And other words from readers
We would like to thank you for the article by Keith Schneider. Many of the people of Michigan have never heard of Mecosta County. They have no idea that this is their fight also.
My husband and I are members of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation; we believe our water is worth protecting. For the new public awareness this article will generate, we thank you,
Marlene and Edward Klatt
Re: This Solar House
I’m glad college students are waking up to the idea of sustainable architecture. Even George W. Bush has green energy systems in his home in Crawford, Texas. His geothermal system heats and cools his house all year round. Of course to implement these “new” ways of constructing dwellings depends on a new vision for our country — and, unfortunately, the sitting president doesn’t have it.
Re: This Solar House
Amanda Griscom’s article provided new insights about an event that I think has great significance for humanity’s future.
My state of Florida has no choice but to rely on solar energy as its principal fuel for the 21st century. This will be apparent to even the dullest or most venal of politicians when oil becomes too expensive to burn or global warming and sea level rise become unbearable — whichever happens first. Sadly, no Florida institution participated in the Solar Decathlon. By the time we awaken to the necessity for solar, it may be too late for Florida. I hope not and am doing what I can for solar.
Because the issue is so vital, I wish to point out an error and a couple of omissions in an otherwise fine piece.
Amanda Griscom didn’t mention that the schools planned to dismantle and ship their small solar palaces back to campus for reassembly to serve as solar learning centers. I think that’s one of the most valuable and lasting outcomes of the event. The University of Delaware, I understand, planned to ship their solar home to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia for exhibit.
Also, there was a report that dozens of visitors to the Washington mall wanted to buy a solar home despite the small size and $150,000 to $200,000 cost. That’s encouraging. I thought Griscom hit a bit too heavily on the high cost of solar photovoltaics. The industry needs some of the subsidies now lavished on 19th- and 20th-century fuels. Higher volume and mass production should bring costs down. Our nation excels at making new technology accessible to all.
Lee Bidgood, Jr.
New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
Re: This Solar House
It’s too bad the glitzy Solar Decathlon emphasized costly high-tech aspects of renewable energy rather than showcasing simple, cost-effective design. Thus National Public Radio was able to run a five-minute segment which focused on a countertop made of recycled newspaper, the tattoo on a student’s belly, and solar-powered beer coolers. This event just contributed to the trivialization of alternative energy.
As Bush and his oil cronies prepare to unleash a dangerous and cynical war for oil in Iraq, we need to be harnessing basic solar space and water heating, conservation, and wind power technologies with very reasonable payback periods. A 1947 MIT study showed that a passive solar-heated house could be built as cheaply as an equivalent non-solar one.
Photovoltaics (PV), the darling of the industry, have their place too. Indeed, if the true cost of oil-generated electricity were considered, including subsidies, military costs, and blood, the payback period would be far less than the 60 years cited in your article. The estimated $200 billion to be spent on the Iraq war could place 20 million 1KW PV systems, complete with the synchronous inverters needed for net metering, on American homes.
It’s the political corruption of our democracy, and corporate control of mass media, not the need for more technology that has kept clean energy on the sidelines. We could easily harness enough of the power we receive from the sun to phase out our reliance on Middle East oil. The very survival of our planet may depend on it.
Re: Cushion the Grow
The cushions can be aesthetically pleasing. I grow a number of dwarf perennials in them. The cushions can also be upholstered with needle and thread — burlap is nice. My husband burns some to make nice shapes. This has to be done carefully. I cut them into oval and round shapes as well. I got one cushion that had been in a couch fire, that looks really good. Some of them are incredibly ugly taken straight from the cover. Others look good — it depends on the manufacturer. I happen to think polyurethane foam underpadding would be good on the side and top of a floodwall — perhaps a custom manufacture with burlap on top of that. Wet polyurethane foam holds so much water.
Re: The Green Beyond
Don’t forget two of the three R’s when deciding what to do with your body after you die: re-use and recycle (namely donate organs to the living and your cadaver to medical schools). Someone somewhere needs your body and/or its parts when you die.
Re: Wick-ed Witches
Thanks for pointing out that scented (and, in some cases, dyed) candles are toxic. Those of us who suffer from chemical sensitivity appreciate any help we can get. You might attack aromatherapy next. Nothing like a therapy that involves breathing neurotoxins! Most aromatherapy oils (even if they contain “organic” plant sources) are extracted with powerful chemical solvents like benzene, making aromatherapy about as therapeutic as sniffing glue.
It seems a little silly for public officials to use human immigrant metaphors to describe the invasion of exotic species. However, even if San Francisco City Supervisor Leland Yee thought this an appropriate likening, he would still be misusing the facts. In general, non-native species do not come to a new area and live benignly while contributing to the overall good of the community, as many human immigrants do; they sneak in, choke the natives, and begin taking over the habitat. They seem to be more closely compared to terrorists than immigrants.
