And other words from readers
I was appalled that the U.S. Department of Interior is ignoring email appeals now. However, email filtering can be defeated: If the criteria for tossing an email were that it looks just like 80,000 other emails with the exception of the signature, then one can write software to produce email appeals that are relatively unique. The trick is finding out which criteria different filters are using.
Ultimately, the fact that filtering is used at all would seem to me to be against the rights of citizens to voice their opinions and gain access to government. This would be an interesting court battle — why does my petition have to be hand-penned or unique relative to others? What are the criteria for determining what can be legally filtered?
Palo Alto, Calif.
I was really angered but not at all surprised that President Bush is disregarding form letters and emails from enviros and probably anyone else who doesn’t agree with him. Where does he get off ignoring U.S. citizens? I doubt he discards form letters from groups and individuals sharing his views and supporting his horrible policies.
I have never in my 45 years as a taxpayer, voter, and law-abiding citizen seen anyone try so desperately to undermine existing laws and policies and cut the voter and taxpayer out of the policy-making and legislative processes.
How can we sound the alarm outside our community as well as within? If Bush gets his way we will end up in a time that will make the McCarthy era look like child’s play. I can see we are going to have to demand that the press, radio, and television do what they can to make sure U.S. citizens are informed of what’s going on behind the scenes.
I pledge as an activist to do everything I can to spread the word of Bush’s evil endeavors to Americans and the world.
Stephen F. Sloane
I live (and up until April worked) in Pennsylvania. I have lived in many states up and down the East Coast, and nowhere have the politics made such little sense as they do here. Pennsylvania is an enigma; so beautiful and so dirty all at the same time. You can drive for 20 minutes and see beautiful mountains, hillsides, and waterfalls all from the windows of your car — and then drive through a strip mine and a ghost town lost to a mine fire that has been raging for the last 40 years.
Each spring, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future puts on a “Getting to 10 Percent” conference to publicize and work toward the goal of having 10 percent of the state’s electricity generated by renewable sources by the year 2010; I try to attend the conference faithfully. John Hangar and PennFuture have been vital in demonstrating to our elected officials that this is an issue of importance to Pennsylvania residents. Thanks at least in part to its work, the electric utilities in the state have started a pilot program for residential point-of-use solar electric systems on the rooftops of low-income customers. Many advances in wind and solar have been helped along by the good folks at PennFuture. Keep up the good work, John! This Pennsylvanian is both pleased and proud to see you featured in Grist.
Many thanks to Kim Todd for writing, and to Grist Magazine for publishing, this great article on the problems with the current terminology used for “native” plants. I belong to an online list of native plant enthusiasts called Calpyteanna (not part of the California Native Plant Society, but many members of the list are also members of CNPS); we have been closely watching the issues in San Francisco with the restoration of Golden Gate Park and other areas. In fact, after Ken Garcia’s column was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, we encouraged him to learn more about native plants. We were pleased at the recent publication of a well-reasoned article in the San Jose Mercury News.
These two articles led to a discussion on the list about the problem with the terms used, which evoke a strong emotional reaction in some people. We do not have a solution, although we certainly recognize the issue. Would it be possible to raise this issue at a higher level in the state and federal government? I strongly believe that this terminology is creating a big barrier to understanding and caring for California’s natural diversity in fauna and flora.
One more note on Kim Todd’s well-written story on invasive species: Leland Yee’s argument likening non-native plants to human immigrants is, of course, a false one. What Yee does not seem to understand is that invading plant species regularly take root at the expense of the native species, often resulting in the latter’s eradication. If Yee fancies himself an “exotic invasive,” he’s likening himself more to a 19th-century Indian killer than to a melting-pot immigrant.
Kim Todd’s piece on what to call invasive non-native species is right to note that comparisons to human immigrants are inappropriate. Not only are all humans one species, as she points out, but humans can also be considered native to the Americas (having been here for more than 12,000 years). Better metaphors would include monopolistic companies or repressive dictatorships. After all, the non-native species that concern ecologists are the invasive ones — the ones that march in and take over completely, not allowing any other species to survive.
This is an important point to make to those uninformed people who foment panic by claiming that ecologists want to get rid of all non-native species. Aside from the fact that this would be impossible –we’re having more than enough trouble just trying to control the really invasive species — it’s unnecessary. No one is calling for the eradication of tulips, for example; they are well-behaved, mind-their-own-business kinds of plants that don’t take over habitats, crowd out other species, or cause any other kind of ecological havoc.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Re: Mulch It Over
Paper can certainly be used as mulch — however, any paper with colored ink on it should not ever be put in contact with the soil (nor should it be burned). It’s toxic.
Santa Fe, N.M.
Takoma Park has unveiled a much bally-hoed system for converting corn to energy. FYI, pigs do the same thing. I am not convinced that this “green breakthrough” actually results in net reduction of greenhouse gases. First you have to grow the corn, then harvest and transport it to Takoma Park, where it is fermented, burned, or whatever. Carbon dioxide is released at all stages. Are we sure this is a good thing for the climate, or are we all so desperate for good green news that we will embrace any idea sold to us as progress?
Re: Wick-ed Witches
Ina’s question about candles and Umbra’s reply didn’t mention what is perhaps the worst environmental hazard of candles, which is the possibility of burning down the house.
