Readers talk back about property rights, extraneous vehicles, toxic schools, and more
Re: Give and Takings
I’m glad you took up the story of the extreme private-property initiatives put on Western states’ ballots, but was taken aback by the tenor of the story. I rely on Grist for news that understands the environmental impact of policies, but this story seemed to swallow almost whole the story the proponents of these measures are putting out.
The purpose of these measures is to make it so costly for governments to regulate land use that they simply can no longer do it. They are being paid for by adherents to Grover Norquist’s goal of “making government so small he can drown it in the bathtub.”
This is not about eminent domain. And it’s not really even about “regulatory takings,” a questionable and loaded phrase in itself (like the “death tax” or “Clear Skies initiative”). None of these measures suggest ways to pay for the massive costs they’ll entail. This is not an attempt to set up a better system.
This is about ending the ability of government to make laws about how land should be used — a basic function of government. And government, let us remind ourselves here, is not some amorphous entity — ultimately, it’s us. It’s the people voting on urban growth boundaries to control development and protect green space, or deciding to keep land in farming, or keeping liquor stores away from schools.
And by the way, voting for houses to have one acre of land each is emphatically not smart growth. Smart growth is about keeping neighborhoods compact and walkable, building up, not out, so people don’t have to drive to get everywhere. It’s not about subdividing working farms to build big houses.
San Francisco, Calif.
Re: Engine Block
I grew up way out in the boonies, seven miles of mountainous and bike-path-free highway from the nearest town. I can tell you that our household emissions decreased a whole lot when I got my driver’s license. Why? Because instead of two round trips, one to take me to school (or wherever I was going) and one to pick me up, one round trip did the job. Sure, some days my mom had errands to do that she could have done when she dropped me off at school, but she often managed to avoid going into town at all, so there truly was a savings of a whole trip on a number of days. Even if she did go, it was still a total of only two round trips, the same as if we only had one vehicle.
Also, we always had vehicles for different uses. Having horses (which itself uses resources, sure, but we can debate that some other time), we needed a truck to haul hay, pull the horse trailer, etc. We didn’t need to drive it all the time, though, so having more than one car was the solution. We couldn’t have gotten rid of the truck, so having only one vehicle would have forced us to drive it all the time, whereas having the truck and having other, more fuel-efficient vehicles for daily driving meant that the truck was only doing its damage occasionally. The 10 percent environmental cost of manufacturing another vehicle is well worth savings in the 90 percent if you can drive a vehicle that gets twice as good gas mileage and only drive the more polluting vehicle when it can do something the more efficient one can’t, right?
Santa Fe, N.M.
Editor’s note: Share your opinion on owning multiple cars in Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
Congratulations on Umbra’s answer to the mom who was justifiably worried about the air quality at her daughter’s new school. I’ve enjoyed Grist columns for a long time, but I had to write to commend you for your advice in this column.
It is rare to find someone who is wise and compassionate enough to advise parents not to send their children, especially those with asthma, into harm’s way. Many parents are in an untenable position — forced to choose between their children’s safety and their education. They are often coerced or intimidated into tolerating unhealthy conditions. And unfortunately, in my experience, physicians are more likely to medicate instead of advocate. It is hard for them to believe that schools can be so unhealthy. State and federal education and environmental agencies have a host of voluntary programs and manuals that do little to protect children from hazards, even in persistently dangerous schools.
I am writing to offer the resources on my website, Healthy Kids: The Key to Basics. Parents often need a lot of support, not only to protect their children from environmental hazards but from the coercion and intimidation of school officials who do not understand the harm they cause when they create or ignore hazards at school.
Re: Shaky Reasoning
I love Umbra’s column, but in a recent one, she wrote, “Tidal waves, as it happens, are caused by the many and varied gravitational interactions between the moon, the sun, and the earth.” That’s not true. Tides are caused by gravitational interactions, but “tidal wave” is just another (inaccurate) word for “tsunami.”
I am very pleased to see your series on God & the Environment. Thank you, thank you. The interviews with Wilson, McKibben, Moyers, Sleeth, and DeWitt are wonderful.
I cannot help noticing, however, that all the people you plan to interview for this series are white males. I hope you will broaden your scope to include women and people of color — of which there are many religious leaders working on environmental issues.
As Grist continues to work on this important topic of religion and the environment I hope you expand to interview a more inclusive group of leaders. This is not meant to be a critique but rather a voice of encouragement.
