Nuking It Out
I have been religiously reading your spin on environmental news for about a year. I have gotten some good information from your mostly one-sided publication. You have a right to spread your information this way. It’s the American way. But I cannot sit here and allow you to blatantly scare people about nuclear power.
Nuclear power is by far the most efficient and reliable source of energy we have. Wind and solar generators would need thousands of acres to equal the output of a couple-hundred-acre nuclear plant. The amount of waste generated by a reactor in a year is the size of a car.
Since Sept. 11, the security at all energy facilities has been significantly increased. The statistics of the past decade have no bearing on what is going on today. Plus, the dangerous part of a nuclear plant is buried in more than four feet of reinforced concrete. The Germans had bunkers on Omaha Beach with comparable protection that naval cannons could not penetrate.
Re: How’s the Weather?, Heat Beat, by Leonie Haimson
I read with interest your pronouncements on 2002 as “the year without winter.” Even though our esteemed national publication, the Toronto Globe and Mail, proclaimed winter missing in action on March 8, it would seem it spoke too soon.
In the central prairies, this has been the coldest March in living memory, with only a few hints of temperatures above the freezing mark. Here in Winnipeg, the temperature was -24 degrees Celsius one morning and an astonishing -36 degrees Celsius in Edmonton. (Broke the record for coldest weather on that date by 7 degrees!)
Even the west coast of Canada, usually basking in the warmer Pacific winds, have snow and freezing temperatures late in the month; the last time this occurred before this winter was in 1951.
Understanding that regional variations do not invalidate the overall norm (i.e. a warmer planet), I would still think that this March will set records for cold in many parts of North America.
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
I am ashamed to be Southern today. The recent vote against increasing Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (Amendment 2997) makes me ill. I noticed that very few Southern senators voted for it!
I have lived in the South all of my life, and I can understand some of the mentality. I know that there is a school of thought that the government shouldn’t control what car you drive. I agree with that, but I would think that the “proud to be an American group” would jump on the chance to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. Yes, it would inconvenience some of our automakers. Big deal. It’s an inconvenience to fill up a car that only gets 14 miles to the gallon, too.
Thanks for the thought-provoking article. You would never see such a piece in the normal media. Our loss, that the world seems ruled by those who can’t see beyond today.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
This is exactly the type of article I wish I were able to write. For years, I have espoused True Cost pricing. These hidden costs can be the cost of replacement (how long does it take to grow a redwood?), of health care (what is the true cost of a pack of cigarettes?), the environment (are we certain that filling landfills with cadmium from batteries is safe?), or other, less obvious costs (how much does the envy instilled by some clothing advertisements cost in terms of societal well-being?). The article made the very positive contribution that we now have the technology to track some of these costs and itemize them for any given product.
Now, how do we find the will to accomplish this? Step by step, possibly starting with bananas.
If there is one issue that all environmentalists should support, it is True Cost and the Green Tax Shift. The vast majority of humans, being human, will buy the least-expensive product — especially when there is a lack of information about that product. Let’s put that information in the price system. Let’s True Cost.
How do we generate the political will to True Cost? By reducing taxes on things we want — like jobs — and placing those taxes (user fees, in reality) on things we don’t want, like pollution. Most people would be happy to lower their wage and income taxes — especially if it means a less polluted world and higher quality of life.
Through tax shifting, the true cost of pollution would be contained in the price of the product. The product price would contain the right information without the buyer having to know all the details. Products that pollute less, e.g. hydrogen fuel cells, would cost relatively less than the internal combustion engine. Bananas that use toxic pesticides would be priced higher because growers would be charged a fee, which they would then pass on to consumers.
Of course, tax shifting is easier said than done. However, many serious ecological economists are working on the details. The most important thing environmentalists can do right now is make True Cost and the Green Tax Shift household words. Voters who want to lower their income taxes will help do the rest.
I think I represent the good portion of people out there who have tried, in recent years, to purchase more organic products. We do it for various reasons — because the food tastes better, because we’re looking for more natural products in this processed age, and because we’ve heard something somewhere claiming that organic product manufacturers are more respectful of their workers and the environment.