Fire records recently released here in New Zealand show that a significant portion of people who died in house fires were killed in fires caused by candles. I would hazard a guess this applies throughout the world. According to the New Zealand Fire Service, the safest receptacles for burning candles so they don’t topple over and set fire to your house are old-fashioned, metal “wee-willie-winkie”-style candle holders with a broad base.
The fumes and the potential danger and destruction from a burning house are several orders of magnitude worse than those from any conceivable lead-wicked, petroleum based, scented, smoking candle.
Auckland, New Zealand
I disagree with the statement “that true security will only come when the U.S. reduces its dependency on foreign oil.” How about “and changes its rhetoric,” too? The war on terrorism cannot be won with our conventional war machine. We must all give serious consideration to the events that have lead to the overwhelming level of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and demand the creation and evolution of a sustainable and peaceful policy in this region.
Re: Teeth Chatter
The simple answer to the question of why humans have teeth is that our ancestors did need canines: Meat was an important part of their diet, providing them with necessary protein. Of course, our ancestors’ dietary choices were usually limited by food resources. This is clearly not the case today, where most of us can go to the supermarket and buy anything we please, including vegetables.
A simple comparison of land requirements (not to mention pollution, disease, etc.) for production of meat versus production of veggies should convince anyone who cares even slightly about nature or the environment to minimize or eliminate meat intake.
I couldn’t believe that Providence, R.I., was listed as a Smart Growth city. It is on the U.S. EPA’s list of noncompliance with the Clean Air Act. It discharges its sewage into the Providence River and has no sewerage system for its storm water runoff. It has one of the worst asthma epidemics in the country. The larger county has the nation’s highest mortality rate for all cancers. And then there’s the now-infamous problem of lead poisoning.
So much for that survey.
First of all let me say that I love Grist and look forward to reading your great articles. I was especially pleased to see a public employee (and one that I know and work with!) featured in the “Dear Me” section. Steve Carter-Lovejoy was a great choice for someone to feature. I didn’t realize it until I read Steve’s first installment, but he is right — I hadn’t seen public employees featured here before.
We in Maryland are facing a similar budget situation as the one in Virginia. With a new administration taking office in January, no one is sure how things will pan out. But we public employees who are passionate about what we do will be trying to figure out how to keep protecting our remaining natural resources for future generations with less money and fewer staff. I, like Steve, am fortunate to work with incredibly dedicated, smart, creative, and professional people. We have all become accustomed to creatively figuring out how to do more with less — skills that will be newed in the next couple of years. Frankly, it amazes me to see what we collectively have accomplished given our meager staff and fiscal resources.
Thanks for letting the folks out there catch a glimpse of what public employees are doing, and what we are up against. There are a lot of unsung heroes out there in the bureaucratic trenches.
Re: The Best Defense
Brava, brava, brava to Elizabeth Sawin! You speak truth with such eloquence. May you live long and prosper in every sense of the word. The world needs more like you.
San Francisco, Calif.
I usually value Umbra’s advice, but I think she missed the mark in her advocacy of tree-free paper, especially hemp/flax/cotton paper. Yes, please recycle, but no, don’t blindly choose tree-free paper without considering its ecological footprint.
I won’t burden you with my own bias, but refer you to an article by Australian permaculture expert David Holmgern. (Download the PDF file here.)
Re: Quid Pro Snow
A mention! My existence in lights! How exciting! I’m a huge fan of Umbra Fisk’s in addition to being a relation. I especially like that you included quilted TP in your list of human evolutionary achievements.
I thought I’d follow up on your more recent column. I had, in fact, already extrapolated the roof-top tarp covering to the sidewalk problem and field-newed it in the local conditions available. The results have been encouraging, but are not a panacea. They are as follows:
A medium weight reinforced blue tarp and a (re-used) sheet of polyethylene were used to cover my driveway in advance of a predicted snow event. After a three-inch snowfall, the tarps were picked up at the edges to form a mound of snow in the middle and then the offending crystals were pulled off to a safe, undisclosed location quicker than a vice-president. For this use, the tarps were highly successful, clearing a 30-feet-by-50-feet driveway in about four minutes.
However, a few warnings are provided by thoughtful extension of this trial. Snow has a fair amount of mass as many a back can newify. If this had been a heavy snow, pulling on the edge of the tarp would have just ripped it. On the plus side, you could do the traditional shovel of most of the snow and then whisk the tarp away to reveal the clean, ice free surface. I would also recommend using several smaller tarps rather than one giant one for the same reasons. This shall be my plan for the rest of the winter as much as I can manage.
Important safety tip: The polyethylene tarp is extremely slippery when even a little bit of snow accumulates on it. I spread mine in my driveway, but am hesitant to do so on my walkway because of the newspaper and postal delivery persons. The reinforced blue tarp was somewhat less slippery and it is more obvious that something is different to the casual pedestrian, so they’d walk more carefully, maybe.
It also seemed fairly clear that you needed to pick up the tarps and snow before the freeze-thaw cycles started, or you’d just get ice forming under the tarps from the run-off. I’ll provide more information and new results as the winter progresses.
Inventively, your brother,
Snow-prone area, New England