This has been corrected, and the Sierra regrets the error.
In your article about ticks causing allergies to meat, I was sorry to hear about health problems to people. However, I was glad to see you note the connection between meat and climate change. Eating meat isn't green. In addition to increasing our carbon output like a giant SUV (just as unnecessarily), eating meat puts extraordinary pressure on water resources (six months of showers to produce a pound of beef), pollutes streams and rivers with manure runoff, destroys wildlife habitat with grazing, and funds a political block that wants to kill all the wolves. Eating plants has environmental consequences, too, but not to anywhere near the same degree, and degrees matter.
I read your Nov/Dec 12 issue with great interest, especially how corporate greed is affecting people. However, I believe it hypocritical to encourage world travel by your members or anyone that happens to read your magazine. The carbon footprint made by anyone traveling for an ecological tour seems counterproductive. You should be reminded that it is us using Earth's resources that will eventually lead to our adapting to a rapidly changing climate.
I'm amazed that Sierra posted this apparently true story, in which five participants in a winter skills class might have gotten severe frostbite or died due to the lack of skilled leadership and winter skills training, without pointing out what was lacking. Even the expert, Clark Fyans, mentions only the importance of drying out wet clothes and boots, but offers no hints of how to do so in a no-fire zone. The five are shown huddling in an open lean-to shelter. No one seemed to have any knowledge of using leaves and sticks to make a debris hut, or packing snow in igloo fashion, to make an insulating shelter to retain body heat.
I wanted to first thank you for the valuable resource you offer in Sierra magazine. Being an avid hiker and nature lover, I find your articles informative, inspiring, and challenging.
The November/December 2012 edition, though, was exceptional. Your interviews with those affected by the coal personally touched me and gave me a different perspective on the sacrifices and sufferings of real people. It seems as though the issues become less "issue" and more "human" when we see the faces and hear the voices of those who struggle. From where I am sitting, people made in God's image and likeness deserve so much more than these heroes are receiving.
Thanks again. May God bless you and your work.
Dr. Patrick Sprankle
Glen Burnie, Maryland
The environmental movement, like many progressive causes, is as guilty of "preaching to the choir" as its conservative counterparts. A downside of that habit, however, is that it blinds us to credibility issues that arise within the ivory towers of green living.
A huge credibility issue that has arisen in recent years is the tendency for environmental organizations to pull "statistics" out of their backsides and pass them off as fact. How many trees were saved by your community's recycling efforts last year? Ummm . . . 2,781. How many tons of CO2 do your family's inefficient lightbulbs produce? Ehhh . . . 396. How many cases of asthma would be averted by closing down that factory in your county? Mmmmm . . . 173. How many dubious statistics were published in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Sierra magazine? I counted five.
A noble goal for society is to reduce its air pollution to zero. Likewise, a noble goal for Sierra magazine is to reduce its statistical pollution to zero.
"The Cost of Coal" (November/December) gave the wrong year for a Clean Air Task Force study on particulate pollution at Michigan's Rouge Power Plant; the study was done in 2009. The same article misspelled the surname of Charles Bella.
Due to an editing error, "Up on the Farm" (November/December) mistakenly gave the impression that BrightFarms would supply supermarkets in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania with produce from its greenhouses in New York. In fact, BrightFarms constructs and operates local greenhouses to provide produce for these markets.
"Up to Speed" (November/December) had a photograph of a crane fly instead of a mosquito.
In our annual ranking of America's greenest colleges ("Measuring Up," September/October), a data-transfer error caused Cornell University to receive zero points for its "Innovation" efforts when it should have received partial or even full credit. If that error hadn't occurred, Cornell would have placed higher in the Cool School ranking--possibly in the top 10.