And other words from readers
Re: Whale Killers
As people who live near the sea and watch both orca whales and their watchers several times each week during the summer months, we were waiting for this to happen. As we suspected, big-money interests are trying to push the little guys out of the whale-watching business. But let us tell you the truth about whale watching up here in the Gulf Islands. The large boats — usually coming from the direction of the San Juan Islands in Washington State, it seems — that are supposed to “keep a safe distance” are the noisiest gawdawful watercraft you’d ever want to experience. And because they are so big and difficult to maneuver, they don’t (can’t? won’t?) cut their engines when the whales go past. We’ve often seen them chasing whales in order to catch up with them, frequently getting closer to the whales than the smaller boats do. The noise is uncomfortably loud even on shore.
The smaller boats, meanwhile, are zodiacs run by self-regulating companies, and are mainly from Canadian ports (Victoria and Sidney). They position themselves ahead of the whales, cut their engines (which we can’t hear from shore) and drift. Once the pod has passed, the zodiacs start their engines again, go way out and around the whales, reposition themselves, cut their engines and drift again. Often the whales sidle up to the zodiacs; the zodiacs do not go to the whales. We have these behaviors — of both whales and their watchers — on video.
Please let’s not fall for this totally illogical view of what’s happening to our beloved orcas. It is pure coincidence that the popularity of whale watching has soared while fish stocks have plummeted. Wanna save the whales? Give up eating salmon, clean up the PCBs in our estuaries, and keep all those huge bloody boats — including the commercial fishers — at home.
Julie Johnston and Peter Carter
Pender Island, British Columbia
I am a water rights activist working with traditional acequia communities in northern New Mexico. The book sounds great, and my only problem was how the system of prior appropriation was characterized by the reviewer as inherently anti-environmental justice. While I recognize that in some parts of the U.S., people don’t see much sense in the “first-in-time, first-in-line” doctrine, in northern New Mexico that doctrine is one of the few that actually benefits poor communities (which tend to have the senior water rights).
These community irrigation systems are the only remaining models in this region of the type of community-based, democratically-managed, small-scale local food production that Vandana Shiva supports in her book. They are also the most resistant to the free-market model of water reallocation and tend to support keeping water rights in their areas of origin and in traditional agriculture.
Thus it is not the prior appropriation doctrine that is the problem, it is who has the preferred water rights under that doctrine and whether those parties view water rights as a community asset or as an individually marketable commodity.
For more discussion of this, I would urge you to check out an editorial entitled “Some thoughts on the effect of the drought,” by Mark Shiller in the June 2002 issue of La Jicarita News. I would also urge you to check out the New Mexico Acequia Association website.
Sante Fe, N.M.
It was great to see the Umbra advice on turning off computers and putting them to sleep. I’m working on a campaign at the U.S. EPA to get more monitors enabled to go into sleep mode. We estimate that more than half of all monitors cannot power down when not in use. The “Sleep is Good” campaign is a great opportunity to save energy and reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Already hundreds of organizations with hundreds of thousands of monitors have joined up. To make life easier we are offering free software that will enable all the monitors on a network to go to sleep at once. Click here to learn more about the program.
U.S. EPA Energy Star Power Management Program
Re: Just Bag It
I can’t believe that you suggest stopping recycling! Sure, solid waste and its environmental effects are not the biggest problem we face, and yes, there is a danger of complacency on the part of folks who don’t understand that there are other, more serious problems. But recycling is the most popular and successful environmental action that people can — and do — take in their everyday lives. Why? Because it is simple, low hassle, easy to understand (even for young children), and the cumulative effect of billions of us on the planet doing so could be tremendous.
I’ve found that recycling is often an entry activity to other sustainable behaviors, especially if people are educated about the “whys” as well as the “hows” — which is woefully not the case anymore in many recycling programs. I’ve seen many people over the years who began to question other parts of their daily lives, once they understood that they contribute to environmental problems. Recycling can be contagious and can encourage people to make other changes in their lives. However, most people will not act if you ask them to make bigger changes to their lives first, such as giving up their cars or even lobbying to get the mass transit infrastructure they would need to make such a transition!
Re: Ask Umbra
This column smartly addresses several questions that I have had for some time, because other environmental magazines have failed to boil the answers down to plain English.