Barbara R. Rossing
Is God green? It never occurred to me that this question would be at issue. I personally have never had a problem resolving my spirituality with my environmentalist views. Of course God is green! Otherwise, He would have created a universe of machines that dispensed whatever we needed rather than an intricately interwoven, perfectly balanced natural environment!
Editor’s note: Share your opinion about God & the Environment in Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
In Umbra’s meaty menu for the mind, she mentions that Canadians even have a fourth “R,” to go along with the other three: that being “Recover.” Heck, eh, being one of them myself, in fact from the Great White North (Whitehorse), I can tell you that we Canadians are way beyond that. We have incorporated perhaps the most important “R” of all: “Rethink.” Speaks volumes don’t it?
Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
Thank you, Grist, for the excellent article on our C2C Home project in Roanoke. The first C2C Home Competition entry is being built in the historic Gainsboro neighborhood by our partners at Blue Ridge Housing Development Corporation. BRHDC has taken the initiative to build the first house and is using the services of Southern Heritage Homes to complete the modular part of the build.
We recognize at C2C Home that building a true cradle-to-cradle home is not possible at this time because many relevant materials are simply unavailable. However, we hope that by attempting to build such a house, we will generate the interest in others to work with us toward a true cradle-to-cradle structure.
Your article reflected so many of the reasons we feel this particular design was the right choice for the community. We thank you for your interest and attention, and look forward to updating you on the progress of our exciting project.
Re: Behind the Vail
Tim Sprinkle’s article about the alleged greening of the town of Vail and Vail Resort shows in action the classic problem that climate-change activists presently face: We’ll do something on climate disruption, and it will make us feel good, but it won’t be sufficient to address the problem. And that will represent an enormous, and tragic, lost opportunity.
Some members of the ski industry have belatedly come to realize that climate disruption might actually be bad for business, and that their clients, who believe themselves to be environmentalists, want said resorts to appear green. And while it’s good to run ski lifts and the lights in town hall on wind power, this accomplishment is dwarfed by the elephant in the room: the industrial-tourism model Vail and other major ski resorts have come to epitomize.
Vail Mountain alone, one of a half-dozen large ski mountains in central Colorado, can handle 20,000 skiers on its slopes at one time. The nearby Eagle Airport has, since its expansion in the mid-1990s, become one of Colorado’s busiest, hosting a string of large commercial jets every day, all winter long (and summer, too). The four lanes of Interstate 70 leading from Denver to Vail aren’t sufficient to handle the skier traffic — multi-hour delays, each way, of streaming SUVs are common. In other words, the massive energy expenditure implicit in bringing hundreds of thousands of skiers and snowboarders from around the country and the world to Vail, Aspen, Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Winter Park, and similar resorts (not to mention what it takes to support them while they’re visiting) vastly outweighs the energy consumed by the municipality or the ski area. And nobody is talking about addressing this aspect of skiing and snowboarding.
What we are seeing at Vail and elsewhere in the ski industry is good intentions that fall far short of the mark. The science is clear: the developed world needs to reduce carbon output by 70 percent or more if we are to prevent catastrophic climate shifts. That level of change will happen in the ski industry only when there is a bold reimagining of what a successful ski business looks like, how it works, and where its customers come from. As a lifelong devotee of snow sports, I can only hope that this happens before there isn’t any snow left in my beloved Colorado mountains.
Great Barrington, Mass.
Bill McKibben is a fine writer, but I keep wishing his talents were used in a more aggressive call to action and in focusing more attention on the business solutions that need to be implemented.
A generation ago, the talk of global warming was confined to a bunch of nerdy scientists. A decade ago, nine tree-huggers and a spotted owl joined the conversation. Today discussions on the issue are everywhere and include everyone. But it has taken 35 years to have a level of public awareness that is significant — and that awareness has yet to translate into responsible personal action.
Social and cultural change happen at the pace described above, but the pace of global warming demands a sense of urgency. The market for goods, services, and technologies to combat global warming is estimated at $3 trillion and growing — and the rate of change in market-driven initiatives has been at speeds never before imagined. Global warming is most likely to be reversed not by good intentions but by savvy business decisions, based on realizing that environmental stewardship is the smartest approach to resource management and reasonable profit. Eventually society will catch up, but we humans have willing spirits and weak flesh, so businesses need to be created which give folks easy, painless ways to do the right thing.
