Back to School, Craig

Re: Craig’s List

Dear Editor:

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Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson claims that abuse of science is one of the most “misbegotten” criticisms of the Bush administration. In the same Grist interview, he illustrated just how the administration commits such abuses.

In defense of the administration’s use of science, Manson argues that the role of science is to provide context for policies, and that policy makers need not be scientists to craft good policy. Both points are valid but irrelevant to the ongoing discussion over abuse of science. Neither the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) nor (a group of young scientists founded at Stanford) disputes such points. Both critique the distortion of science as it informs policy, not the content of policies. And neither group argues for scientific expertise from policy makers, rather from scientific advisors. By deliberately mischaracterizing complaints, the administration clouds the debate and misleads the public.

The administration does abuse science, in both policy-making and communication with the public. As Craig Manson implements the Endangered Species Act, we trust him to portray conservation science and the logic of the act accurately. Instead, Manson repeatedly misrepresents conservation biology and undermines the law itself.

Regarding the possibly that “the loss of species in and of itself is inherently bad,” Manson claims that we don’t “know enough about how the world works to say that.” In explanation, Manson criticized the “orthodoxy” that “every species has a place in the ecosystem and therefore the loss of any species diminishes us in some negative way.” Manson assumes that species are not valuable if not valuable ecologically. This directly contradicts the ESA, which prominently states that species “are of aesthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.” Clearly, it is widely recognized that ecological value is only one aspect of the value of species. Rather than defend the values in the act he is charged to uphold, Manson denies them publicly, undermining the very purpose of the ESA.

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Equally disturbing is Manson’s misrepresentation of conservation biology. According to Manson, we “don’t know enough” to claim that heightened extinction rates are linked to human activity. Such a statement defies an overwhelming body of evidence that virtually all recent extinctions and endangerments have human-associated causes. This evidence is even more convincing now than it was in 1973, when the opening passage of the ESA stated, “various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development.”

It’s alarming that the man responsible for implementing the ESA undermines the act and the science supporting it. With such inexcusable conduct, he exemplifies the Bush administration, which uses underhanded tactics to misrepresent evidence and pervert public understanding.

Kai Chan

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.



Re: Craig’s List

Dear Editor:

Craig Manson admits that “everyone knows that habitat loss of is one of the key factors in the decline of species.” Then the double-talk begins.

My problem with him is the same as with the entire Bush administration. Their view is, “if we don’t know that something is a problem, we choose to continue on the present path.” This is an extremely dangerous approach to dealing with unknown, irreversible events (e.g., global warming).

It terrifies me to live under an administration that assumes short-term corporate profit is more important than anything in the only natural world we have. We are at war with the natural world. But how do we define the winner?

Tom Wood

Columbia, Mo.


Rationality: Kind of a Drag

Re: From Here to Economy

Dear Editor:

One question: How do eco-socialists plan to shift the capitalist paradigm? Will they run political candidates, a la Nader? Will they boycott corporations, a la GMO activists? And how does this help to influence mainstream decision makers, who already associate environmentalists with hopelessly idealistic notions? Where is there a socialist government that has worked — ever? We have a limited time frame to effect some change on this planet and we need to subvert the destruction that is taking place. We will not succeed if we are not rational.

Alison Wise

San Francisco, Calif.



Re: I Was a Teenage Polluter

Dear Editor:

Though I believe you are very well-intentioned, I found your advice to Brad about his girlfriend’s 14-year-old daughter totally off base and disturbing. Throwing trash out the car windows and on the street is disgusting and unacceptable for a person of any age, but what concerned me more was the fact that this 14-year-old was smoking cigarettes and pot and drinking vodka. Hello? This sounds like much more than a disregard for the environment.

Your advice: “You, too, must take the pill of chill. Close your eyes and think back to being 14.” I think you would have been wise to recommend that they get this girl into therapy — it sounds like there are some major issues there.

Also, if the mother and boyfriend are trying to “persuade her to act more responsibly” rather than setting limits and imposing reasonable consequences, life will only get more difficult as they go on.

This group needs serious help, not a chill pill.

Amy Todisco

Huntington, Vt.


Mike Check One, Two

Re: I Was a Teenage Polluter

Dear Editor:

Thanks for responding to my letter. I wrote a response on my website. The Utne magazine quote really speaks volumes.


