Re: The Wrong Target

Dear Editor:

It’s laudable that Grist would strive to include diverse viewpoints. However, I am disappointed that the editors would accept such a shoddy piece of journalism. Having a minority opinion (at least among environmentalists) is one thing. Failing to include and address crucial facts about one’s subject is another.

Yes, chains have been around for a century. But they have grown dramatically in the last 15 years, amassing an unprecedented level of market power. Take Lowe’s and Home Depot, for instance. These were big chains in 1990 when they had a combined total of 450 stores. Today, the two have 3,000 stores and capture more than 50 percent of all hardware and building-supply sales nationally.

Over that same period, the environmental impact of shopping has also increased dramatically. And it is no coincidence.

Suggesting that being able to get everything under one roof has reduced shopping trips completely ignores the actual data that the federal government has compiled on travel behavior. We take the same number of shopping trips today as we did in 1990. But the average length of trip has grown by about two miles. Altogether, Americans are driving 95 billion miles more each year just for shopping.

Yes, this is part of the larger problem of suburban sprawl. But building larger boxes that entail more driving is also a core part of big-box retailers’ growth strategy. They are not passive actors in this problem. They purposefully build more and bigger stores than local market areas need: they flood an area with excess capacity, which makes it easier to capsize smaller competitors. The larger the store, the larger its market radius. So, as the boxes get bigger and smaller retailers embedded in neighborhoods and town centers close, trip lengths increase.

All of this excess building explains why the amount of retail store space per capita in the U.S. has doubled since 1990 (and it’s not like we were “under-retailed” then). There’s no sign of an end to the land binge either: Wal-Mart plans to develop an additional 50,000 acres over the next decade.

Do we need all of this additional retail space? Hardly. A staggering amount of it now sits vacant (as much as one billion square feet by some estimates). But even idle, all of this pavement continues to send polluted runoff into our lakes and streams.

Akst fails to note that global shipping is expanding much faster than the world’s economic output, and shipping is now one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gases.

Poverty is indeed bad for the environment. But it doesn’t follow that wealth creation via any path is good for the environment. Just look at us, leading the world on carbon emissions.

Lastly, regarding the bit about pressuring companies to do good: Since when, in a democracy, is it our role as citizens to plead and cajole companies to do right by us? We should be enacting better laws, which would be much easier if our political process had not been hijacked by huge global corporations.

Stacy Mitchell

Institute for Local Self-Reliance

via Gristmill

 

Re: The Wrong Target

Dear Editor:

This article started off intelligently enough, indicating the environmental benefits of pressuring to regulate massive companies as opposed to thousands of small ones.

However, the argument that poverty is the worst thing for the environment is asinine. When people have more money, they suddenly stop using natural resources? Where does all that extra money come from, anyway? Surely not from the additional resource extraction and pollution that contributes to the wealth of a nation? I always thought that overpopulation was a much more grave issue, and was a major reason such poverty existed in the first place.

Dan Akst goes on to reason that in terms of industrialization, the ends justify the means. He states that it is better to pollute and consume egregiously, then clean it up to have somewhat clean air and water after enormous irreversible environmental damage has already occurred. Is it too small-minded to think that society might be able to succeed without destroying the environment to begin with? Industrialization is only one vision of a more prosperous world; by no means is it the best.

Daniel Maas

St. Paul, Minn.

 

Re: The Wrong Target

Dear Editor:

Dan Akst writes, “Economists have shown again and again that environmental conditions worsen as a country develops, only to improve again as it grows affluent enough to demand and afford cleaner water and air.”

This is because our current model of development is completely flawed. He is totally leaving out the option for sustainable development as opposed to corporate-backed unsustainable development that degrades the environment and society.

Unfortunately, his idealistic view of how capitalism pulls the impoverished from the bondage of destitution is a bit misinformed. The reason we are able to get our $10 pair of jeans from Wal-Mart or Target, etc., is because it costs them so little to produce. The fastest and most efficient way to reduce production costs is to do so at the expense of the workers and the environment. The reason that fair-trade products cost so much is less because it is a niche market (although that does play some part) and more because they are charging more money to support a higher standard of production.

I think the major flaw with his thought process is that he has accepted the current norm as the only realistic possibility, and not examined how that norm is a complete contradiction to a healthy and sustainable environment and population. It is not enough for big-box businesses to adopt more environmentally friendly standards; what we really need to do is change the entire system as well as our outlook. The goals of a major money-hungry corporation will never mesh with the real goals of the environmental and social-justice movement. We need to consume less, not just change our production patterns. We need to push truly sustainable development practices, and yes, we need to support local business. Then, and only then, will we find a world that we can truly sustain for generations to come.

Leah Rinaldi

via Gristmill

 

Re: The Wrong Target

Dear Editor:

I think the logic behind this piece is good except it occurs to me that the convenience and low prices also encourage people to buy more. It would be interesting to weigh the benefits described in the article with the higher level of consumption.

