Readers sound off on green computing, ranching, and more
I wanted to commend you for making me smile today with your April Fools edition of the Daily Grist. After being outraged that the EPA would be folded into the Department of Homeland Security, I was excited about the ban on snowmobiles. I did think it was unusual that I was overly interested in all the pieces, but they were written so perfectly to resemble real news stories that I had no idea they weren’t true. Great job!
New York, N.Y.
That’s Not All We Slept Through
For those who slept through Biodiversity 101 in college, here’s an important fact: All other things being equal, species diversity is highest near the equator and lowest near the poles. Islands and areas that were not covered by glaciers during the most recent ice age also have comparatively more diversity. So, if the sole purpose of creating national parks and other protected areas is to conserve species diversity, the article you point to in Daily Grist is correct: We should focus on protecting lands in low latitudes (also where our most populous developing countries are located), islands, and mid-latitude glacial refugia, and forget about places like Alaska.
As someone who has a close relationship with the entity responsible for managing parks in Alaska, however, I have to take issue with this oversimplification of the problem. Parks and refuges do not exist merely to conserve individual species. They also serve to protect large natural systems, allowing us to observe how these systems work. For instance, inasmuch as global warming appears to disproportionately affect polar regions, the scientific benefits we gain from studying protected areas in these parts could be quite important for the rest of the planet.
The quality/quantity trade-off in habitat protection is not an obvious one. Instead of focusing on saving individual species one small parcel at a time, I believe we can only be successful if we start trying to protect whole systems, e.g., watersheds, glacial refugia, and island archipelagos. Whether we have the political will and economic resources to do this remains to be seen.
Decrease the Peeps
It is with much bewilderment that I reflect on the articles and letters surrounding the issue of the Sierra Club and the desire of new board candidates to stabilize the U.S. population. There seems to be more mushy-headed emotional posturing than clear-eyed, intellectually honest discussion.
It is a truism that Americans, by their high levels of consumption, create much larger ecological footprints than people of virtually any other nationality. Therefore, for the U.S. to become more sustainable, it simply follows that we should do three things: reduce our consumption, consume more environmentally benign technologies, and stabilize or even reduce our population. There is a limit to the pressure the U.S. can apply to effect change in nations with high population growth. We can, however, seek to immediately stabilize our own population, and thus become a model of sustainability in the world. This will give us more credibility on the international stage. It is simply logical that immigration levels be reduced to foster a stable population level.
Using the issue of race and labels of racism and nativism is an old smear tactic that anti-intellectual types use to stifle discussion. The issue is race-neutral, but some people simply think the U.S. is deficient unless it becomes more multi-ethnic like Brazil. These people are not conservationists or environmentalists in any sense. Rather, they simply fetishize multiculturalism and non-European ethnicities.
You Are the Thankedest
Your InterActivist series has been one of the most insightful, most educational, most interesting, and (playing on your use of “burningest”) “bestest” running features ever. Keep it up!
Fair Oaks, Calif.
I do wish Americans would get over stereotyping China and using it as their new scapegoat. Bill McKibben’s characterization of China as “a spewing, sprawling giant that the rest of the world must somehow coax into loose restraints” is ignorant at best. (At worst it goes back to the Hearst tradition of “yellow” journalism.) China has serious problems, but is committed to solving them. It is eagerly working toward a sustainable future, and does not need to be coaxed (the United States will not even listen to coaxing!).
If you want to criticize China, you should try to move beyond stereotypes and find out something about it. I attended a primary school English contest in Beijing last week, with some of the brightest children from nine cities around the country performing short original plays in English. Six of them had very strong environmental themes, much stronger than you would be likely to see performed at an elementary school in the United States.
Demonizing China may make Americans feel better about our own shortcomings, but does nothing to solve them.
Invasion of the Slashdots
I read your article (via Slashdot) and wanted to let you know that I too am a computer and electronics recycler. However, I refurbish them and put them back in service; I don’t break them down as trash. My website is systemrecycler.com.
Port Neches, Texas
Waste — not!