I am consistently amazed and saddened by the level of talk vs. the level of action. My organization works hard to get to folks and educate them about the issues, provide them with a really easy first step in cleaning up their own carbon footprint, and engage them in real action in environmental stewardship. Carbon credits are not “the” answer; there is no silver bullet. But by financing a broad range of initiatives which might not be undertaken otherwise, carbon credits become at least a part of the plan which can work.
We must go at this problem from all sides, surround it, attack it, reverse it! Global warming is moving forward and it’s up to us to stop it now! Our approach is market-based because that works best and fastest in America. All the philosophizing will raise the level of dialogue, but discussion cannot get us there fast enough. American business genius, ingenuity, technology, and love of profit can!
Oh, you youngsters. I love your sense of humor but some of your opinions are so, shall we say, young. The border fence (which should cover the entire border), which you say will be so hurtful to some species, can only help save whatever remaining environment we have in this country. Imagine the U.S. with another 100 million people. Sound like fun? Some of us remember this country with 170 million people, and believe me, it was a lot nicer, cleaner, safer, and you had a lot more freedom. Wildlife had a lot more space. You can talk about sprawl all you want, but 400 million people have to live somewhere, and it’s going to be in habitat now being used by wildlife. Now should I go on to mention the 250 million tons of garbage left on the border by the illegals?
There’s a very good, and ridiculously obvious, reason why progressives are reluctant to embrace the so-called “latest signs of progress” (such as the sale of organics by Wal-Mart): we don’t trust them!
How many times do we need to hear about yet another corporation that says one thing and does another in order to feed the bottom line? An entity whose sole purpose is to make money for its shareholders is Machiavellian by nature, and does not have either the interests of consumers or the welfare of the planet in mind when making decisions.
The only true solution to all of this is for communities to once again begin producing their own food and commodities, and to learn to live more simply. After all, when push comes to shove (and we’re almost there), we don’t really need to eat pineapples if we live in Maine, and we don’t need to eat lettuce in February if we live in upstate New York.
The last thing I want to support is mega-corporations getting involved in the organic food business. I’ll buy my vegetables from the farm down the road or the Saturday farmers’ market or the regional farmers’ market, thank you, and I will never give Wal-Mart or its ilk one dime of my money to support their evil empire.
Editor’s note: What do you think? Share your two cents on Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
Let’s build on the momentum generated by these great books by creating an Eat Local Wiki, where we all research and document who is doing what to promote local food in our towns and on our campuses. Is your school doing enough to serve locally grown food? If so, add it to the wiki and tell everyone how the school does it. If not, write about that too. Do you know of restaurants that strive to serve locally grown food? List ’em! Is there a pod of “locavores” near you — people who have challenged themselves to eat only locally grown food for a week, a month, three months, etc.? List ’em! I’ve got the very beginning of the wiki going at WikiForGood.org.
Tom Philpott beat me to the punch with “Rattling the Food Chain,” an idea I’ve had for an article ever since the review copies of books aimed at America’s growing cadre of conscious eaters began piling up on my desk early this year. Tom missed one, though. Nina Planck’s Real Food: What to Eat and Why traces the author’s own personal and professional passion for substantive sustenance to her childhood farm near Washington, D.C., where her family played a leading role in the growing farmers’ market scene.
Thank you, Grist, for continuing to hit on themes that matter. As Wendell Berry said: “Eating is an agricultural act.” The closer we can connect plate to farmer — circumventing the middlemen: fast-food giants, agriculture monopolies, and transportation costs — the better off we all will be.
Editor’s note: Got food on your mind? Talk it over on Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
In the U.S., it is hard not to have a car. I’m from Portugal — and in cities in Portugal there’s lots of public transportation, and only nowadays are people all having their own cars. Not me.
It’s been six years now without my own car. I’m a mom too. And most of the time a single mom. I’ve lived in the U.S. a few times, in North Carolina and also Florida, and though it was difficult to get everything done that I needed to sometimes, I didn’t have a car.
Poverty sometimes is what is necessary to make us aware and drive us into environmentally friendly ways.
It is always a positive thing to help us overcome difficulties.
Thanks for your article. It’s important that we change our standards and lifestyles into natural, eco-friendly ones, and get rid of ego-status patterns that have been leading us to destroy our environment, for the sake of money and status. Cheers to you and all the moms on the planet who care enough to make courageous choices and build a better, greener world, free and clean!
