And other words from readers
The author takes the position that the Bush Energy Plan is solely focused on “Big Oil” and “King Coal,” particularly with respect to tax breaks lavished on various forms of energy. Here are the facts:
- Value of the tax incentives for oil and gas proposed in the Bush Energy Plan: $0
- Value of the tax incentives for renewable and alternative energy in the Bush Energy Plan: $5.3 billion
- Value of having an administration with an Energy Plan: Priceless.
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
I worry that we spend so much time thinking up ways to create alternative energy when we really need to focus on reduced reliance on energy, period.
Several years ago, I contacted our energy supplier, PG&E, about the cost of running power to our new home site. I was told that the 900 feet would cost me over $17,000. This would entitle me to electricity, along with the usual monthly bill for the rest of my life. My wife and I chose to go solar. We did it right. We have sufficient photovoltaic panels, big batteries, and a “Trace” power panel which converts 24 VDC to 120 VAC. Except for maybe 45 cloudy days in the winter months, when we use the generator for maybe three hours at a time, we are run totally on the sun. We live in a new 1,800-square-foot home, have a large electric refrigerator (Sunfrost), a dishwasher, a microwave, entertainment center, ample lighting, and, except for those 45 days, we don’t use anything except photons knocking electrons around! Anyone can do it. The technology is here now. It is a crime against our grandchildren not to act — now.
Also, let’s talk water. Since we collect electricity off our roof, so to speak, I decided to not drill a well but to invest in water tanks and two-inch PVC pipes. We run our home on rainwater alone. We store 16,400 gallons of water for the dry period, which can last 200 days. We have always managed to refill our tanks completely before the first of the year. All you need is an enameled steel roof and a site which doesn’t have too many trees around your home. Yeah, I have to clean the rain gutters and change the water filters, but what falls on my nest, we use, and what falls elsewhere is for wildlife. Almost anyone in an area which gets 20 or more inches of rain could do this. With fresh water becoming an endangered commodity, this could be an answer for many people, if they chose to do it.
Richard T. Douse
I have addressed the lime-in-a-bottle problem in the past and have a quick and easy method for removal: After liquid contents are gone, stand over compost pile, firmly grasp bottle by lower section, and then (this is the key) quickly swing bottle opening toward compost. Lime will typically be ejected into compost on first try.
Alternately, switch to a fine locally brewed organic beer that doesn’t require lime or excessive transport.
Here, on our beautiful little island, the beer bottles go back to the provincial liquor store. Recently, some of the employees have had respiratory problems that have been linked to mold and mildew in the bottles. Therefore, there is now a regulation that all bottles must be rinsed out and be free of items like lemon or lime slices. I’ve found that a chopstick works well. If the bottles are recycled at our recycling center, instead of the liquor store, they also appreciate having them empty and rinsed to help prevent attracting wasps and rodents.
Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada
So happy to know I wasn’t the only person wondering about this one. I’ve been picking the lime wedges back out of my Corona bottles, just in case. My bottle-squeezed fingers thank you. (Granted, now that New York City has suspended its glass recycling, limes are less of an issue than oh, say, convincing the darned mayor to reinstate the program.)
Re: Grim Limb Gym
Thanks for your article on the dangers posed by swimming. Having done research on what happens when the chlorine disinfectant combines with organics, I wanted to clarify a few things.
First, trihalomethanes represent only four out of more than 100 chemicals known to form when chlorine reacts with organics. For example, another of the chemicals, known as MX, has been called much more toxic than even chloroform, which is also a THM. About seven or eight of these chemicals have been studied thoroughly enough to be able to guess at their toxicity. Those seven are in the process of being regulated in drinking water.
Secondly, exposure studies repeatedly show that inhalation and skin absorption are more of a hazard than ingestion. So we know the chlorination byproducts (CBPs) can be absorbed through skin and through lungs. These routes are worse because when you drink the water, your digestive system can usually detoxify at least some of CBPs, keeping them out of the circulatory system. But when the CBPs go straight to your blood (through skin or lungs) without being digested, they circulate a lot longer before they are detoxified, doing damage in the process.
Finally, I know of no epidemiological studies that have evaluated the health of frequent swimmers on the basis of their chlorine exposure. But I do know that the evidence for CBPs causing birth defects and certain cancers is strong enough to warrant concern. The jury is still out on any number of other health problems that haven’t been tested yet.
So is it safe to swim? My guess is that regular swimming in a chlorinated pool might be a bad idea if you’re pregnant, hoping to get pregnant in the near future, or have a compromised immune system. I would also avoid swimming very frequently in a chlorinated pool, especially if there are other exercise options. But if swimming is the only exercise you’re going to get, swim away. The risks of being sedentary are probably far higher.
Candidate for Master of Environmental Management and Master of Public Health
New Haven, Conn.
Re: Car Talk
My wife and I took the “green car” pledge on Grist. Then when our 1987 Mercury Topaz gave out at 247,434 miles last November (at which time it was still getting 27-30 mpg), we ordered a Toyota Prius. Yes, living in a county seat town (pop. 835) in rural western Missouri we need a car, even though we walk to the grocery store, post office, bank, and, in my wife’s case, work at the county library. We got our Prius on March 23, and it’s a frugal companion to our gas-guzzling 1992 Dodge 4WD pickup (another rural necessity, I’m afraid). Anyhow, it’s affirming to hear from you that we did the right thing in not getting the clutch fixed on the Merc.
What I say about the Prius is, “Pollution is down, consumer debt is up.” It’s great for our many out-of-town obligations.
