Readers talk back about poverty, the Forest Service, chocolate, and more
Thank you so much for your series on poverty and environmentalism! The intertwining of these issues is of ultimate importance to me, and I think that the connections aren’t drawn often enough. When asked the question “What do you think is the greatest problem with the world/environment?” in geology class last semester, I raised my hand and responded, “Poverty.” I was asked to defend my statement, but now I will have much more information and resources available to me to develop an argument.
Bryn Mawr, Pa.
Editor’s note: Share an opinion or start a conversation on poverty and the environment in our discussion forum.
Re: Moving Mountains
My undergraduate thesis was focused on this very subject: environmental justice in the coal fields. The most difficult question I found, and one that is at the core of most environmental-justice battles, is: how do we sacrifice jobs for the environment?
While coal mining has employed declining numbers of Appalachians for decades, it is still a major player in many eastern Kentucky communities. I believe that there are other opportunities for employment in the region that have yet to be fully explored (eco-tourism and recreation are at the top of the list), but that’s not going to happen overnight. A common response I got from residents in these communities was, “The coal companies may be dirty bastards, but at least I got a job.”
Coal mining can be done in less-destructive, more environmentally friendly ways, but the chances of coal companies using those methods without being forced to by the government are about as good as Bush joining Amnesty International.
Thank you for carrying Jeff Nachtigal’s story on the effects of wildland fires on the rural poor. Rural poverty is a problem that receives too little attention, and with the Bush administration and Congress posed to increase funding for logging and decrease funding for other Forest Service programs, the problems will only get worse.
To be fair, however, it is important to note that most homes destroyed by fires are not in areas of rural poverty. According to an analysis conducted by the noted forest economist Randal O’Toole, 90 percent of homes destroyed by wildfire in the U.S. are destroyed in California, and most of those are destroyed in the chapparal-covered hillsides surrounding the Bay Area and Los Angeles. These homes — in the Berkeley hills, in Malibu, in the Beverly Hills — are owned by some of the wealthiest people in America.
Certainly, wildland fire affects the rural poor disproportionately. But does it disproportionately affect the rural poor? The evidence suggests that the people most affected by wildland fires are the wealthy people foolishly building their homes in our most flammable ecosystems — the California chapparal.
Elizabeth Chin’s premise is excellent: We who are more affluent really do not understand the experiences of the poor. And she does a very good deed by drawing our attention to that disgraceful division in American society. But to blame rich people in the way that she does, all of them, and especially those who are trying to be environmentally conscientious, is simply unfair. And it is shallow. And it does not seem at all likely to be very helpful.
Editor’s note: You can find lots more discussion on simple living vs. simply surviving in our poverty series discussion forum.
I liked the facts and figures that you provided and would like to add the cost of full-time childcare. Ages up to 3 years seem to average $12,000 per year, at least in my city of Madison, Wis., which equals the cost of college for a year according to your figures. Parents talk a lot about saving up for their kids to go to college in the future, when they apparently already pay as much today to send their child to daycare or preschool.
Come on, guys — the Republicans are not the only ones who spend money frivolously. You note the $19,000 spent by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s wife Columba during a five-day shopping spree in Paris in 1999. Be fair. I heard a story about John Kerry’s wife dismantling and shipping a barn from England to their summer home in Idaho and having it rebuilt there.
I find that folks who are looking to “green” their lives automatically choose the “purchase new green product” option. Your article is helpful in pointing out that there are newer eco-friendly products on the market, but you did not address the whole consumption issue. For instance, it is more environmentally friendly to keep functional furniture even if it is old than to buy new eco-furniture. The key is to assess what you need versus what you want. These can be two very different things.
Clean Air Strategic Alliance
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Mitch Friedman’s plea that conservationists generally abandon confrontation in favor of collaboration with the Forest Service admittedly has its charms. Who doesn’t grow weary of adversarial dialogue, appeals, and litigation in response to shortsighted agency projects? It will be a happier world, indeed, when conservationists and the Forest Service can consistently sit down together at the table and arrive at something mutually agreeable. Yet, as Mr. Friedman essentially concedes, we aren’t there yet.
The obvious take-home lesson is to utilize those carrots with the Forest Service whenever the opportunity presents itself — but also keep that trusty stick close at hand. At minimum, any bureaucracy will get lazy and cut corners if not held accountable by an informed public. It’s the nature of the beast.
