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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.

WIND ISSUE BLOWBACK
I enjoyed the generally excellent coverage of wind power in the March/April issue—except you forgot about Texas. The only mention of the state is in a chart that shows correctly that the wind capacity of Texas is far more than twice that of Iowa, the second-largest producer. If Texas were an independent country, it would rank fifth in the world in wind energy, behind China, the rest of the United States, Germany, and Spain.
Paul Gonin
Georgetown, Texas

According to the gist of your pro-wind articles, I (an environmentalist and a liberal Democrat) would appear to be a strange bedfellow among those anti-wind factions you identify—the coal and oil folks, the Koch brothers, and conservative Republicans. Yet skepticism over wind comes from across the political spectrum. The myths you highlight are so superficially addressed as to be mere straw men in your blatant advocacy ("Three Wind Myths"). Missing from your assessment are wind's all-encompassing long-term costs, its real carbon footprint, and its myriad environmental degradations—from the simple visual to the vast acreage of churned-up, abused open land.

If this is the Sierra Club's official stand on wind energy, one wonders how the Club would react to a proposal to harvest the rich wind fields along the high ridges of its beloved Sierra Nevada.
Willis Scott
Menlo Park, California

Noticeably missing from the otherwise very fine issue on wind was any sense that aesthetics should be considered when determining whether to continue to increase the mechanisms for capturing wind power. Surely, the Sierra Club must believe that aesthetics matter, since the magazine's motto is "Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet." Adding more and more monstrous wind turbines certainly will help protect the planet but also will seriously detract from exploring and enjoying the planet.
Michael Shaw
Reston, Virginia

The earth is in crisis, humanity and all other species are in jeopardy, and the cover of Sierra's March/April issue looks like Sports Illustrated. The cover of Sierra may be the only thing some people see. What is that telling them? Shame.
L. Jo Ellis
Summer Lake, Oregon

I was disappointed that your article "Gust Junkies" ignored the soaring activity that demonstrates mastery of updrafts in the wind better than any other. Like great soaring birds, sailplanes and their pilots are at the cutting edge of man's highly tuned quest to ride the air.
R.K. Leffingwell
Fountain Valley, California

In the March/April issue of your magazine, you promote purchasing "your own personal drone" ("Riding on Air"). How such a "toy" can benefit the environment eludes me.
Sylvia Alcon
Avila Beach, California

Corrections
"Gust Junkies" (March/April) mistakenly called Sweden's Traelhavet a lake, when it is actually a bay. "Look to the Fishes" (March/April) incorrectly stated the number of "spinning carousel" turbines it would take to equal the capacity of a traditional one-megawatt turbine; the correct number is 280.

WEB-ONLY LETTERS

"Anywhere It Blows"

The Earth is in crisis, humanity, as well as all other species that inhabit Earth are in jeopardy and the cover of Sierra, May/April 2013, looks like Sports Illustrated. This implies that all is well. Life goes on similar to the past, much to our and the planets, future grief. The cover of Sierramaybe the only thing some people see. What is that telling them? Shame.
L. Jo Ellis
Summer Lake, Oregon


I enjoyed the generally excellent coverage of wind power in the March/April 2013 issue. The only mention of Texas is in the chart of the top five producing states on page 38, which shows correctly that Texas's wind capacity is far more than twice that of Iowa, the second largest producer. If Texas were an independent country (which a small but vocal minority seem to want), it would rank fifth in the world behind only China, rest of US, Germany and Spain. According to the most recent numbers I have seen, wind's share of Texas' electric production is close to 10%, certainly meeting the 8% level which 4 other states are credited with (on page 38).
Paul Gonin
Georgetown, Texas