St. Paul, Minn.



Re: Join the Club

Dear Editor:

Although the damage has already been done, I simply must write to correct the lies and misinformation broadcast by the Sierra Club during the recent board of directors election. It has been extremely frustrating to read progressive media source after progressive media source regurgitating the slander the club put forth about some very qualified candidates. The elitist, circle-the-wagons attitude the club took toward reformers casts a poor light on the board and staff’s real agenda: maintaining the status quo of bringing in a lot of money while doing very little real work.

Yes, there were a couple of candidates who have stronger opinions on population control than the club, but there were also other candidates seeking to reform the good-old-boy club, who wanted the club to take a stronger stance on wildlife and animal issues. The statements the club put out, especially the nasty letter inappropriately mailed along with the ballot, mischaracterized everyone who was not part of the club’s inner circle as an outsider, labeling them racists, regardless of what their issues were. The activism and good work of talented, passionate people was maligned in an overt political attempt to sway the membership. The overwhelming vote in favor of the staff’s handpicked candidates does not reflect the qualifications of the successful candidates. It merely shows how effective dirty politics can be.

If the environmental community cannot get past such cliquish snobbery, then we are in serious trouble. I’ve never been a big fan of environmental groups that are quick to sell the farm in order to claim a political victory, but I generally keep my opinion of such “light green” groups to myself. The Sierra Club, however, has gone too far this time, and its dishonesty reflects poorly on its staff and board.

Stephanie Tidwell

Salt Lake City, Utah


The Logarithmic Blues

Re: Come On, Feel the Noise

Dear Editor:

Amanda Griscom notes that four-stroke snowmobiles reach “a noise level of 111 decibels during acceleration. That’s more than 25 percent higher than the 85-decibel level at which medical experts advise the use of hearing protection.” That number (25 percent) would be accurate if the decibel scale was linear, but it is not — it is logarithmic. In fact, the sound intensity of a 111-decibel sound is about 400 times that of an 85-decibel sound.

That’s not a typo, and it’s not 400 percent — it’s 400 times. Note that sound intensity is not the same as the perceived “loudness” of a sound, which is also logarithmic; a typical listener would perceive a 111-decibel sound to be about 6 times as loud as an 85-decibel sound.

Just hate to see your great magazine “misunderstating” the hazards out there.

Ken Ferschweiler

Northwest Alliance for Computational Science and Engineering

Corvallis, Ore.

Editor’s note: Thanks for pointing out the error; we’ve made a correction.


Kyoto on the Rez

Re: Winona LaDuke, Honor the Earth

Dear Editor:

In her response to a question about the use of carbon trading to support clean energy projects, Ms. LaDuke says, “Honor the Earth is represented by Indigenous Environmental Network, and they have been steadfast in their opposition to ‘carbon trading.'” But Honor the Earth is working with a group called NativeEnergy, which is “buying ‘Green Tags’ to displace existing, polluting fossil-fuel generation and instead directing money into wind and solar energy.”

Make no mistake, the only difference between financing a renewable energy project with carbon credits and financing one with “green tags” is the name by which these commodities are known and the markets in which they are sold. Rejecting one of these market mechanisms, while simultaneously utilizing the other for personal gain, is quite simply hypocritical.

The concept of environmental credit trading applies equally to both carbon credits and green tags: Individuals invest in clean energy by way of purchasing a quantified “environmental attribute” (or bundle of attributes, as is the case with green tags). That investment is then funneled into the project to “buy down” the total project cost. The major problem with using carbon credits as opposed to green tags is simply the fact that there is no market mechanism (with a few small/regional exceptions) for buying and selling renewable-energy-based carbon credits in the U.S. In Europe, however, where E.U. leaders have committed to meeting their Kyoto targets regardless of whether the treaty is brought into force, there is a market. That market is already thriving, although it will not be formally kicked off until next year.

As members of a sovereign nation, the Indian people should have — in theory anyway — a right to sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol and to participate in international carbon trading. Imagine if the Indian Nation were to do just that — Europeans would line up to invest in their renewable energy projects by way of purchasing the resulting carbon offsets, both to meet their own Kyoto targets and, more importantly, as a major slap in the face to Bush and his oil and gas buddies.

Amy Ellsworth

Boulder, Colo.