Cut from Different Cloth

Re: Kid Commando

Dear Editor:

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I usually love your magazine, but I was disappointed by your column on diapering options. I think it’s great that you educated people about “elimination communication,” but this is a challenging technique, as you described, so not many parents are likely to be willing or able to do it. I was really disappointed that you made no effort to dispel the writer’s myths about cloth diapering. These days, one can use cloth diapers that close with velcro and are just as easy as disposables. And cloth diapering only requires 2-3 extra loads of laundry a week. It’s really, really easy, and better for the environment than disposables, unless perhaps you live in a desert with no water for washing and lots of landfill space. I suggest you learn more about modern cloth diapering so you can give your readers information about an easy, environmentally friendly modern parenting option.

To learn more, check out these websites: Diaper Pin, Cut of Cloth, and The Diaper Hyena.

Amara Brook


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More on Infant Excreta

Re: Kid Commando

Dear Editor:

If any readers want further info on the topic of reducing diaper use through infant potty training, here is a comprehensive webpage that includes translations into many languages, including Spanish and Chinese.

I’ve been researching, mentoring, and advocating this method for 25 years and am glad you mentioned it.

Laurie Boucke

Boulder, Colo.



Re: Meghan Houlihan, Greenpeace

Dear Editor:

I really enjoyed the series of articles on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. I was recently in Puerto Mott and Punto Arenas and know what a beautiful and pristine environment Patagonia is. Bravo and best wishes for success. Keep it up with the protests and articles!

Lesley Stansfield

San Francisco, Calif.


Passion for Passive, No. 1

Re: Letter Rip

Dear Editor:

In response to Solar Skeptic No. 2 from “Letter Rip”: Inexpensive solar-heated houses are already very affordable if you go the passive route. Design your home with lots of insulation, and put all the glass windows (assuming you selected a site with a view to the south) on the south side, with overhangs to shade the windows in the summer. All in all, this costs approximately 10 percent more than “regular” construction, but the solar input on winter days and the insulation quickly repay any difference. Of course, there’s more to it — single, double, or triple paned glass? This depends upon your local climate. Air conditioning? It won’t run very much if you’re well-insulated and turn off lights when you leave the room, etc.

I can’t understand why people get so hung up on active solar (which is complex and expensive), when passive solar is only common sense. Please look into passive-solar designed houses. I’m an engineer, and we designed and had our dream home built, and yes, it truly worked.

Tom Wood

Columbia, Mo.


Passion for Passive, No. 2

Re: Letter Rip

Dear Editor:

I have spent 30 years researching the cost and performance of solar energy. The most cost-prohibitive form of solar energy is flat plate photovoltaics (PV) on residential roofs. There are many other types of solar energy that are cost-effective compared to fossil fuels, but not PV. I live in an all-electric home deep in the forest near cloudy Seattle — a comfortable passive-solar house. When the sun shines, the house collects and displaces 20 kilowatts of electric power with simple windows costing less than $5,000. Making 20 kW with PV would have cost more than $100,000.

The energy required to make flat plate PV is not recovered by PV output for at least seven years, and often never recovered. The PV industry uses surplus scrap silicon, which is in limited supply. Expanding flat-plate PV purchases will require the PV industry to make new silicon, greatly increasing costs. However, “solar concentrator photovoltaic cells” (CPV) are small, high-intensity PV in the focus of glass mirrors. Energy metrics are in months rather than years. At $1 per watt, CPV will be very competitive with coal power.

The most promising solar energy systems are under development in Northern Europe. These systems use solar hot water and industrial waste heat to power district heating systems. The ground is used for “seasonal heat storage.” Large, low-cost installations recover 90 percent of the heat one year after storage, making whole cities energy self-sufficient for heat and hot water.

Why does the media promote cost-prohibitive and expensive home-solar energy schemes while ignoring the cost-competitive community systems? Solar energy costs less than coal, and solar collectors cost less than coal power plants.

Doug Wood

Organic Sunflower Foundation

Fox Island, Wash.


Grist: Bringing Families Together

Re: Powers That Be


Dear Editor:

There are a few Griscoms in Massachusetts who have been reading Amanda’s writings with admiration and delight. We are burning with curiosity to know where she fits in the family tree — all Griscoms descend from Andrew, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1680.

My husband is convinced that Andrew changed his name on the boat, since there is no record of from whence he came, and no Griscoms in the British Isles (if you accept as evidence the fact that there are no Griscoms in the London telephone book).

Since we agree wholeheartedly with Amanda’s slant on current events, we would love to claim her as fourth cousin twice removed, even if she turns out to be a Grillinghofundgebelstein who changed her name. I am Joanna Starr Griscom, married to Nathan Thorne Griscom, of Quaker and farming descent.

We will await an answer anxiously.

Joanna Griscom

Lexington, Mass.

Editor’s note: We’re pleased as punch to report that Amanda Griscom, illustrious author of our Muckraker and Powers That Be columns, is indeed related to Joanna and her clan. They’ve been corresponding and planning a family reunion. It really is a small world, and here at Grist, we’re happy to be making it a little smaller. And greener.



Re: Letter Rip

Dear Editor:

Fellow reader Jeff Hoffman wrote recently describing the positions Dennis Kucinich has taken regarding the U.S. military, logging and ranching policy, and landfills as the most environmentally friendly positions taken by any of the candidates. I agree that he has taken very strong stands and I admire his convictions.

