Readers talk back about school choice, organic rules, bike commuting, and more
If we could only make politicians and multinational firms understand the direct relation between forest clear-cutting and floods, we might be able to prevent — or at least reduce — the damage caused by tropical storms and hurricanes.
Hurricane Katrina is one good example of many stupid decisions leading to a huge calamity. But Katrina is only one of many such examples. Take the even more recent Hurricane Stan, for instance. Stan was incredibly strong, but damage could have been much less if it weren’t for the generous hand lent by loggers, farmers, and developers who have ripped away most of the original rainforests, cloud forests, and wetlands in most of southern Mexico.
Are hurricanes getting fiercer because of global warming? To some, that’s still arguable. What is not arguable is the fact that woods and wetlands hold on to excess rainwater, preventing flash floods, whereas barren ground does not.
Maybe we should take politicians and entrepreneurs back to primary school.
Mexico City, Mexico
It really disturbs me that Grist is promoting the right-wing idea of school choice. Please unsubscribe me. I’ll get my green information from a better source.
Theoretically, Daniel Akst’s position that school choice can help reduce urban sprawl appears sound, but in practice, it may cause more harm than good. In most districts with open enrollment, transportation for students to travel to their school of choice is not available. This lack of transportation essentially deprives poorer, inner-city students of choice, as their parents do not have the flexibility in working hours, the funds (especially now that the cost of transportation has risen so significantly), or the vehicles required to transport their children to the better quality schools in the suburbs. More affluent students will then flee inner-city schools for the suburbs, thereby amplifying segregation problems and likely causing the quality of inner-city schools to decline even further.
Instead, I strongly believe that by increasing school funding and the equity in its distribution, inner-city schools could hire better, more qualified teachers, improve facilities, and eventually improve performance. Once the performance levels of these schools begin to improve, people will begin to move back to urban areas, and segregation in the schools will decrease. Increasing funding, in contrast to initiating open enrollment policies, will provide a more permanent, sustainable, and fair solution to the existing problem and will eliminate the environmental and logistical problems associated with long commutes to schools in the suburbs.
Now, if only we had an administration that valued funding schools more than the ginormous-budget military …
Editor’s note: You can find lots more discussion about school choice and sprawl in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
Re: Cizik Matters
I enjoyed the interview with Richard Cizik and appreciate his call to Christians to behave as stewards of the earth. I found it ironic, though, that he cites “population control” as a wedge that divides green evangelical Christians and mainstream environmentalists. What issue could be more directly related to pollution, global warming, and resource consumption? If the billions of people on earth keep procreating at the rate they currently do, it won’t matter how much we recycle or conserve energy, resources, and water!
Re: Rank and Rile
So the anti-war protest — which, like the anti-war protests before it, has accomplished exactly nothing — is supposed to be evidence that an anti-global-warming protest will accomplish something?
The Organic Trade Association is trying to convince organic growers and consumers that my lawsuit will result in fewer organic ingredients used in manufacturing. Well, here are two cases where I detect a different outcome.
Stonyfield Farm has been saying that if their yogurt has to be labeled “made with organic ingredients” because of the synthetics it contains, then they will stop using organic fruit because it is more expensive. Well, if Stonyfield’s label says “made with organic milk” while Horizon’s says “made with organic milk and organic blueberries,” which one will consumers prefer? Is Stonyfield going to give up market share in order to save on the cost of ingredients? I doubt it.
One of my processed products is organic blueberry jam, which we formerly thickened with a type of pectin that is classed as synthetic by the National Organic Standards Board. So we will have to change our label to “made with,” or find a natural thickener. Guess what? Trials with organic apple pomace (which contains nearly all the natural pectin) are showing excellent results. So now organic cider makers have a new market for what they formerly discarded.
The moral of the story is that American ingenuity is not so dead as the OTA assumes. Whether the search for natural ingredients is done by large companies or small entrepreneurs, it will happen.
How can the Organic Trade Association call itself organic in the first place?
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Your article does a fine job of covering the politics of the situation, but doesn’t shed much light on the core issue, which is: what are all those ingredients, and what research has been done on their effects on humans? Where is the full list of the 39 ingredients that are being fought about? What are their track records? That’s what the fight should be about. Another article that talks about the core issue — what’s going on in our bodies, or could be, and why we should care — is in order.
One thing your story did not make clear is that the virus carried by horseshoe bats is not the SARS virus that infected people; it is separated by about 100 years’ worth of mutations. There is an intermediary stage — that is, it had to infect another animal and go through another mutation before it could infect humans. Humans cannot get SARS from bats. This is an important consideration, since China engaged in wholesale slaughter of wild civet cats before it was discovered that they were not harboring the disease. There is a great fear among bat workers that the horseshoe bat and other species will suffer the same fate at the hands of “health officials.”
The general public really does not understand disease transmission from wildlife to humans. The article’s point that it is human activity that causes these diseases to arise is a very good one, but it is important that details get spelled out as well. For instance, I just got an email alert that suggested that migrating birds will bring avian flu to the United States this fall. Never mind that wild birds don’t migrate from Asia to North America!
Director, Bat World NOVA
Re: The Wheel Deal
I just read your advice about the risks of commuting via motor vehicle vs. those of bicycling. Indeed, cyclists generally ride in a zone in which pollutants are less concentrated. Unfortunately, you did not take into account that a cyclist, due to his/her much slower speed than a motor vehicle, will be exposed to the pollutants for a much longer period of time. The cyclist is also likely to breathe more deeply and more rapidly, thereby markedly increasing lung exposure to pollutants. I believe that in the course of the same commute in traffic, a cyclist will be exposed to more nasties than a motor-vehicle occupant.
You also failed to address the issue of the huge risk to the cyclist in the event of a collision with a car. A cyclist has zero protection and has a much longer period of exposure due, again, to his/her slower speed.
I have a wonderful recumbent bicycle that I’d love to ride to work, but I continue to use motor vehicles because I want to stay alive and I don’t want to be exposed to exhaust for 45 minutes rather than 15. Too much risk. I hope to move to a more bicycle-friendly community someday and I am encouraged by efforts in my current community to improve cycling conditions.
I enjoy reading your advice and you usually are right on the mark. You missed this time.
Re: The Wheel Deal
I agree that the position of lungs is the most important factor [in determining how much pollution is inhaled while cycling on roads]. During an environmental monitoring course, my students and I tested the air in Warsaw City riding three types of bikes. The first was a mountain bike, on which one’s body is stretched along the bike’s frame so you almost suck the smog from the exhaust pipe of cars. The second was a racing bike — even worse than the mountain bike, as one’s face is even lower. The third was a four-speed where the seat is slightly lower than the handles. The results were as follows: if you put your head 0.6 meters higher, you inhale 23 percent less of the bad stuff.
I just read your article on Whole Foods’ plans to open a lifestyle store in Santa Monica and your article on Green Drinks. I found it rather offensive that you were sarcastically critical of those who patronize Whole Foods while seeming fully supportive of those who would be meeting to economically support Coors, Budweiser, or Seagram’s with a drink to toast their ecological consciousness. As someone who lives in a remote rural area far from a Whole Foods and as a non-drinker, neither of these stories strike a particular personal chord, but I think the self-righteous holier-than-thou attitude is neither cute nor productive.
How deliciously ironic, the title to your summary on state governors and saving fuel. Here in Illinois, our intrepid governor saves resources by not occupying the mansion — he just flies home to his family in Chicago every night!