I just thought you should let residents who live in states other than California and Massachusetts know that they too should check with their local sanitation departments and solid-waste agencies about safe electronics recycling and disposal options. We may not all have landfill bans, but some of us do offer free collection events for “e-waste” and referrals to local resources that can help.
Public Information Coordinator
Solid Waste Agency of Lake County
Rock ‘n’ RULE
There’s a partial solution to the computer pollution problem: the volunteer, nonprofit RULE project. It customizes the more popular and up-to-date free desktop software so it can be installed and used even on stand-alone computers otherwise doomed to the dumpster.
RULE Project coordinator
I enjoyed reading your interview with Courtney White. It reminded me immediately of my time as an activist in another field, domestic violence, centering on how women’s violence toward their partners and children should be treated. Most of my activism has been in environmental issues, so I came with fresh eyes and had the temerity to look at polarized issues and assume that collaboration was not only possible but would be effective. I was surprised at the level of anger and scorn I met, and this was before I had shared any specific ideas. But many years later, the sides came together. It was often painful, but it led me to realize how deeply ingrained the competitive impulse is. The result sometimes reaches what collaboration was after, but at a tremendous loss of resources on the way. Oh, to apply more energy to the problems and less to the controversies! Courtney White is a brave man in a No Man’s Land (excuse the pun) and I wish him what he’ll need most: perseverance.
Courtney … uh … Not Love
Courtney White played dodge ball with the questions thrown at him. When asked about the waste of water to feed cattle, he just points out the obvious: that humans need to address other forms of water waste as well. On the compassion issue, he replied as expected, with another fallacy. Cats killing songbirds can be addressed by phasing out pet ownership — he cannot find a defense for cattle slavery by citing the behavior of a natural carnivore. And finally, I assume he must have watched Fiddler on the Roof recently, because I could almost hear him singing “tradition” in his efforts to claim that the fact that ranching, like human slavery, has been practiced for untold ages somehow justifies keeping it around. Until he or anyone else can prove human supremacy, I am afraid that cattle ranching is going to remain a blight on the planet for moral and practical reasons.
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
I was very interested to read the interview with Courtney White. I did find, however, that there was a painful paucity of information on sustainable grazing.
New Zealand and Australia, with their important wool industries, have long pioneered intensive management of grazing livestock. There is plenty of information on this subject, in various books, like Miguel Altieri’s unfortunately titled Agroecology. This is one Grist reader who is certain that “intensive” food production will become of paramount importance in the coming decades, right on par with the search for clean water. And this, of course, as opposed to the extensive systems (high land and energy use per unit of production) of crop and meat production we have now. I do believe the livestock growers down under have much to offer the northern hemisphere.
Beef With Courtney
Courtney White’s arguments only serve to distract attention from the fact that Americans are addicted to consumption of animal products in every form imaginable. He appears to believe that this is such an ingrained factor of our culture that it’s not subject to modification. I happen to believe otherwise. Health professionals worldwide are currently urging people of all ages to reduce their consumption of animal products, particularly beef. Further, it has been suggested by environmentalists for many years that world hunger could be alleviated if a substantial portion of citizens in “developed” countries would switch to a vegetarian diet or drastically curtail their use of animal-derived foods.
Thanks for your article on CAFE standards. This is obviously an important national campaign issue, and one of particular interest to Michigan.
You wrote: “cranking up automobile fuel-economy standards by 50 percent over the next decade … may be a good long-term mechanism for lowering gas prices.”
Your position is poorly informed. Long term, gas prices are not going to be lower, they’re going to be much, much higher. I completely understand why, given the uninformed citizenry and the vulnerability of both candidates to demagogic political attacks, neither candidate is informing the public about the relatively near-term prospect of oil depletion, but the independent press should be doing so. Yet despite substantial academic and industry weight behind predictions of a peak in world oil production not later than 2009, followed by permanent decline (at the same time that oil consumption is rocketing in China and India), the issue has received extremely meager coverage. The prospect of a catastrophic oil crisis in just a few years deserves coverage.
I offer you these references, which will in turn lead you to many others: oilcrisis.com, peakoil.net, Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage, and The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies.
eRideShare Inc., NFP