While I would like to see many of these dreams come true, I was too much of a realist to vote for Kucinich in the caucus. Many would bring up issues of electability, but let’s say he would become president if he became the Democratic candidate. How would we deal with that little body called Congress? While the president does have some important powers in this country, he is no king. A president can have whatever agenda he wishes, but if the Congress does not put a bill on his desk for a signature, the president cannot enforce his agenda through laws. Yes, there are executive orders and cabinet appointments that can make a difference, but without the support of Congress, an environmental agenda will not go very far.

Danelle Haake

West Des Moines, Iowa


High Praise for Low Carbs, No. 1

Re: How Low-Carb Should You Go?

Dear Editor:

In your article about low-carb dieting, the concern is raised that this will negatively impact the environment. It doesn’t have to. I have lost 64 pounds eating low-carb: lots of organic vegetables; nuts, nut-butters, and soy products; organic, free range, hormone- and antibiotic- free meats, eggs, and dairy products; and smaller amounts of whole grains and organic fruits. I buy from local farmers as much as possible. The Atkins program encourages eating whole foods and discourages heavily processed, convenience items. If those eating low-carb shop responsibly and demand high quality, humanely-raised meat balanced by vegetable proteins, this trend could improve farming practices.

Jennifer Burns

Kenosha, Wis.


High Praise for Low Carbs, No. 2

Re: How Low-Carb Should You Go?

Dear Editor:

First, if you really read the fine print of most of these [low-carb] diets, you will realize that a very significant portion of your diet must be “good carb” vegetables and salad. The fine print says, yes, eat more protein, but eat fewer processed carbs. The real fine print says eat real oats for breakfast instead of quick oats (which turns more quickly into sugar). The fine print says eat whole wheat bread instead of white bread (which turns more quickly to sugar). And, the fine print says, if you really want to fill up, eat lots of legumes and salads. In fact, most of the fine print for “high-protein” diets say you must have at least one salad every day with, yes, some protein on it and at least one meal with a substantial amount of vegetables a day. These diets also, by the way, call for less dairy, and they say now that your protein diet should include more fish, chicken, and smaller red meat portions. The reality is, we are being asked to eat some meat, but also to eat much more plant material than we ever did before.

By the way, it has worked for me for a year and a half. I eat fish two to three times a week, chicken and pork most of the time, beef occasionally, and large portions of vegetables (yes, vegetables) three times a day. I lost 30 pounds.

Dodd Galbreath

Nashville, Tenn.


High Praise for Low Carbs, No. 3

Re: How Low-Carb Should You Go?

Dear Editor:

Oh puh-leez! Barry Sears’ bestseller The Soy Zone came out four years ago! It’s absolutely easy to go low-carb on a vegan diet, and, as Sears notes, is much more healthful than other kinds of low-carb diets. I’ve been maintaining a 50-pound weight loss for over 16 years this way!

Please pass the edamame.

Alicia Bay Laurel

Kea’au, Hawaii



Re: Radhika Sarin, Earthworks

Dear Editor:

Coming from an organization that has campaigned against conflict diamonds, I am glad to see the launch of the “no dirty gold” initiative and that awareness is being created around mining, the environment, and potential or actual resource conflicts. While there is so much work to be done on the issue, I just want to highlight a positive initiative in Colombia called Oro Verde. We need large corporations to take responsibility, but we also need to create markets and standards for fair-trade resources that promote sustainable livelihoods.

Nikki Skuce

Smithers, B.C.


Going Dental

Re: Hot Spot and Bothered

Dear Editor:

I would like to comment on the mercury issue. If I am not mistaken, a lot of the mercury in the sea comes from dental surgeries when the stuff gets flushed down the sink. Amalgam fillings are more than 50 percent mercury. When people have mercury fillings removed, a lot gets vaporized and pollutes the air, some gets swallowed by the unfortunate patient, and the rest goes down the sink. Perhaps the odd chunk gets properly disposed of as the hazardous waste it is. There should be strict controls to check the contents of the wastewater coming from dental surgeries.

Mercury fillings also have important health implications. The stuff does leak out of fillings and goes into the body, including the brain, organs, and glands. The mercury mixes with your saliva and becomes methylmercury, which is even nastier stuff than “ordinary” mercury. Then you swallow it. Also, mercury passes from mother to baby, and as you pointed out, babies can have as much as 70 percent more mercury in their blood than their mothers. Despite this, I understand that dentists still place or (even worse) remove amalgam fillings from pregnant mothers. The removal of fillings results in a large increase in mercury in the blood, although less so when done using the precautions recommended by the International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology. However, I suspect that not many dentists follow this protocol.

So it seems likely that mercury toxicity mainly from the mothers’ fillings but also from environmental pollution may harm unborn babies. But also, dentists are still putting amalgam fillings in the mouths of children — a group who are particularly sensitive to the effects of mercury. It is thought that it can affect children’s development and may even cause or contribute to such problems as ADHD and autism.

It seems high time that dentists and dental associations took the issue seriously and put some serious effort into researching the alternatives. This would be better for our health as well as the health of the environment.

Jenny Kelso

Cagnes-sur-mer, France


Calling Paul on the Carpet

Re: Pauling Around

Dear Editor:

How could Paul Hawken fail to mention Interface, the carpet company, in his list of environmentally responsible companies? The CEO, Ray Anderson, read Hawken’s own book, The Ecology of Commerce, had a personal conversion experience to the cause of sustainability, and resolved to make his company the first environmentally regenerative one in the world. They’re well on their way — they recycle carpet, have cut emissions hugely, and so on. The story is all over the place. Interface should be on the list!

Grace Burson

New Haven, Conn.