A Real Beal Feel

Re: Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now

Dear Editor:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Deron Beal here, founder guy of the Freecycle Network. I’ve read a whole lot of articles about us and have been interviewed for even more. The only other article that even got close to Ms. Nijhuis’ “hitting the nail on the head” in tone and content was the one in The New York Times. I just felt I needed to pass on kudos to Michelle Nijhuis, even if I can’t pronounce her name …

Deron Beal

Tucson, Ariz.

The Freecycle Network

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.


It’s the Driving, Stupid

Re: Tax On, Tax Off

Dear Editor:

In her column advocating higher gasoline prices — an idea with which I fully agree, though the price of gasoline should be around $15/gallon in order to help mitigate the damage caused by driving — Amanda Griscom fails to point out that even more than lack of fuel efficiency, Americans consume so much gas because they drive far too much.

Ms. Griscom’s failure to discuss the needed lifestyle change (i.e., a major reduction in driving) is, unfortunately, mirrored in virtually every other forum, column, and article that discusses this issue, even those speaking from a supposedly environmental point of view. There are two problems with myopically focusing on fuel efficiency.

First, roads, by their mere existence, are very environmentally destructive. They fragment ecosystems, create unnatural barriers to wildlife, and cause massive soil erosion, even without being driven upon! The less driving a society does, the fewer roads it needs, and thus the less environmental destruction it causes by building and maintaining roads. Furthermore, fewer roads create more wilderness and space for wildlife.

Second, the concept of increased fuel economy plays well into the idea that people can have their cake and eat it, too. However, this universe does not allow for doing that, and it’s well past time that Americans wake up to the fact that their driving everywhere — caused by selfish choices in where to live, work, and shop, and another selfish choice to drive instead of using a more environmentally friendly mode of transport — is destroying the earth, not only by the creation of roads, but also by consuming oil, which causes destruction of ecosystems (by drilling and spilling, both on land and in water) and pollution of the atmosphere that all species need to survive.

What is needed for real change is nothing short of the elimination of suburbs and other “bedroom communities,” replacing them with communities where it is not difficult to walk, bike, and take public transit to work, shopping, school, and other regular activities. Instead of surrounding our cities with suburbs, they should be surrounded by agricultural land, used to grow food and other plants to sustain the cities. If that agricultural land were surrounded by wilderness, the earth would be in a lot better shape than it is currently.

Jeff Hoffman

San Francisco, Calif.


It’s the Social Class, Stupid

Re: Tax On, Tax Off

Dear Editor:

Sen. John Kerry may be stepping away from the gas-tax idea in order to secure votes from the SUV-driving Democratic moderates out there, but there are other perfectly rational reasons why an increase in the gas tax would be bad. The bottom line is that it hurts the poor and the middle class — people like me, who make $24,000 per year, and who are living paycheck to paycheck, and those who are not quite making it paycheck to paycheck, for whom every dime counts. It is these people who will be most affected by a gas tax — people making ends meet, with bad credit, already driving fuel-efficient cars because they can’t afford SUVs anyway, but neither can they afford a new hybrid car that could warrant a tax break.

The gas tax is not a fair tax. Those who can afford Hummers can afford whatever gas tax you throw at them, as can other SUV drivers, and new-car owners for the most part. It is not a fair tax because the government, whether federal, state, or local, has not worked hard to provide alternative forms of transportation. Taxing gas would be putting the cart before the horse, and it would be making innocent everyday people suffer through economic hardship before making things better. Relying on markets to change due to individual demand generally causes hardship for certain groups when there is no government-subsidized alternative for ordinary people.

I support major action on this issue of course, but not in this way. We should not all be punished for the actions of a few individuals, and everyone should not bear an equal burden, like a flat gas tax, when we are not all equally contributing to the problem. There are better ways to get people off their gasoline addictions.

Mary McClellan

Greensboro, N.C.


It’s … Just Stupid

Re: Gas Trick Distress

Dear Editor:

I just read the Daily Grist feature about Commerce Secretary Evans’ comments. This is typical of the administration’s logic on environmental issues: (1) there’s a problem with an element that relates to environmental regulation, (2) the problem has a variety of solutions, but (3) the administration chooses the one that weakens environmental protections and favors the industries that have consistently provided major donations to the decision makers.