More troubling, however, is Mr. Friedman’s touting of increased thinning of wet second-growth forests west of the Cascades as a potential vehicle for the collaboration he urges. The dubious notion here is that such thinning “accelerates” or “restores” development of old-growth characteristics, but there is no scientific justification for such practices. Firsthand observation often indicates instead that thinning drastically homogenizes what had been a naturally diversifying second-growth forest. Mr. Friedman additionally suggests that our prior concerns with new road construction are all but outdated, yet clearly the bulldozers are still in full operation.
The Forest Service feels it has achieved a public-relations coup with its “restoration thinning” program, which unfortunately is given cover by a handful of conservationists who are apparently more interested in political deal-making than the resulting on-the-ground damage.
Bainbridge Island, Wash.
Editor’s note: Join a big discussion on collaboration with the Forest Service in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
Umbra blew it! Hershey’s refuses to use fairly traded chocolate. Thousands of children work on cocoa farms in Africa. Large companies like Hershey’s and M&M/Mars have the power to see that all cocoa farmworkers are paid a fair wage, and they refuse.
Editor’s note: Find more discussion on chocolate and other potential dorm snacks in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
I just read with interest Umbra’s piece on ideas for wedding registries. I went through this myself two years ago and have two more tips for your readers.
One is to register for your honeymoon experience (and choose an environmentally sensitive honeymoon location, too). We worked with our travel agent to set up a website where people could “buy” us a snorkel trip, a candlelight dinner, a picnic on the beach, a sunset dinner cruise, etc. People loved giving us experiences as gifts, and we loved having a better honeymoon than we could have otherwise afforded.
The other tip is to register for table settings with a local potter or craft gallery. You get very unique place settings, you help the local economy, and the likelihood of getting better-quality stuff is much higher.
Re: Politicked Off
In Umbra’s response to the questioner who wondered how EPA information can support her conservative friend’s claim that the Bushies are not anti-tree, I recommend that she check out some of the program evaluations on EPA’s Office of Inspector General website. This independent EPA watchdog office spends all of its time and money really evaluating EPA programs to see if the claims made in public reports are true. Sometimes they are; sometimes they are more smokescreen than truth.
Anonymous government employee
Re: Carpet Diem
I really like Umbra’s astute advice and find it entertaining as well as informative. I thought you’d be interested to know that there is one growing element of wall-to-wall carpet that is environmentally beneficial.
A company called BioLucent makes something called the MammoPad breast cushion — FDA cleared, invisible to x-ray, eases the discomfort of mammography. BioLucent has long provided a recycling program by which breast centers can return their used MammoPads, which for medical reasons are single-use. The company then recycles the pads for — ta da! — carpet padding.
More than 7 million MammoPads have been used, promoting more comfortable and more frequent life-saving mammography — and a bit of environmentally beneficial softness underfoot as well.
There are no vehicles on the list of E85 compatibles [PDF] that anyone wishing to be environmentally responsible should want to buy. It’s almost entirely a bunch of fuel-hogging pickup trucks and SUVs, and the few sedans or minivans appear to be big models and gas guzzlers too. What an obscene joke!
Editor’s note: You can find lots more discussion on ethanol in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
I read with interest the article about one in five American women having levels of mercury in their bodies that are higher than the recommended maximum level set by the EPA. I was one of the 2,834 women who were part of the mercury study done by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. I completed their lengthy questionnaire, sent in a hair sample, and waited for my results without too much concern. After all, I am pretty educated about mercury contamination and know which fish are likely to have high mercury levels and thus to avoid in my diet. I was shocked to get my results and find that my mercury level was 1.31 ug/g — above the recommended upper limit of 1.0 ug/g.
If an educated person who knows which fish to avoid eating has a higher-than-recommended level of mercury in her body, what must be the case for thousands, if not millions, of other women who don’t know as much about this issue? What about the countless folks, especially children, who eat a steady diet of tuna sandwiches?
Our government’s stonewalling on this issue is simply unacceptable. For an administration that makes so much noise about the “value of life,” it is mind-boggling that it continues to allow mercury-polluting industries to get by with dumping this toxic substance into our air and water.
I was shocked and disappointed to see the Grist List item “Girls. Crushing Cars.” I have two words for you: Girls. Objectified. I have never seen such blatant sexism from a so-called progressive environmental magazine.
If I were looking for questionable links between automobiles and objectification of women, I would know where to go: my local convenience store, where various car magazines use scantily clad women to sell things on a regular basis. I expected more from Grist.
Anu Radha Verma
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
I love you guys. More to the point, I love your headlines. But in this issue of Daily Grist you’ve outdone yourself. Every headline a take on a Paul Simon song. Dammit. I always, always wanted to do that. Now you’ve beaten me to it.
Sigh. I’m hanging up my keyboard now.