Stephanie Xenos

St. Paul, Minn.

 

Re: The Wrong Target

Dear Editor:

My biggest beef is with that oft-repeated myth of economics — that the cost savings we enjoy mean that we have more money to spend — and Dan suggests that we spend it on our favorite green cause. A recently released study has confirmed what many of us have feared — companies like Wal-Mart not only drive down the salaries of their own serfs (aka associates) but local prevailing wages too. (Witness the California grocery store strike.)

Of course, if you are in the upper-middle class or upper class, this may not affect you, but then you may not shop at Wal-Mart anyway. But if we did shop there, and saved up the dollars that we save, could we offset the damage these stores cause? I really don’t think so — best we might do is salvage a little bit of our conscience.

sustainablesteve

via Gristmill

 

Re: The Wrong Target

Dear Editor:

Even if all of us did our big-box shopping in fuel-saving, once-a-month increments, big-box retailers would still be bad for the environment in terms of transportation because their supply lines are so long. Tomatoes from Chile or (in season) an organic grower in your county? Clothing from China or a manufacturer in your own state? The 10 or 15 miles of driving I might save by doing all my shopping at Wal-Mart pales in the face of the 4,000-mile trip everything in the store made to get there.

Also, people “seem to prefer” working in overseas sweatshops to self- and community-sustaining agriculture? That’s why people work in sweatshops? There are so many things wrong with this assertion I don’t even know where to start. Please, Mr. Akst, do some reading about global economics and the way rich countries and their corporations have stolen land, water, and resources from what used to be sustainable local economies all over the world before you make such a wide-eyed, naive assertion.

Bobbi Katsanis

via Gristmill

Editor’s note: You can find lots more heated discussion on big-box stores in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.

Re: Hot Hot Heat, by

Dear Editor:

One solution to the problem of having to wait for hot water is to install a “point of use” water heater under the sink. These very small tankless units take the water and super-heat it before it goes to the tap, thus dealing with the problem of the water being cooled down in the piping system.

Another solution would be to install an “on demand” hot-water recirculation pump under the sink. They are water- and energy-conserving, as they only work when you tell them to. They are installed under the sink and hooked up to the hot and cold water pipes coming out of the walls. The units pull the cooled-off water in the hot-water pipes back into the cold-water pipes. The cold-water system is what fills the water heater back up, so the displaced water will not over-pressurize the cold-water piping system.

Tracey Berry

Tucson, Ariz.

 

Re: Hot Hot Heat

Dear Editor:

I’ve been collecting the tap runoff, both hot and cold, in a pitcher by my sink for years. I use it to water plants, rinse the sink, refill the Brita jug — it’s amazing how far those several quarts a day will go. Also, when running the water before a shower, I fill up gallon jugs and use that water for my potted plants on the deck. During local water rationing times, it’s been pretty difficult for people to tell me that I shouldn’t be watering my garden once I explain what water I’m using. The teensy bit of extra effort it takes will be the reason most people won’t do it, but I hope they have the decency to at least feel guilty about that!

Joan Jones

Moscow, Idaho

 

Re: Hot Hot Heat

Dear Editor:

I think you missed one important point in your answer: If the person has a single handle style faucet, they should turn it all the way to the hot position so they won’t be wasting any cold water while waiting for the warm water to get there.

David Ernst

Louisville, Ky.

 

Re: Take a Peak

Dear Editor:

Matthew Simmons’ opinions on the end of cheap oil are right on target.

Where the environmental movement fails in this sea change of the world energy system is the hysterical bleating about climate change. They allow themselves to be relegated to the status of dull and monotonous fanatics beating a dead horse about a non-issue. They will never have any part in solving the real problem of energy production and the economic benefits of keeping the world on the path to a better life for everybody.

What will happen is that a new generation of engineers, scientists, lawyers, politicians, mechanics, planners, and the like will quietly solve this hard problem over the next 50 or 60 years and keep the world going in the right direction. There will be only a footnote in history that sometime in the late 20th century some good laws and plans were made to protect the earth and the environment. The people who solved the real energy crisis kept those in mind going forward and ignored the spate of superstition and hysteria that sprang up in the early 21st century that ranged from global climate disaster to intelligent design in evolution to massive human death tolls from influenza and obesity.

Mike Macartney

San Jose, Calif.

 

Re: Take a Peak

Dear Editor:

Matthew Simmons is right. Whether the peak in oil is this year or 2012, the physical fact of declining energy availability for the planet will trump almost all other environmental concerns. This is the granddaddy of ecological worries. Linked to carbon emissions but broader, peak oil will change our daily way of life.

