Re: Better Living Through French Fries

Dear Editor:

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This is a great story and I’m glad that more folks will be educated about biodiesel, but you missed an even better point. There is another alternative to processed biodiesel: straight vegetable oil. No need to add lye or methanol or anything else. Just filter and pour it into the tank. We did a simple conversion to our diesel Golf (costing less than $300) and now we are running on used vegetable oil from our local restaurant. We take the used oil, heat it to make sure there is no water left, filter it, pour it into our second tank, and start the car. This is much simpler than trying to figure out the exact proportions for producing biodiesel, and much cheaper than making biodiesel at home or buying it at the pump. Pass the word.

Natalie McIntire

Port Townsend, Wash.

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Re: Better Living Through French Fries

Dear Editor:

I read any progressive news on biodiesel with pleasure. In the paragraph on drawbacks, though, I believe Clifford was misinformed. Biodiesel coagulates at cold temperatures, but so does petrodiesel, with a difference of just 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem with petrodiesel in cold climates has been handled effectively for years by using fuel additives; the same goes for biodiesel. As for the cost, the current price for biodiesel is between $1.40 and $1.60 per gallon, right on par with petrodiesel. (When I search for the downside of increased biodiesel, the one thing that comes to mind is increasing the demand for genetically modified soybean production.)

Charles F. Tipper

South Hero, Vt.

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Re: Think Tanks

Dear Editor:

How disappointing it is to see a major manufacturer putting aside its global responsibilities just because it can’t milk enough profit from a section of its business.

Even worse, and I speak as a European, is the fact that the Think Company of Norway was a thriving small business, selling its electric vehicles to the local Scandinavian market, before Ford came along and decided it wanted a piece of the action. What now of the workers, their families, and the owners of Think cars?

Chris C. Brookes

Bath, England


Re: Billy Clubbed

Dear Editor:

Your article on Ford ended by saying we need to strengthen the case that environmental protection is good for the bottom line. I think your summary shows exactly that. Innovest rated the environmental performance of the global automakers and found Ford to be below average.

In nearly every sector, companies with better environmental performance, taken as a group, outperform below-average companies in the stock market. This occurs mainly because environmental performance is a strong proxy for management quality, the primary determinate of stock returns.

Frank Dixon

Innovest, Strategic Value Advisors

New York, N.Y.


Re: If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit

Dear Editor:

How old is Elizabeth Sawin’s daughter? Can we look forward to more anguished, amusingly overwrought essays as her daughter needs more shoes, some socks, maybe, one day, some non-secondhand underwear?

I care about the environment and fair labor practices too, but this kind of pointless hand-wringing gives environmentalists a bad name.

Washington, D.C.

Shalini Ramanathan


Re: Nothing Doing

Dear Editor:

You indict the World Summit on Sustainable Development for its resolution on sanitation, quoting one observer as saying, “It’s good news if you don’t have a toilet or if you’re a fish. Otherwise, it’s nothing.”

An entire world of people are dying for want of potable water, and we sit in a country where high quality resources are used to flush toilets. A much stronger argument can be made for addressing the perils of poor water quality than can be made about endocrine disrupters, genetically modified crops, or other plagues of similarly minute proportions. Actual lives, not just statistical lives, are lost every day to water-borne illness in the developing world. There are an awful lot of people who don’t have toilets — and as a result, don’t have water that’s fit to drink or bathe in. They happen to represent a growing majority of the world’s population. Oh, and by the way, a lot of those people rely on fish as a primary food source.

The sad fact is, the “observer” you cite from Johannesburg is woefully out of touch, due either to her or his social status or her or his need to focus on the types of hot-button First World issues that keep the donations rolling in and fund his jet-setting to international environmental conferences. We’d all do well to remember that there are still an awful lot of people who never live long enough to die of cancer. They succumb to water-borne illness well before they can join the Sierra Club, hike in a wilderness area, or vote.

E. Myers

Alexandria, Va.


Re: Rush Fire

Dear Editor:

Don’t take, eh, umbrage at this, but I think Umbra was off track in a couple of respects in her answer to the question about Rush Limbaugh and forest fires. Not in saying (more or less) that Limbaugh is a big fat idiot. That’s true. But she erred in making the statement that “natural” forest fires are less destructive than human-caused ones.

It’s true that frequent, low-intensity fires are less destructive — but they’re seldom natural. Historically, the vast majority of those fires were not caused by lightning, but were set intentionally by native people as part of their subtle, sustainable, land management. Most of those fires were low-intensity and spared the big trees. But early non-native settlers and government officials didn’t understand the land management practices, and their response was driven in no small measure by a racist fear and dismissal of native people.

In much of the West, then, the first fire suppression started in the mid- to late 19th century with the repression of native people and their burning practices. Active fire suppression, with fire crews and so forth, didn’t get going until after 1910, and didn’t really become a massive operation until even more recently. Also, fire suppression wasn’t just implemented near settlements. We’ve pretty effectively snuffed out fires over most of the West for a long time, creating a huge build-up of fuels.

The important lesson, I think, is that both kinds of forests — the open, park-like forests that predominated before, say, 1890, and the choked-up tinder boxes that now characterize much of the Rockies — were the product of human management of the land. The choice is not between human and “natural” forests or forest fires, but between different ways to manage the land, and for what primary purpose — ecological health, or commodity production.

Thompson Smith

Charlo, Mt.


Re: Rush Fire

Dear Editor:

Debate is raging about who should be blamed for the “catastrophic fires” throughout the West, but people should be skeptical of the characterization of these fires as such. As Bush, Rush, Allan Fitzsimmons, and others bellow about Clinton policies and environmental groups, they throw acreage numbers around like they mean something. A 500,000-acre wildfire? Conjures up an image of 500,000 dead, ruined acres.

This is not the case. People should know that many of the fires are not on federal land, and that most of the acres included in total burn area figures were either passed over by the fire or were moderately or lightly charred and will bounce back quickly. In other words, these fires are largely taking care of forest thinning and fuel reduction for us. The feds should be concentrating on helping communities fire-proof themselves. Why do the president and others rage so about these fires? Because they know that, since most of us don’t see these burned areas or have a real sense of scale, they can paint an image of widespread destruction. And then they can follow that road all the way into the old growth.

Jeff Compton

Seattle, Wash.


Re: Tom Turner, Earthjustice

Dear Editor:

The statistics on how the amount we spend on certain luxuries would pay for education, sanitation, and food for the whole planet do speak volumes. These are powerful numbers, shocking and awful.

However, one subtle aspect of these statistics bears mentioning. The three luxury items singled out are:

cosmetics (read, women’s consumption)
ice cream (read, children’s consumption)
pet food (read, animals’ consumption)

Women, children, and animals’ luxuries are here marked as especially trivial and dispensable.

Where are the equivalent numbers for beer, or DVD players, or hunting paraphernalia, or pornographic magazines, or golf balls? (There numbers are probably much higher, anyway.)

The authors of these statistics assumed, probably without conscious thought, that these three items were safe to pinpoint as useless, because nobody who really matters was likely to object. Or, even worse, they assumed that the progressive audience is mostly male anyway and would be sure to get the point without feeling threatened.

And so it goes. Until the omnipresent male bias is routed from the progressive media, it will never disappear from mainstream politics — and until it is gone from politics, the situation on this planet is really unlikely to change very much.

Annie Finch

Cincinnati, Ohio