That’s Some Good Coffee
Ashley Parkinson’s column has inspired me, my wife, and a friend to place our first-ever order for shade-grown coffee. After reading her column, all three of us are committed to buying environmentally friendly coffee. Please pass along our kudos for the fine piece of journalism.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
I wanted to suggest that perhaps the author should pursue having ideas about socially conscious coffee-buying dropped into the Cafe Nervosa chit-chat in “Frasier” (which is supposedly set in Seattle) and in “Friends” during scenes at the Central Perk.
I know it is easier said than done, but a few soundbites here and there may actually help.
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
While reading Books Unbound, I clicked on the title of Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic and found myself on Amazon.com. I was forced to stop for a moment to consider the irony of this: There I was, trying to pursue information on a book that criticizes consumerism, and finding myself delivered to the doorstep of a corporate giant. I know that this irony, as usual, is not lost on you — I saw “Steal This Book” at the top of the page, and it made me giggle.
I encourage Grist to once again break the mold by refusing to link book titles to Amazon.com.
Thanks for hearing me out and for providing some of the best, most multifaceted, and interesting environmental news out there.
Editor’s note: We agree! At the time that we set up our Books Unbound section, Amazon.com was the only company that consistently had the books we were reviewing in stock and available for purchase over the Internet. Whenever possible we are now using Powells.com, the website of an independent bookstore in Portland, Ore. When a book is not available at Powells.com, we will continue to use Amazon.com — but we certainly encourage our readers to support local, independent bookstores in their communities and around the world.
Re: Whistle Stop
I live in a community that has a Superfund site. For approximately seven years, members of my community have tried to encourage Region IV of the U.S. EPA to do the right thing by cleaning up the site. Unfortunately, huge corporate dollars are at work in my community and state. Political strings are being pulled throughout Region IV and the people and the environment in the entire southeastern United States are at the mercy of unscrupulous people who are governed not by their conscience but by their greed.
Because all efforts failed to reach an appropriate remediation for our superfund site, we contacted the EPA’s National Ombudsman’s office. Fortunately, Robert Martin and Hugh Kaufman had not yet had their wings clipped. They came to our city, where town meetings were held and testimony was heard. The heat was now on the EPA. Their lies and covert actions were made public. Where is this story leading, you ask? To a stand still. EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman has pushed the Ombudsman’s office within centimeters of the trash compactor. As a result, Martin and Kaufman are stuck in limbo.
My community and many others like it need prudent oversight in toxic waste remediation. It will not happen as long as biased people are placed in positions of power where they are allowed to change the rules for their profit, while the rest of us suffer the consequences. Robert Martin is a just man. He was doing his job honorably and justly. He should be allowed to return to his position. His office should be appropriately funded. His chief investigator should be reinstated. Period.
Tarpon Springs, Fla.
Re: Planet Safe
This one had me in tears almost from the beginning. I’m definitely sending it on. Many thanks for letting us know about it!
Silver Spring, Md.
Just writing to register my opinion on the satire “Rainforest Crunch Time,” to counter those letters that took exception to the piece. I liked the piece; I appreciate the use of satire to ridicule such deserving targets as the criminal invasion of Afghanistan and George W. Bush, the most dangerous fool of a president who was never elected. The satire was especially appropriate given the Bush administration’s regressive attitude toward environmental protection.
Satire has always served the useful function of helping to salve and diffuse just the sort of anger fueled by such gross injustice perpetrated by this band of madmen. (A term I use consciously, because this administration is so heavy in testosterone.)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Not only an excellent and useful analysis of Bjorn Lomborg’s book, but also a stimulating discussion in the letters section afterward. However, I would like to correct one major misconception raised by William Rees of Vancouver. He was simply wrong as far as photovoltaics go when he said: “Furthermore, some much-touted alternatives — biomass ethanol and full-scale photovoltaic installations, for example — are net energy sinks, not sources.”
The fact is that photovoltaic (PV) systems are net energy sources. Several careful studies have confirmed that the net energy payback period for PV systems is actually quite short. For the single crystal PV technologies the energy payback period is four years or less. For the newer thin-film technologies — which are rapidly increasing their share of the market and seem to be the key technologies for the bulk of PV market expansion — the payback is 18 months or less.
While the market share of PV is quite small today, and thus prices are still fairly high, PV is growing at 30 to 40 percent per year. By the end of this decade, PV will be fully economic for grid-connected applications in most of the U.S. and be a significant and growing part of our energy supply. This is not some “green dream” but the results of a well-thought-out commercialization effort. Here at SMUD (Sacramento’s municipal utility), we already have over 10 megawatts of PV in over 1000 installations on our grid — and are adding more every day. We are already working with mass homebuilders to offer energy-efficient homes with PV energy roofs that have a yearly, net-zero energy consumption.
These are not esoteric demonstration homes, but homes for real people in standard subdivisions. What the Lomborgs of the world fail to realize is that the studies and warnings of environmental scientists are not wrong; taking them seriously and responding with sustainable solutions is what is making the difference.
Donald E. Osborn
Superintendent, Renewable Generation Sacramento Municipal Utility District
David M. Nemtzow writes:
We must give Lomborg his due, because he is correct; but we should also give him our sympathy, because he’s expending a great deal of energy to counter an argument that hardly anyone is making anymore — not the Sierra Club, not the Alliance to Save Energy … not even the Club of Rome. We all recognize that there are enormous reserves of crude oil, coal, natural gas, shale oil, and uranium, and that the world will continue to find them for decades or centuries to come.
At the same time, there is a general consensus in the current literature I am acquainted with concerning a likely peak in world oil production within the next decade or two, as we cross the “half-way mark” in the consumption of original reserves. Examples are C. J. Campbell’s “The Coming Oil Crisis” (short form in Scientific American, 1998), and, more recently, Princeton professor Kenneth S. Deffeyes’s Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage. There are at least a half-dozen other books that draw the same conclusion. Campbell and Deffeyes are both knowledgeable in the field, having spent years in the oil industry as well as in academia.
Their statements are grossly inconsistent with Nemtzow’s assertion that there are “enormous reserves.”
What am I missing?
Donald E. Groom
Senior Scientist, U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
Fellow, American Physical Society
While the entire human enterprise appropriates more than 30 percent of Net Primary Productivity, as Sawin has stated, the situation in the United States and Canada is much more serious.
The U.S. Department of Energy determined in 1981 that 258 million Americans (the population at that time) used 40 percent more fossil energy than the total energy captured each year from the sun by all of the plant life in the country. So there was more than 100 percent appropriation of NPP equivalents just for the fossil fuels used — to say nothing of the other appropriations.
Durham Bridge, New Brunswick, Canada