Noticeably missing from the otherwise very fine March/April issue on wind was any sense that aesthetics should be considered when determining whether to continue to increase the mechanisms for capturing wind power. Although many will disagree with me, I consider the massive wind turbines to be extremely unattractive additions to the landscape. However, the magazine only gave passing mention of the issue, mainly in the 'Conflict Avoidance' article that briefly mentioned turbines being 'noisy,' 'disrupt[ing] natural landscapes,' and 'damag[ing] wildlife habitats.' Surely, the Sierra Club must believe that aesthetics matter, since the magazine masthead says 'Sierra: Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet.' Adding more and more monstrous wind turbines certainly will help protect the planet, but will seriously detract from exploring and enjoying the planet. (Other than the climbers who—very coolly for them— are being paid to clean the turbines.) The Sierra Club should pay more attention to wind power than simply an examination of its economics and efficiency.
Michael Shaw
Reston, Virginia


I lived in Pennsylvania before moving to Vermont in 2011. In Pennsylvania, I saw ridge forest after ridge forest fragmented by wind farm development. It is little wonder why forest-interior songbirds like the wood thrush are in population decline. In Pennsylvania, whole forests also are being chopped up by natural gas drilling crews. Above these conservation worries, I still have not heard of a single coal-fired power plant being shuttered because its output was replaced by wind and/or solar power. Sprawl developers who see in wind and solar great opportunities to advertise themselves as "green" are scoring more public relations points with each new wind and solar farm.
Alan


Wind power may be a growing energy source, but many communities are rushing to ban wind turbine towers. The major reasons are noise, visual pollution, and danger to birds.
Raymond Liutkus
Webster, New York


I was saddened by "Conflict Avoidance" because it downplayed the wind industry's impacts on wildlife and landscapes, and painted an optimistic view of its willingness to self-regulate. If we are going to forge a renewable energy path that respects the wild places we want to explore, enjoy and protect, then we should confront and correct the industry's impacts. The article claims that the deadly Altamont Pass wind project is an "outlier" at 67 golden eagles killed each year, but there are many other wind projects that are more deadly on a per turbine basis for birds and bats, and they use the larger turbines you claim are safer. Altamont Pass is not an outlier, it is representative of what happens when the industry ignores the environmental community. The article also mentions the Sierra Club's "campaign" to implement mandatory wildlife protection guidelines for the industry, but I am only aware of a single letter sent by the Club to the Department of Interior in January 2012. We should not let our enthusiasm for the renewable energy industry replace our passion for protecting wildlife.
Shaun Gonzales
Washington, DC


Your current issue was really welcome. It gives me hope that Sierra, will find AWE. See: Sierra, came close, but missed AWE

You are welcome to mine and use anything from our pages and forum while contacting the stakeholders of those mining upper winds for tasks and energy. http://energykitesystems.net/

Some of our stakeholders:
http://energykitesystems.net/AWEstakeholders/index.html
Joe Faust


Regarding the article 'Wind Rush' in the March/April Sierra, magazine: Perhaps wind projects are acceptable in flat country, but when these power plants deface beautiful mountain ridges, disrupt forest ecology, threaten/fragment the habitat of wildlife of concern like Bicknell's thrush, change the rural character of regions dependent on their natural features, and pose threats which concern organizations like Audubon, the Sierra Club should hesitate before endorsing them.

At the very least the Sierra Club ought to take the time necessary to investigate the claims of the wind industry by consulting a large number of organizations which have sprung up in places like Maine—sprung up in reaction to the proliferation of wind power plants which are degrading the quality of life and character of areas until now sought after for their lack of industrial buildup. In Western Maine, for example, there are many more disadvantages than advantages to building these massive installations. The Sierra Club needs to support the opposition in states with ridge tops being used for wind factories.

The section of your article called "Conflict Avoidance" at least mentioned some of the disadvantages of wind plants. Before the Sierra Club further endorses wind power (merely repeating the claims of the American Wind Energy Association), it might consult a website like www.stopillwind.org to read about the common misconceptions about wind power, or go to the National Wind-Watch site (www.wind-watch.org) and read about what is really true about Denmark's investment in wind power. Maine has a number of sites the author might have consulted—The Citizens' Task Force on Wind Power, for example.