Re: Just Bag It
First I’d like to say that I love Umbra’s column and I appreciate all her advice on environmental issues and how to solve them.
That said, I did not appreciate the way she answered the question about paper vs. plastic bags at the grocery store. While I agree that there are larger issues at hand and the Earth will not be saved by using paper over plastic, I don’t think anyone at Grist should discourage any kind of environmental awareness. Through personal experience and observation, I have come to believe that I can get people who don’t really care about the environment to do the bare minimum, such as recycling properly and turning out their lights. However, it is much harder to get people to buy a more fuel-efficient car or take the bus, and by downplaying the small stuff, you are discouraging even the tiniest amount of environmental concern that many people are willing to give.
The people Umbra calls “casual environmentalists” are often the people who don’t care that much, but are doing it to please someone they know. Like everyone in my life, for example. By starting slow with the easy issues, people become more open to suggestions and information regarding the bigger issues. It’s all about education and communication.
I like Lester Brown’s sense of hope. However, he presumes the economy can be rationalized. The economy can no more be made rational than people can. Woody Allen movies have made famous and humorous the essential irrationality of people. And the late Steven Jay Gould helped make clear the stochastic irrationality of Nature. The best thing economists and ecologists can do is cheerfully work together to minimize the damage from our irrationally exuberant economy. Entropy is always winning. The most we can do is not hasten its victory. Good luck!
Thank you for covering perhaps one of the most inspiring and significant demonstrations to call attention to the Columbia River and its environmental problems. Rest assured local “Gristers” are watching and reading, even if our local news has yet to provide coverage on the problems, barring an expose or two. So far, you folks are the only ones I know publishing these journal entries.
Our swimmer is going to get tired. I’m worried he’ll stop the entries. Please consider a call for correspondence reports from your grassroots “AP.” If needed and desired by Christopher Swain, I’m sure myself and others would be willing to pitch in and write up a story or two. Good excuse to hang out with the crew for a day!
Re: Right Tern
We appreciate the prominence that Grist gave to the national debate over the future of the Missouri River — whether America’s longest river should be operated year-round solely to benefit a tiny handful of barges, or whether barge traffic should cease for a few weeks each summer to help rescue endangered fish and birds.
However, the item misstated American Rivers’ position. We did indeed praise the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers for deciding that it would be wrong to try to relocate endangered nesting plovers and terns, just to keep barge traffic going during this summer’s drought. However, it was not us that raised the fear that the necessary lower water levels could result in oil spills. You might expect that an environmental group would ordinarily be concerned about oil spills, but in this case, it was the barge industry, manufacturing an issue to distract from the toll that its current operations take on the Missouri River’s many other users.
We think the oil spill issue is a red herring (a species, by the way, that is not among the native fishes now gradually dying out along the Lewis and Clark Trail).
Vice President for Communications
Of course soccer is the solution to climate change. Indeed, what’s less threatening to the environment than a bunch of grown-ups in shorts chasing a ball on a stretch of lawn?
Re: Getting the Sack
Reading this article got me thinking about how much waste my wife and I produce in a week (which is, I suppose, the point of the article), and it actually created more questions than answers. Why, for instance, should I carry apple cores, paper napkins, and newspapers with me? These are biodegradable and make wonderful compost for my garden. Why should I lug a load of junk mail around in the sack? It all goes in the recycling along with all our wine bottles, metal waste, unusable clothing, etc. A quick think (and a call to my wife) told me that the weekly rubbish sack we put in the bin is the same size, and weighs less, than the rucksack I carry to work every day — I’d trade if I could!
Although the spirit of the article is a good one, I feel it’s addressing the wrong audience. Those who need to hear it, who throw out loads of trash every week, would ask the same questions I did, if only to justify their neglect. Perhaps it’s time to lose the hairshirt and recast articles like this in ways that are practical (no more apple cores) and address the correct audience. Then the world might begin to change a bit more quickly.
Please don’t paint all dentists with the same brush. Here at Kingsgate Dental Clinic we have not used mercury as a filling material for more than 12 years. At this time, we are placing a mercury separator to eliminate the mercury that we remove from patients’ mouths from the sewer water. The separator in not required by law until July 2003.
It has always astonished me that a material (mercury) that must be disposed of as a toxic waste is considered safe to put into people’s mouths. Be aware that there are a small number of dentists who are concerned and have been for years.
Paul Greenhalgh, D.D.S.
While I support the concept of electric vehicles, I have to object to describing them as “non-polluting.” Behind every one is a roaring gas-fired electricity generation turbine, or worse, in most cases, an enormous pile of dirty coal producing the electricity that recharges their batteries. I would like to see a comparison of life-cycle emissions per mile among diesel, gasoline, hybrid, and all-electric vehicles. That seems to be the best criterion we can use to compare these vehicles.
I’d also like to see a discussion of health benefits or drawbacks in regard to people living in proximity to heavy-traffic-volume streets. I.e., whether in fact fossil-fuel vehicles pose the greatest harm by emitting pollutants at lung level, and that the harm would be more equitably spread out among the populace via a tall smoke stack at a rural or urban power plant generating electricity for tens of thousands of EVs and the homes where their drivers live.
P.S. In light of the author’s admission that he lives not far from his workplace, does he ever ride a bike to work for some truly enjoyable, infinitesimally small-scale-polluting commuting?
story about Dan Sharps and the thankless task he has undertaken to restore the Earth to its condition before the Army and its tanks modified it. I hope that the story gets plenty of circulation before the next go-round, and that Sharps doesn’t quit in disgust over the pointless features of his job.
Portola Valley, Calif.