Matthew Simmons has often said “there is no Plan B.” I think a Plan B is a combination of turning our remaining fossil fuels into renewables at an increasing pace, and finding incentives — both top-down, like fee-bates and four-day work weeks, and bottom-up, like energy efficiency and sustainable lifestyles — that together will make a difficult transition in the Sustainability Revolution possible. The market is priced at the marginal barrel and therefore does not give you and me the correct signals about what’s coming in a timely fashion. People should educate themselves on the intricacies of this issue in advance; education post-peak will be much less relevant.

thelastsasquatch

via Gristmill

 

Re: To Top It Off

Dear Editor:

While I agree that use of biodiesel fuel is the preferred option for limiting harmful emissions from diesel engines, it is important to note that the federal government is requiring all diesel producers to provide low-sulfur diesel fuel starting in 2007. This improved fuel will significantly reduce harmful emissions and will help facilitate the use of improved emission-control technologies, many of which are not compatible with the current high-sulfur diesel. Automakers will begin offering diesel vehicles in the 2007 model year that will include these improved emission-control systems.

It is also important to point out that increasing consumer demand for diesel vehicles could have a number of positive impacts. For instance, increased demand could induce automakers to increase their funding for research and development of advanced diesel technology. Likewise, increased demand for diesel vehicles could help increase the availability of biodiesel fuel.

Claudette Juska

Auto Project Coordinator

Ecology Center

via Gristmill

 

Dear Editor:

I’m the board president of the U.S. GrassRoots Recycling Network, which is the leading voice in America for the Zero Waste Revolution. When I read that the London Olympics’ definition of “zero waste” was to simply avoid landfills and that all of the waste created during the event would eventually “be recycled or recovered,” my alarm bells went off! You see, the way the European Union defines “recovery” of waste includes burning it.

The working definition of “zero waste” used by the GRRN, as well as around the world by the Zero Waste International Alliance, calls for more than 90 percent of the solid wastes we generate to be diverted from landfill and incineration, and no more than 10 percent to be landfilled. And that last 10 percent has to be processed in a technology like an anaerobic digester to stabilize the organic material and capture the methane for beneficial use rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere as a potent greenhouse gas.

For the London Olympics to meet a true zero-waste standard wouldn’t be that difficult, but it would require a degree of political and economic commitment above any Olympics to date.

Eric Lombardi

Boulder, Colo.

 

Re: Wheels of Fortune

Dear Editor:

I noticed Umbra’s comment that bike riders will lose weight, and I wanted to mention that not everyone loses weight from exercising. People are more healthy when they exercise regularly, but they can still be fat (like me). I read a study recently about fat teens who exercised — in the study, none of them lost weight, but all had better blood pressure and cardiovascular health, if I remember right. Anyway, fat is not the enemy — poverty, sedentary lifestyle, and poor nutrition are the enemy.

Laura-Marie Taylor

Sacramento, Calif.

Editor’s note: Read more comments about bike commuting in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.

 

Re: Ozoning Out

Dear Editor:

I think you have your facts wrong. Consumer aerosol products have not contained CFCs for more than 27 years, and hence have no relation to the depletion of the earth’s protective ozone layer.

Furthermore, as you know, many people confuse the issue of ozone depletion and global warming. Carbon dioxide used as a propellant in aerosol products is obtained from the atmosphere, and its use therefore has no net global-warming impact. Moreover, propane and butane, also used as propellants, are not considered to be greenhouse gases.

Also, empty aerosol containers, whether steel or aluminum, are recyclable. Today’s steel aerosol cans contain an average of 25 percent recycled content.

Rick Morris

Consumer Aerosol Products Council

Alexandria, Va.

 

Re: Ozoning Out

Dear Editor:

In the years when I was traipsing around the countryside for Greenpeace and lecturing on sundry green topics, I used to use the analogy of two distinct blankets to illustrate the difference between ozone-layer damage and the greenhouse effect. I’d suggest that folks think of the ozone layer as a blanket that helped keep something (UV radiation) out, and then think of greenhouse gases as a separate blanket that kept something (heat from the sun) in. My experience was that it helped people quickly grasp the distinction.

Christopher Childs

St. Paul, Minn.

 

Dear Editor:

I cannot believe the pouty — some might say snotty — hostility Umbra receives from the self-absorbed folks demanding validation about their “paper vs. plastic” obsessions. Umbra’s right! We need to quit wasting our time on these issues that have no demonstrable impact and focus on the truly scary stuff like global warming and species extinction that waits for no paper or plastic choice. Quit shooting the messenger! Please remind Umbra that she is representing an organization that is not obliged to cater to fragile egos. She should keep up the good work.

Amy Wilson

Portland, Ore.

 

Re: Friedman Fighter

Dear Editor:

This article was interesting, but the term “lily-livered tree-huggers” certainly is an oxymoron. If you have ever seen a tree-hugger threatened or beaten by knuckle-dragging loggers, greasy truck drivers, and zealous police, the term “lily-livered” just plain old rings hollow.

Noel Fowles

Salt Spring Island, Canada