At the very least, you could distinguish between appropriate sites and the inappropriate. I have been dismayed for a long time by the Sierra Club's endorsement of wind power—an apparent abandonment of its stated goal to protect the planet.
Barbara Ulman
Coarsegold, California


I am a long-time member of Sierra Club. I enjoy reading Sierra, magazine, but I was a bit unsettled by a couple of things that I saw in the magazine.

On page 11, a National Geographic ad shows a young snorkeler swimming right next to a sea turtle. I know that many of the world's sea turtles are threatened or endangered, and I think that this ad is reckless because it sends the wrong message—that it is okay to swim close to sea turtles when, in reality, people should keep a respectable distance from sea turtles so they do not feel threatened or harassed. If National Geographic is going to promote eco-tourism, it must do so responsibly. It's ads should show snorkelers or swimmers admiring sea turtles from afar so the sea turtles have room to escape if they are feeling threatened or disturbed.

My husband and I are also a bit concerned that Sierra Club is promoting, so heavily, wind energy instead of solar energy. If solar panels were put on rooftops (particularly in sunny climates), it would do great things to help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Wind energy can be a suitable alternative energy in certain places, but we do not want to see every beautiful landscape cluttered up with huge turbines, which can cause great harm to birds and bats. Rooftops on homes are already there; the ground has been displaced; there is no need for expensive permits and environmental reviews; there is no need for the intensive, industrial infrastructure required to transmit the power (i.e., poles, transmission lines, roads, substations, etc.).

We feel Sierra Club should, instead, be promoting home installations of solar panels because they do not mar up the landscape, they do not harm wildlife and little to no energy is lost in the transmission from the rooftop into the home's power grid. Promoting smaller windmills for individual homes is one thing, but 400-foot-tall wind turbines are, in our opinion, a blight on the landscape. Large turbines such as these also generate a lot of noise pollution (in the form of low frequency sounds). We are not entirely against wind energy, but we think the impacts from wind turbine installations across our country should be more closely evaluated because of the above concerns and that home-installations of solar panels should be given more attention and promotion. My husband and I have 12 PV panels on our rooftop. We live on the North Coast of California, where it is foggy and rainy much of the year, and we produced nearly all of the energy that we used last year (we owed PG&E $4.76 for the entire year), so we can attest to the power of solar energy!

I appreciate the terrific job that Sierra Club does in protecting our environment and I am proud to be a member. Thank you for considering my concerns.
Kimberly Tays


"The Art of Diminished Resistance"

I would be appalled too by "marine researchers who plod into sensitive habitats on decommissioned warships," but it just doesn't happen. I've been going to sea on research vessels since 1984, and I've never heard of anyone using decommissioned warships. Warships, with one exception, would make terrible research vessels. The exception is using a nuclear submarine for research under the ice in the Arctic Ocean—it is an ideal sonar mapping platform, quiet and stable.

Research in the deep ocean requires larger ships—one of the "odds and ends" we use is a winch that weighs 26,000 pounds, holding a 6-mile-long cable that weighs another 10,000 pounds. Efficient and appropriate design had been part of the development of research vessels, large and small, for decades.
Mark Rognstad
Hawaii Mapping Research Group
Honolulu, Hawaii


"Gust Junkies"

As an avid wind junkie myself, your recent article completely panned the soaring activity that demonstrates mastery of updrafts in the wind better than any other. There are men and women who, on the right day, will fly up to 1,000 kilometers, only on the currents of the air, trading the altitude gained in updrafts for speed and distance over the ground. Like great soaring birds, sailplanes and their pilots demonstrate the cutting edge of man's highly tuned quest to ride the air.
R. K. Leffingwell


Regarding the caption on page 49 of the iceboat in the March-April magazine: there is no "Lake Trälhavet" in Sweden. The scene actually is on the Baltic Sea, in the Swedish Archipelago, some 20 kilometers northeast of downtown Stockholm. The area is known among locals as Trälhavet.
Kris Sama
Media, Pennsylvania

[Editor's note: We appreciate your letter and have corrected this.]