On behalf of the population I represent, I wish this article had more facts from reliable sources intermingled with the preaching. We look to publications like yours to help steel our resolve to go organic and push us beyond “I heard something somewhere.”
It’s complicated to answer the question of why organic foods cost so much because one has to include the many ways that society subsidizes conventional agriculture — not only through federal payment programs, but also in environmental cleanup of the damage done by conventional practices.
What people really care about is what they pay at the supermarket. It concerns me that organic produce is viewed as food for the elite few who have enough disposable income to pay more — “yuppie food.” I always tell people to go to their local farmers’ market to avoid retail mark-up, but this is not a satisfactory solution to the overall problem.
Technical Program Coordinator
Organic Farming Research Foundation
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Outstanding series for me and for our church Social Action Committee to study as a model. I hope to see more of this kind of “information we can use” in Grist!
Re: Motley Fuel
Grist reports that diesel-powered vehicles are bad news. My question is, compared to what?
My family drives two Volkswagen TDI Jetta diesels, each performing at 49 to 53 miles per gallon. Compared to SUVs like the Cadillac Elephante or the Lincoln Negatator, we are getting almost four times the miles per gallon of fuel. I can travel about 650 miles on 13 gallons — a single tank. One of these huge Smog Utility Vehicles will need about 45 gallons to cover the same distance.
So, smart guys, how much worse is diesel? Four times as bad? I don’t think so. The pundits need to provide a more thorough and meaningful analysis so consumers can make educated choices. I plan to get 300,000 miles out of my Jetta. My next car will be 100 percent powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Re: Motley Fuel
I was dismayed to hear of attacks on Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) for proposing bringing diesel engines back into the discussion of fuel efficiency and environmental quality.
I would like to know why I hear so little about biodiesel as an alternative fuel or eco-friendly additive. The fuel may still need perfecting, as it is more costly than petrodiesel right now and not yet 100-percent pollutant-free, but no one has shown to my satisfaction that this method of reclaiming the diesel engine for a clean atmosphere has been tried and found wanting.
Ruth G. Lewis
I feel it necessary to voice my disbelief in Eric Schaeffer’s decision to resign today. This former head of regulatory enforcement at the U.S. EPA would rather stamp his heels and yell, “I’m not playing with you anymore!” than fight the good fight. If this quitter was actually interested in environmental regulation and countering the undeniable influence of utility and energy industry lobbies for a sustainable economy, he would have stayed on to encourage U.S. interest in this campaign of disinformation and special interest politics.
I don’t doubt that making waves in a government agency can make one’s life very difficult; however, I feel sure that if he had encountered that kind of unfair executive leverage and blackmail he could have garnered far more popular sympathy and could have consequently stimulated a much more receptive audience in the American voting populous. His resignation seems spineless and will actually cause a backlash in the public against environmentalism.
Amelia Island, Fla.
Jessica McCallin’s two-part article on the Middle East water crisis is generally on the mark, pointing out severe discrepancies in per-capita water use, demand outpacing supply, and seemingly intractable political obstacles to sound water management. Unfortunately, however, in more than one instance, her reporting is either factually incorrect or misleading. Here are a few of the more noteworthy examples:
- McCallin writes that the Oslo II treaty between Israel and the Palestinian Authority “mandated zero reduction in the amount of water Israel was allowed to extract from the West Bank aquifers. Any additional water that the Palestinians needed was to come from new sources, not from a redistribution of existing sources.” This is false. Oslo II neither mandates zero-reduction in Israeli extractions nor bans the redistribution of existing sources. It delineates average annual amounts that each side is to pump from different aquifer units and simply lists the development of new water sources as an objective. Oslo II is certainly a flawed agreement when it comes to water, but not in the way McCallin suggests.
