Readers write in about coal’s villainy, eating locally, sexy eco-geeks, and more
I read Terry Tamminen’s book, and overall I think it’s a very credible effort by a very good guy. He does a bang-up job laying out the case against petroleum. But he’s guilty of a serious (possibly fatal, given his position and influence) error in saying that petroleum is the enemy rather than coal. Coal, as is often noted on Gristmill, is the enemy of humanity.
The problem with oil is that it is such a good fuel and there’s too little of it; the problem with coal is that it’s such a horrible fuel and there’s so much of it. Therefore, environmentally, coal is far more disastrous as a result.
I am insulted and outraged by Terry Tamminen’s statements that the destruction of oil is so far beyond other destructions that others are not worth mentioning. I live in coal-extracting areas and I am insulted by his statement.
Tamminen should do some research before he makes such an insensitive statement. How dare he suggest that we Appalachians are not worth mentioning? Where does he think he and others that read his book get their electricity from, the electricity fairy?
Since Tamminen is far removed from the destruction and the poisoning of our babies here in Appalachia or in the Native lands of the Navajo, it is easy for him to dismiss. Currently, the coal industry uses over 3 million pounds of explosives per day, just in West Virginia. Kentucky is just a little below that. Add the other coal-producing states and the numbers are staggering.
The coal industry has murdered over 100,000 men, women, and children just in West Virginia in its sordid history of coal extraction. It is currently poisoning children in Appalachia and all over the world with mercury and coal waste. Coal is the biggest single contributor to global warming. Global warming will make planes [crashed into] buildings seem like a picnic.
Rock Creek, W.Va.
Terry Tamminen responds:
Dear Ms. Bonds:
Thanks for your note and please believe me, I know how destructive coal mining is. As a founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance and colleague of Bobby Kennedy Jr., I have supported his outspoken criticism of mountaintop mining. Here in the West, I funded the work of Hopi elder Vernon Masayesva against the Peabody coal company, which led to the closure of a massive coal-fired power plant. The interview was about my book, which focuses on oil, so of course I tend to see things through that lens; however, I do not mean to minimize the impact of coal mining or its current uses. By the way, I hear very good things about your work and please feel free to call on me if I can be of help.
Re: Poor Taste
I have not read The Economist yet, and may not get to it for a while, but it seems to me that Tom Philpott is unwilling to listen to other viewpoints. Just reading the bits and pieces he quoted, it is clear that The Economist made good points about the difficulty of returning to local food sources, as well as reasonable points on the higher costs of that approach. All Tom can do is take potshots at the presentation style and fail to even give a modicum of credit to the researchers who wrote the piece.
I live in the suburbs of Denver, Colo. I can grow my own food on my small suburban plot, but the variety of foods I need to eat a healthy diet are just not accessible in this climate. Does that mean I have to move?
Likewise, I can go to the farmers’ market, as they have excellent green beans, but at the same time my garden is overflowing with green beans, my wife is saying “I refuse to eat one more bean, give me some peas.”
Is local a good idea? Yes, I am all for it, but it is shortsighted to believe local, or sustainable, or organic can feed the millions now needing food for a healthy diet. The infrastructure, the social constrictions, and climate all make it impractical. Therefore, accept that commercial, industrialized foodstuffs have to remain a part of the puzzle, and recognize that “local” is only one small part of a worldwide food answer.
Re: Poor Taste
Tom Philpott’s article was an incisive critique, getting to the heart of the matter. He was not simply taking “potshots,” but questioning the underlying premise of the article: why does The Economist advocate leaving the free market in the hands of government and minimizing the role of the consumer? Tom also made the point that food choice is inherently political — it’s not simply that buying will change the world but thinking about what we buy can change it. That’s how change happens. It’s grassroots political change.
Agriculture’s apologists always fall back on the line: We’ve fed the world, so what we’re doing is right. What that argument does not consider are the larger costs of the approach and the inability to consider alternatives (because of the entrenched interests at stake).
Conventional ag points to grain yields and output to say how well it’s been doing. Ninety percent of grain feeds livestock, which in turn is sold to people who can afford to buy meat. But the most food-scarce people in the world cannot afford to buy grain, let alone meat. So boosting yields and output without considering crop choice and distribution is not a solution.
Thanks for this call to celebrate and study nature in the settings of our daily lives. That’s essential if we’re going to understand how we are all part of the natural systems that sustain us.
It isn’t about nature in cities, but a fascinating book, Wilderness and Razor Wire, explores nature in a prison. Author Ken Lamberton records his experience of nature as an inmate inside a medium-security prison. From his cell, he keeps close track of the changing seasons, the insect life, the migrating birds, and the blooming plants. He writes, “Nature is here as much as it is in any national park or forest or monument.”
Whether in prison, the sprawling ‘burbs, or urban slums, there is much to discover about our intimate engagement with the cycles and processes of nature.
I’m sorry, but when I got to the part where Vanessa McGrady “managed to scrape together a down payment on a $25,000 piece of property,” I just quit reading. Most of us, especially here in Southern California, can barely hope to “scrape together” money for rent and groceries with two full-time incomes, let alone buy ourselves a patch of land out of desperation. The ongoing problem of access to the “environmental path” for those not born with a golden spoon or raised with a soft place to land, like an expensive education, is a serious barrier to the healing of the planet.