I have read your recent wind articles with increasing dismay. Perhaps wind makes sense on factory farms where the environment has long since been devastated by scorched earth GMO production. However, your apparent 'wind is always good' policy has already produced another Glen Canyon incident right here in Southern California about which you may wring your hands in decades to come as you have been doing lately about Glen Canyon itself.

You failed to stand with us against Pattern Energy's Ocotillo Express Wind project, and I would like to make you aware of the consequences. Thus far you have also failed to stand with us against additional projects planned in McCain Valley, Boulevard and the Shu'luuk wind expansion. Our own Governor Brown vowed to 'crush the opposition' to 'green' projects like this. These projects are not "green," quite the opposite. Your current article, in addition to all the benefits of wind, offers only industry response to wind 'myths' which is at best one-sided (e.g., the 'housecats kill more birds' claim—housecats don't kill raptors) and worse, fails to address the actual harm associated with factory wind farms. In my opinion, the real environmental consequences of each wind project must be evaluated before support is granted, and so far you have failed us in this most basic responsibility of an environmental organization.

If you have a shred of environmental concern left, then I beg you to request and publish an article from Miriam Rafferty, editor of www.eastcountymagazine.org (search for 'wind' or 'Ocotillo' or 'Shu'luuk' or 'Bighorns"). Ms. Rafferty has tirelessly followed the disastrous story of the Pattern Energy wind project at Ocotillo, examining the taxpayer funding and lack of accountability, the environmental, endangered species and Native American rights laws that were blatantly violated, the gagging of state park personnel, and now of course the horrific consequences. You will find her reporting balanced, her editorial opinions clearly differentiated from her journalism. What she has uncovered about wind in general and specific projects in particular should not be ignored by mainstream media outlets like yourselves.

Further I beg you to request an article by Sam Milham, MD, author of Dirty Electricity (www.sammilham.com). Dr. Milham has been studying and documenting the problems associated with electrification as you can see from the extensive list of publications on his website. He is not anti-electricity, he is calling attention to the industry failures, which are causing human and animal health problems and is offering real solutions. He has done some research on wind, which you may find enlightening.

I wish you would have the audacity to request permission and publish this poem (http://www.windaction.org/opinions/37093?theme=print ): "I pick up dead birds at the base of wind turbines/ and put them in plastic sacks / You might think my job is not full-time / but it is / because my boss at Consumer's Energy / wants the birds gone/ pronto! / as soon as they hit the ground / if possible / He doesn't want them laying [sic] around/ for the anti-windmill photographers / to document"

[Regarding the] draft EIS for Shu'luuk Wind, the next project planned here: These energy giants are targeting tiny communities, which have no political power. They wouldn't put turbines in La Jolla! It is so much easier to 'crush' the little guy, our beautiful desert and backcountry. Please, take seriously your massive fail on Glen Canyon. See how today you have allowed our venerable ocotillo forest, our Native American sacred sites and burials, our archeological patrimony, the documented endangered Bighorn habitat, raptor flyway, our public land, the tiny town of Ocotillo consisting of real human beings who loved their desert paradise, the beautiful gateway to Anza Borrego State Park. You have allowed this to be crushed in the maw of Big Energy, supported by taxpayer dollars, massive destruction where, by the way, there isn't even any wind. You, the Sierra Club, bastion of environmental protection, you have thus far failed to raise your voice against this devastation. Sempra Energy/SDG&E could have invested the $2 billion they spent on the Sunrise Powerlink transmission debacle in rooftop solar instead to meet the state mandate for green energy. This is southern California after all. Why do we have to have massively destructive and dangerous factory energy farms and transmission lines?