- She makes an unattributed argument that Israeli research and development into high water-use efficiency irrigation techniques declined after the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights and its associated water resources. The implication here is that since Israel had gained access to the vast aquifer systems of the West Bank as well as the headwaters of the Jordan River there was no longer a motivation to pursue agricultural water-saving measures. I have not seen the Israeli agricultural R&D information on which McCallin bases this claim, but in 1999 the U.S. National Academy of Sciences published data indicating that Israeli irrigation per unit area dropped steadily through the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, while irrigated crop productivity (the mass of biomass produced per unit volume of water applied) continued to increase. These trends occurred in response to continuing innovation in drip and microsprayer irrigation.
- McCallin points to Palestinian household water saving and recycling techniques (such as roof cisterns and earthen filters) as examples of conservation-mindedness that Israel would do well to adopt. The truth is that per-capita water use in the West Bank and Gaza is much lower than in Israel not because of the scattered admirable efforts of water-stressed Palestinians to conserve, but because of Israeli restrictions on water availability in the Occupied Territories. (The Palestinian analyst Sharif Elmusa uses the term “latent demand” to describe the difference between present Palestinian water use rates under restriction and those that would result if the restriction was lifted.) Furthermore, while Israel has been guilty of many things in its 35-year occupation of the Palestinians, one thing of which it is not guilty is the failure to recycle wastewater. Israeli reclamation of domestic and industrial sewage is among the highest anywhere in the world. Indeed, the transfer of Israeli wastewater reuse technologies to the Palestinians could represent a significant piece of ecological circumvention of the higher political conflict and could go a long way toward alleviating Palestinian freshwater scarcity (although this certainly should not preclude a major shift in the allocation of shared regional water resources from Israel to Palestine).
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
Thanks for the informative article on water use in Israel and Palestine. I applaud you for having the courage to publish this piece.
If only one end of the Israeli political spectrum is consulted, the research will be skewed in that direction. In this case, it appears that only extreme left-wing sources were consulted. A wider variety of sources may have generated a more interesting, and perhaps more factual, article.
Second, you are suggesting that the Israelis (read Jews) should provide more water to an enemy at a time when:
- Its official media (newspapers, radio, TV) preach Jew-hatred and Jew-killing 24/7. Whatever lies they do not create themselves they copy from Nazi sources and others like them.
- The official textbooks and lesson plans of the Palestinian Authority school system teach Jew-hating and Jew-killing and that the Jews stole their country from the Muslims.
- Its scout movements and summer camps teach the children methods for killing Jews and other combat techniques.
- The shoulder patches of the “Palestinian Authority” paramilitary forces have the word “Palestine” emblazoned over the outline of an area from the Golan to Eilat/Aqaba, and from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
- Let’s not even start with the “martyrs,” i.e., the suicide terrorists.
The relevance of all this to water? Israel has a working water-arrangement with Jordan. That country signed a peace treaty with Israel and is apparently not supporting terrorism against Jews. No such statements can be made about the Muslim Arabs in Israel. Water is an issue that can be negotiated when both parties are negotiating in good faith. At present, there is no one on the Palestinian side who is negotiating in good faith. Personally, considering the damage mentioned above, I think that proper negotiations may impossible for generations to come.
Camp Hill, Pa.
In contrast to another Portlander, I found Katie Alvord’s week of columns to be incredibly inspiring. The series came along at exactly the right time for me — I had just bought myself a recumbent bike with the idea of giving it a try as a car replacement. Katie’s description of biking 11 miles into town on a bike equipped with snow tires made me feel a hell of a lot better about my 2.6-mile commute through the perpetual drizzle that non-Portlanders like to call “rain.”
Yes, Alvord has a job that is particularly conducive to living car-lite, and yes, many people can’t sustain the same level of committed car-free living that she does. But reading about such an extreme example helps me to think, “Hey, this isn’t so bad after all” when I struggle up that Hill Of Death.
Oh, and by the way, her link to Bikes At Work, with their page on how to move a refrigerator with a bicycle trailer? Absolutely wonderful. Now I’m thinking I can get down to our community garden plot with my tools in a trailer, instead of borrowing my partner’s car.
More of the same, please!