I live in Eastern Texas, a beautifully forested area of the state. We are fighting many alien species, including the Chinese tallow tree. It is a lovely ornamental tree that has vibrant fall colors. However, as a fast-growing pioneer species, it competes heavily with our native pine and hardwood species that have their own brand of beauty. The economic impact exists as well since this area has a great deal of private plantation forestry dependent on pine production. Cases around the world such as this one make statements by urban political leaders about the contributions of alien species ignorant and offensive. Use whatever language you want, put in any description — non-native species have no correctness, political or otherwise.
I take serious exception to the “purist” point of view which finds all “invaders” to be totally unacceptable. Some are, some aren’t. I do understand that in some places there are real problems with certain plants. But I believe these problems must be confronted species by species, locale by locale. In some locales, the invader is more desirable — for any number of reasons — than any non-endangered natives it may kill off.
About the California eucalyptus: that tree, both as a species and as individuals, is older in California than many of those who want to exterminate it. It has lived there so long that for many of us it is a native, and its absence would be truly grievous. I was born in California and spent the first half of my life there; I am old now, but still homesick at times for the desert and the summer’s brown hills and the scents of greasewood and sage. And eucalyptus.
Not all invaders are undesirable in all areas, and not all non-endangered natives are worthy of protection in all areas. And, with respect to plants and animals, including humans, the world is far from “pure.” We are richer for this diversity; after all, many of our most beautiful wildflowers are immigrants.
While I appreciate your flipness, I didn’t think it was appropriate to call alleged actions of the Earth Liberation Front “random acts of unkindness.” Indeed, these types of actions do not seem random at all. They seem like sophisticated, albeit decentralized, attacks on a culture that is “unkind” to our planet. Moreover, radicals — whether ELF, Earth First!, or others — play an important role in environmental politics, often allowing other groups to appear moderate and therefore to be more successful.
With regard to your piece discussing the environmental impact of trashing your computer and buying a new one every year or two, I wanted to let people know that there are tons of ways to recycle old computers. I had a Macintosh Performa that I no longer needed. It was about seven years old, but still worked. In researching what to do with it, I found that there are numerous companies that will recycle or reuse your computer, some for free and some for a small fee (i.e., $1 per pound of equipment). There are nonprofits and companies that will rehab your computer and give it to underfunded nonprofit organizations both here and abroad. There are nonprofits right in your own neighborhood that could probably use the computer. There are technical schools who take the computers and have their students work on them and repair them and then either give them away or recycle the components.
I ended up giving my computer to friends of mine who wanted something they could use just for email, which my computer was still good for. The point is, there are lots of ways to make good use of a computer that is no longer useful to you; all it takes is a little research to find out your options.
I do not doubt the veracity of this burst of factoidal journalism, but I’m concerned that the e-reading public will not approach it with the proper sense of scale. Yes, it matters that certain products (and services) carry a disproportionate impact. For example, the embodied energy and water use in virgin paper often escapes notice — and this matters because paper is 38 percent of our waste stream. This sort of thinking is helpful, especially when given attention in proportion to total impacts.
But in the case of the silicon wafer and the SUV, I simply must draw the line: the comparison of a two-gram chip to a two-ton auto is a dangerous flashing red herring (if I might be permitted to mix metaphors).
Don’t get me wrong: the manufacture of high-tech items is, generally speaking, a nasty business. Solvents, hexavalent chromium, CFCs (yes, still, in some places) — all sorts of toxic items end up in water and soil, as a result of our addiction to computers, cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras, fancy microwaves, MP3 players, and scores of other products that routinely come with circuit boards these days. But here, enter a sense of scale: the sheer mass of our cars means that they are a far bigger problem.
Not that I’m against such comparisons, mind you! How about rice vs. beef? The latter results in four times as much water pollution as the former — pound for pound. Now that’s a pound-for-pound comparison that might make sense. (Tofu vs. beef would be better, but I don’t have the numbers — sorry.) In fact, I’d be willing to wager that, pound-for-pound, conventionally grown fruits and vegetables aren’t so much better than automobiles. Don’t forget about the embodied life-cycle impacts from transportation, refrigeration, and packaging, not to mention the more obvious impacts of agriculture itself.
Nor do I let the electronics industry off the hook: our lust for tech-toys has fueled the gluttonous rise in our electricity consumption, the largest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (as much as 40 percent, if you count transmission losses). But in this enlightened age of such vehicles as the Mitsubishi Monstrosity and Chevy Subdivision, cars and trucks aren’t far behind (26 percent).
Thank you for your patience with my rant — I do feel better now.
As a professional hydrogeologist, I am appalled by the lack of scientific facts and the promotion of fear generating half-truths in Lisa Jones’ article on coal bed methane development in Delta County, Colo. The media continues to promote and inflame misinformed grassroots environmentalists searching for a cause. What I think I see is opposition that originates from surface owners who have no mineral rights ultimately seeking to promote compensatory damage claims. What is really doing more “damage”, cheap subsidized and overgrazed livestock leases in semi-arid basins of the West or short-term groundwater pumping to extract the cleanest and cheapest energy source we have available?
Brian S. Goodman