Please reconsider your blanket support for wind projects. Maybe they make sense in some places, but not here, not with the present technology. Publish a balanced report of what wind has meant to one tiny community in Ocotillo (people, plants and animals) and what is projected for San Diego County. Then consider examining each individual factory energy farm on its own merits instead of your present approach. Could we count on you in the future to protect San Diego's environment?
Mary Hicklin
Lakeside, California


"Gear"

On page 60 of the magazine, you advertise 'your own personal drone.' How such a 'toy' can benefit the environment eludes me. Beyond that, I'm appalled that an invasive piece of technology, that causes death and mayhem, to say nothing of destroying privacy, should be advertised in your magazine. If I've misunderstood the ad, please let me know, otherwise I must consider whether to continue my financial support of the Sierra Club.
Sylvia Alcon


"Spout" (March/April)

The letter from Rick Aylsworth in the March/April 2013 issue of Sierra, could have been from me—a longtime Life Member who can no longer tolerate your promotion of recreational "adventure" travel for selfish, entitled, wealthy people. I guess shared sacrifice to live sustainably only applies to non-Sierra Club members, which now includes me. Save the paper and fuel and please stop sending me the magazine.
Robert Heimbichner
Alameda, California


I couldn't agree more with Rick Aylsworth's letter regarding the idea of using the Antarctica as a new playground and then the Sierra Club writing about it as if it were an admirable thing.

Your glorification of the skier, with his expensive "gear" is an insult to all who really care about the natural world, which the Sierra Club seems to be moving away from. The skier you so admire is just pollution—visual pollution—of a pristine part of the world.

I have also been a member a long time but find myself hesitating these days before writing out the check.

If the Sierra Club loses its original ethos, it loses everything.
Margit Andersson
Hemet, California


It was refreshing that you printed Mr. Aylsworth's poignant letter re the previous Sierra issue's extolling of frivolous recreational travel.

This issue adds even more frivolity, with various wind-dependent sports, including the investor "sport" of fibbing about wind power to get subsidies from us for the least-efficient source of energy. This issue reeks of wind-power marketing hype, including Dir. Brune's oddly misinformed "Newborn Hope" piece—we know he knows better, or should.

Overall, this Sierra, issue illustrates why our membership is so sadly uninformed about the environmental impacts of various power sources. For example, one reader's letter states: "The electricity that powers EVs often comes from the very coal-fired power plants that create such havoc."

There are Sierra members for whom the Club hasn't explained why having a 90%-efficient vehicle that returns to recharge base with ~15% less need for charge because of regenerative braking isn't a good idea regardless of electrical source?

Then there's the "Ask Mr. Green" bit, where a member asks about putting up his own wind generator, and instead of getting accurate engineering advice, such as to put up environmentally non-intrusive solar panels on his structures, instead he's left with an odd, non-"green" but subsidy-dependent facts. Nowhere does Mr. Schildgen bother to mention the noise, bird/bat kills, the scenic intrusiveness, or the 2,000 tons of raw materials, all requiring fossil-fuel processing, just to get each MW of average power out of present wind generators.

Why haven't Sierra Club members been informed on either of the two topics above? This Sierra, issue, and apparently, overall Sierra Club policies, need critical scientific evaluation. Right now, there appears to be more interest in hyping faux saviors like wind, while still pretending the millions accepted from gas interests to combat coal had no deleterious effect on the Club's competency as an honest broker of environmental science and engineering.

Like Mr. Aylsworth, I and some other Club members have been asking ourselves why we don't simply allow our ancient memberships to expire. Club direction appears as misguided now as when David Brower told our three lovely ladies trying to Save the Bay to ask someone else for help (www.savingthebay.org). What might John Muir have said then? And now?

A full analysis of this unfortunate Sierra, issue will be sent separately to all Club Directors and the Foundation. We have a problem.
Dr. Alexander Cannara
Menlo Park, California


I have to agree with Rick Aylsworth regarding the state of Sierra, magazine. Why on earth do you glorify ill-prepared twenty-somethings nearly dying of hypothermia or, in the latest issue, getting lost on a simple hike. Your editor's attempt to draw youngsters into the Sierra Club with petty, juvenile articles must surely be offensive to them also. There is nothing cool about being an idiot and having no respect for or understanding of nature.