Re: Dingell Minded
It would have been nice if Amanda Griscom Little had asked Dingell what would “destitute” American society more: global warming or reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. He obviously still doesn’t get the magnitude of the problem. That said, I am not sure Amanda understands it fully: Driving hybrid cars and using fluorescent light bulbs is not going to address this challenge. And what’s up with blaming China and other countries? The U.S. is by far the biggest producer of greenhouse-gas emissions. How about cleaning up our act first and offering an example to all the other countries around the world that pollute less than we do?
Finally, there is no need for hearings on climate change. The science has been in for about 20 years.
In the future, let’s be more aggressive in interviewing people like that. They are much too comfortable with being in power. Let’s hold them accountable as if they were truly elected instead of treating them as if they have lifetime appointments during which they ruin my children’s chance at a decent quality of life.
Re: It’s All Sarovar
I admire Grist, so it’s with mixed feelings that I point out that the story “It’s All Sarovar” is flat-out wrong. To the contrary, Sardar Sarovar Dam, one of the world’s largest dams and the subject of a third of my book, is not completed. While work on the dam wall is apparently finished, 16-meter-high (52-foot-high) gates must still be installed atop it, bringing the dam to its planned height of 139 meters (456 feet) and inundating many more villages in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Altogether, the dam will force the desultory and largely unplanned relocation of at least 300,000 people. In the process it will shatter numerous indigenous cultures.
Whoever wrote the story that Grist carried has succumbed to the propaganda of the Indian state of Gujarat, where the dam is located. Because of long delays that have plagued the dam’s construction, the state has been anxious to proclaim that both the dam and the irrigation canal connected to it are complete, but this assertion, like many others carried by Indian newspapers in the last few days about the dam, is far from true. Indeed, completion of the dam alone may take another two years.
Re: Poison Penn
Thank you to Grist for covering the Pennsylvania mercury-rule saga. This critical state rule will of course go well beyond the ineffective industry-loving federal rule, protecting public health and wildlife from toxic mercury pollution. Grist’s coverage gets it mostly right, but it was slightly inaccurate, however.
You mentioned that the Legislative Reference Bureau was siding with the state Senate. In fact, the position of the majority of the Senate has changed radically since they voted in June 2006 on the matter, and this move by the LRB was unsanctioned by them. It was specifically requested by two state senators — Sen. Mary Jo White (R) and Sen. Robert Jubelirer (R) — and is being challenged by the governor’s office as being well beyond the LRB’s authority. The Senate had the opportunity to challenge the mercury rule at the end of the legislative session and did not; the additional time for review is under dispute and is being pushed by (again) Sen. White. So, there is not really harmony between the entire Senate and the LRB on this matter.
Between June and December 2006, many senators changed their positions as modifications were made to the state rule, and as nearly 11,000 Pennsylvanians submitted comments in support of the rule (only 37 were against!). This, by the way, was a state record (next highest was about 5,000 comments).
Thanks for your fantastic coverage, as always! Just wanted to clarify what I think is an important point.
Heather Sage, Director of Outreach
Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)
Umbra’s well-worded column in response to the sushi rebuff was fantastic! The harder I push my friends and coworkers, the more they tend to resist all of my ideas.
The solution is about alternatives, not abstinence. Heck, even priests have a problem with that!
Love the column. Please keep up the great work!
Thank you for your refreshing, insightful, and downright funny Ask Umbra column. I get tremendous enjoyment, lots of handy facts, and a great resource to refer friends to when preaching the green way of life. I’ve had several friends interested in global climate change and I’ve sent them your way to research more information. Without fail, they let me know that they started out reading one or two columns, then spent hours trolling the archives. Thank you for the work you do.
Palo Alto, Calif.
I am continually pleased with Grist — great stories, quality writing, and humor on top of it. I love that Grist takes pains to give credit where it’s due and is not as cynical as other environmental groups. When some corporate giant says it’s going green, Grist gives them credit for trying, points out what’s good about it, and interviews an executive, all the while encouraging them to do more, rather than just label it “greenwashing” and never give them a positive word of encouragement. I know this is a simplistic description, and of course, if it were that simple, it wouldn’t be as good. But Grist seems to find the good news everywhere, without minimizing the bad. Grist is simply my favorite source of environmental news, and one of the few e-newsletters that I actually read every week, and look forward to! It is well worth my time.
When are you going to have “sexy eco-geek” personals as part of the site? At the very least, you ought to be able to do some fundraising by auctioning off dates with the staff and/or associated hot, mindful, lusty earth-savers.
They could even involve some sort of shameless do-gooderism. Hell, you could start a trend of going dutch on a coastal garbage pickup or a paper products protest, like one of those abstinence pledges for teens, except you get to do it as soon as you’ve done your good deed(s).
New York, N.Y.
Editor’s note: My, how we love good deeds. Especially shameless good deeds. And we support readers doing as many of them as possible. There probably won’t be a personals section any time soon (though we are considering starting one), but you’ve got our email address if you want to come, ahem, plant some seeds with us.