Umbra, you really impressed me with your first installment but your second solidifies your place as a top environmental resource. Just when I feel that no one else thinks as in-depth as I do about our world, as realistically about our impact, and as emphatically about the many solutions, your column comes along and is a lifesaver!
I was debating whether to support Grist (after all, wouldn’t it be more productive to donate to an environmental group?) but now I realize that the key is public education.
Re: Cheers for Fears
Thanks for publishing this article. Many days I jump on Grist, and walk away flabbergasted by the rate at which environmental health is going down and discouraged by the seeming indifference of our current political leaders. I often feel disempowered by our system, and some days think my life’s mission is fruitless. After spending two years in Portland, Ore., developing an environmental ethic and lifestyle, I came back to my home state of New York to make a difference in the capital of consumerism. Some days I want to succumb and just go with the flow of the system. (What does it matter that my lunch is wrapped in a huge unrecycleable plastic box? Everyone else’s is!) It’s good to know that others have hope and see possibility in the midst of the gloom. I’m inspired to stick with my commitment to the Earth and to community.
High Falls, N.Y.
Re: Cheers for Fears
I fully agree with Elizabeth Sawin that it’s important to avoid despair over the way the environment is being treated and that at times this seems very difficult. One additional method I try in order to avoid despair is to use a children’s sports analogy. If we are trying to change the world to have people behave in a more environmentally friendly fashion, that is an important goal. It is important to strive for that goal, whether we are actually winning or losing at this particular moment. Lots of children and adults playing sports think about giving up when the game seems out of reach or there is a long losing streak, but parents, fans, and bystanders encourage, support, expect (and should respect) those that continue to play their best even if there appears to be little chance of winning.
If I give this advice to my child, then should I not also follow it in my efforts to make the world a better place? I have learned to admire the teams that continue to play their best in the midst of long losing streaks. It’s easy to play for an undefeated team; going out and winning every time is fun. But to play for a losing team — that shows real devotion to the game and real grit.
Re: Cheers for Fears
Recently my desire to make a change (no matter how small) has been dwindling slowly. What a boulder to push up this mountain called Capitalism! Goddess bless you for the truly inspirational words you gave to me today when I read your article. I must have hope, for myself, for others, and especially for my daughter.
Thank you greatly.
San Antonio, Texas
Re: Cheers for Fears
Lately, I’ve been feeling a sense of hopelessness I’d never experienced before about the environment and human rights. The other day, I had just come home from work, after reading what seemed like the umpteen-millionth article about how global warming is accelerating and our so-called leaders are doing not a darn thing about it. I was really feeling like “what’s the point of it all” — and there, in my email inbox, was the latest “Daily Grist,” featuring this article. It was just what I needed to remind me to keep fighting the good fight.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Andy Driscoll’s five-part series in Grist is close to a classic description of the struggles in many communities against corporate criminality, not only in the U.S. but throughout the world. Driscoll’s series is also an example of how, by creating situations that demand massive efforts by community activists, the powers that be distract millions of citizens from the greater, more culturally destructive activities of government-supported corporate power mongers. These distractions from the greater picture are intended to both increase corporate stockholder wealth and overwhelm virtually everyone else. And while we are feeling overwhelmed, they are concentrating on further deception, and on consolidating wealth and power over us. Succinct, graphic reports like Driscoll’s in Grist keep us informed about corporate criminality while alerting us to the offenders’ conscienceless ways.
I have been studying nuclear power plants for several months now and know that terrorists could not turn one into a bomb unless they were the people working inside it. If a plane were heading at a plant, the workers would turn it off and the uranium/plutonium would not explode. If a truck bomb went off near a plant, the explosion would not be big enough to create anything like Hiroshima or any other nuclear detonation unless the plant was poorly designed.
Frankly, as a person who cares about the environment, I am sick of hearing people fight about nuclear power plants. Any plant following current U.S. guidelines emits less harmful radiation than coal factories, and a meltdown like Chernobyl is unlikely. Russian plants were designed so that if an error occurred, they had to press a switch to shut the reactor down. U.S. and Canadian plants are designed so that if an error occurred, they would safely shut down themselves.
So to you who are fighting nuclear power, get a real problem and stop working against the plants. Try to stop the real enemy, coal and plants like that!