In the past I used drop my Sierra Club magazine off at the office break room for others to enjoy. Now I'm so embarrassed that I toss it in the kitchen trash after scanning it for the one or two interesting articles that still somehow manage to make it to your pages.
Roger Brewer
Honolulu, Hawai'i

P.S. The articles on wind in the March/April edition are excellent! I'll cut out the lost hiker story, overlook the kitsch and put it in the break room


In the recent issue of the magazine and in earlier issues, people have argued that electric vehicles simply move the pollution from the tail pipe of a gas car to the smoke stack of a power plant, implying that there is no significant advantage from the purchase of an EV (you get the same pollution but in a different location). This claim, which has appeared now several times in the Sierra Club magazine, is totally wrong. Purchasing an EV has a very positive impact on the environment. The Union of Concerned Scientists studied this point in detail and found that today, you can buy an EV anywhere in the U.S. and it has a huge positive impact on the environment through reduced CO2 emissions. And as power companies move to renewable energy sources, the impact of EVs will only increase.
William Hager
Gainesville, Florida


"Act" (March/April)

That term used casually in the "Northern Revolutions" entry in the March/April 2013 Sierra, magazine piqued me: "There's going to be more demand" for electricity it said. Demand?

In some parlance "demand" implies consequences, ones intended to motivate folks to meet demand.

Unfortunately consequences of supplying the "demands" may be more catastrophic than consequences of not meeting them.

Please let us suffer the consequences of lessening demand as well as efficiently meeting them.
Steven L. Bard


"Explore" (March/April)

Michael Engelhard's story of his night in the Vermillion Cliffs Monument is an example of foolhardy backcountry behavior. What is the point of carrying a pack with supplies if you are going to set it down? Why does a contributor to an outdoor magazine not realize the importance of carrying a map? He shows further poor judgment leaving the shelter of a tree taller than himself during a thunderstorm for wet rock, which conducts electricity. Staying under the tree and using the boughs as a pad upon which to lay flat would have been safer. It is lucky he did not get electrocuted or hypothermic from wearing a cotton T-shirt in a downpour. Finally, he ends with a callous statement about great adventure when he should have recognized the stupidity of his decisions and used them as a cautionary tale for others. True adventure is for those who have the foresight to plan for minimal details.
Kelly Teitelbaum

"Grapple" (March/April)

This is a reaction to Paul Rauber's use of polarizing language in "Smoke Screen" and Sierra Club's willingness to allow this kind of political propaganda. The Libertarian party is growing and being built from this two-party system; some of us are more conservative and others are more liberal. So throwing all of us into the right-wing because the Heartland Institute happens to be conservative and libertarian is not fair and perpetuates an us-and-them mentality.

I consider myself to be a liberal libertarian and don't agree with what everything Heartland says or does. I would like to see our nation end its addiction to fossil fuels but at what cost? Where are these rare-earth magnets coming from for the wind-turbines? Where are all the polluting components manufactured? More than likely they come from countries where there is less regulation of and advocacy for human rights. Somewhere that we cannot see the suffering. This is not clean energy. Must others lose their livelihood because the US cannot control its excessive use? For me, electricity is a global justice issue more than shallow politics.
Ayawasdi Droege
Arvada, Colorado


Keystone XL would carry tar sands, not crude oil. NASA's leading climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, said that tar sands development would mean "game over for the climate."

As a farmer that has experienced the huge drought this year and massive flooding in previous years, I have seen that climate change has definitely lowered our crop yields. This creates a food shortage. If we allow climate change to continue we make it harder to feed our own people let alone help feed the world. Please tell your legislators and President Obama now to stop this project before we disrupt our food supply forever.
Cindy Bonnet
Lena, Illinois

 


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