This is a scam. It is best not to play along. The U.S. does not need a new refinery, and it doesn’t need to weaken air-quality standards or reduce the number of special gasoline blends. What is the average fuel-economy rating of vehicles in the U.S.? Why doesn’t the administration promote, say, a 15-percent increase in the overall average vehicular-fleet fuel economy? This would have the effect of reducing the demand for (and the price of) gasoline, most likely by more than the output of said new refinery. Perhaps the country could even get by with fewer refineries.

What is wrong with the picture is that the country has a bunch of oil profiteers making decisions about energy. Evans’ proposal is just another example of the administration torquing the facts to make them fit the industrial agenda. The rest of us might not think that driving more efficient vehicles and buying less gasoline is such a bad thing.

Chad Roberts

Davis, Calif.



Re: Roll on, Colombia

Dear Editor:

Thank you for bringing to light a topic and a people I am ashamed to say I did not know existed. In mainstream media, I have never encountered the fascinating existence of the Afro-Colombian culture. I find that fact amazing, and, of course, sad.

Ms. Nijhuis’s article and interview with Libia Grueso impacted me in a way I haven’t been touched in some time. Ms. Grueso’s persistent joy, in a fight that could so easily infuse bitterness and hatred into her life’s outlook, is inspirational. She puts one foot in front of the other and keeps on keeping on, but without rancor or ugliness. She seems to personify the adage, “Light a candle, and don’t curse the darkness.” What a woman! She is the sort I hope I can use to teach my own four children courage and joy in the face of the gargantuan monsters that exist in this world, monsters like corporate greed, power hunger and abuse, and progress of the evil kind — the kind that takes from others and from the earth.

Jenny Stevens

Richmond, Va.



Re: What Can Brown Do for You?

Dear Editor:

It is springtime in Vermont, and dairy farmers are liberally spraying thousands of gallons of previously lagooned manure on their (often riverside) fields. In light of the ever-present odor, it occurred to me that I have never seen a milk-to-poop ratio. I was happy to find a clue in the article about methane-powered California dairy farmer Albert Straus. For the last month or so I have been looking for the pounds of manure per cow figure that was presented in this article — 120 pounds of manure per cow, per day. The average annual milk production per dairy cow in Kentucky was just over 13,000 pounds in 2002 (which, I might add, is up from 4,000 pounds per year in 1952, see here [PDF]). At 120 pounds of manure per day, I calculated a manure-to-milk ratio of approximately 3.3:1.

Imagine the day when next to the “RBGH-free” and “organic” sticker on our milk jugs sits a sticker proclaiming, “By purchasing this milk, you are responsible for 27 pounds of cow poop.” Or better yet, in Grist style:

Yummy milk tastes good
Why is there an algae bloom?
Manure fallout

Shane Lishawa

Burlington, Vt.


Compost Facto

Re: What Can Brown Do for You?

Dear Editor:

As much as I appreciate the elegance of using cow manure to generate electricity, there is a blindingly obvious use for cow excrement that was not mentioned: compost. Animal manure of all kinds is simply embryonic dirt — incredibly rich and valuable dirt.

That our supposedly sophisticated farming system cannot figure out ways of getting the gallons of animal waste produced in one place back onto the soil, thus replacing the topsoil that washes into the Mississippi River by the ton, is both pathetic and insane. It is ridiculous that animal waste accumulates to the extent that it has to be processed into energy by a complex mechanism. It should be processed into soil by letting it rot.

This is why more and more farmers are realizing the sense of having mixed farming, with both animals and plant crops on the same land, so that crop wastes are fed to animals (instead of wastefully burned) and thus partly processed into useful compost. If you’re really lucky you can have wind turbines in the pastures too, thus saving the energy you would get from fossil fuel or processed cow muck.

Grace Burson

New Haven, Conn.

Editor’s note: Our article on USDA changes to federal organic standards elicited a flood of responses, of which the letter below is representative. As our readers should now know, public outcry led the USDA to rescind the changes on May 26. Your voices make a difference.



Re: Organic: Friend or Faux?

Dear Editor:

I find it appalling and morally criminal that the USDA, the regulatory agency entrusted with monitoring the quality and health of our country’s food supply, is undermining the high standards the organic community fought to put in place — and doing it under the covers with corporate industrial agribusiness. The tactic of refusing to face public scrutiny while substantively undermining the will of the public is again being used by the Bush administration. President Bush claims to have the welfare and safety of our nation as his highest priority, but is undermining the safety of our food supply better than any terrorist organization could.

Kathy Ruopp

Chicago, Ill.