Rita A.P. Fonseca
Editor’s note: Give your two cents about living without a car on Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
Re: Put a Plug in It
I don’t think that Umbra made a fair conclusion that basically it is a toss-up over whether electric cars or plug-in hybrids are really a big benefit compared to gasoline cars.
She compared a Prius, the ultimate gas-sipper, to the Tesla Roadster, a high-powered electric car. A fairer comparison would have been the Tesla’s efficiency to maybe a Corvette or Ferrari, cars with similar performance characteristics as far as acceleration and passenger capacity. The fact that even an electron-sucking, swanky sports car like the Tesla is more efficient than the Prius speaks volumes as to the dramatic efficiency differences between the two technologies for cars in the same class.
Redondo Beach, Calif.
Re: Put a Plug in It
It’s hard to take anyone seriously who refers to an electric motor as an engine. And no matter how you try to compare the efficiency of electric motorized vehicles to internal-combustion-engine vehicles, they still win. I have been driving an EV since 1994, cannot even find the cost of fuel in my electric bill, and I love it.
North Salt Lake City, Utah
Editor’s note: Rant or rave about electric cars in Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
First I gotta eat organic. Then I gotta fork over an arm and a leg to do so while I’m told to be patient because as organics penetrate the market, prices will drop. Then organics penetrate the market and I’m told that to be politically correct, I gotta keep paying (now artificially) high prices in order to help keep the little guy in business.
I am all in favor of the little guy. But you know what? The folks who shop at Wal-Mart because it’s cheap and that’s what they can afford, they’re the little guy too. And because what they can afford right now is generally Twinkies and frozen dinners chock full of fat and sugar, they have a higher incidence of diabetes and weight problems than the rich people like me who read Grist (we’re all rich compared to most of the country and you know it). Those folks should be able to afford to eat organically (and healthily) too.
It’s not a perfect world and I don’t want my co-op to be overrun with organic tomatoes from Chile, since being shipped by massive boats spewing diesel hardly conforms to my idea of organic or my political ideals. But the price of organics has to come down. If not for my pocketbook (which is hardly bottomless), then for the health of the industry in the long-term. And if the little, local guy can’t do that, you’ve got to find another reason to charge the prices you feel you deserve and convince me and all the other people like me to do so.
Your bottom line isn’t going to do it for me, since I need to look out for mine at some point.
Editor’s note: Share your opinion about Wal-Mart’s effect on small farmers in Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
Re: Fight or Flight
In the late ’60s I felt city living was a dead end and moved to a very rural area in New Mexico. I built my house with adobe I made myself, and cut and brought logs to a mill to be made into lumber.
No, you don’t need to suffer to be green, but to “be green” you need to exert effort about taking care of yourself. To can food that you have grown. To obtain your own heat and to work very hard, as did our landed ancestors. The reward is that you live naturally and inexpensively. In years when I have over $8,000, I go traveling.
What I see is people who mistake discomfort for pain and the beauty of involvement as a form of suffering. Here’s to all the fat and lazy, whatever their color!
Editor’s note: Share your opinions about dropping out of society on Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
Being a proponent of the eaters’ power to change our current food system, I cringed at the subhead “Why ‘the market’ alone can’t save local agriculture.” It is because of the passion of the farmers, yes, but I would say in equal parts the dedication of eaters (who sometimes go to great lengths to seek out local foods) that we are seeing such a steady increase in the number of farmers’ markets and CSAs.
Tom Philpott is right, though. Eaters can take this movement only so far. Infrastructure, particularly for processing pasture-raised meats, is desperately needed to attain the accessible, trustworthy food system for which real-food revivalists are working. Bravo, Tom, it’s a point well made. Clearly, eaters want an alternative to industrially raised foods and there is a growing group of farmers who are willing to provide it. Now it’s time some tax dollars get earmarked to connect the necessary dots.
Editor’s note: Share your thoughts about the market’s role in local agriculture in Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
This was just delightful to read! Renewed my faith in Grist and the view of “activism.” It worries me when we think that technology can “save” us and when activism just means buying “green” and not reducing consumption patterns. I really liked what Jason Wentworth said about those perspectives leading us to not tackling larger issues, ones where we need to take a long look at our own behavior (and systems issues) and make changes.
Re: High Fidelity
I am a bit mystified as to Ms. Gies’ stellar opinion of Cuba’s record. I don’t believe she qualified her language enough in the article to demonstrate why Cuba has, only within the last 10 years or so, been able to make claims of being an organic and environmentally conscious society. Were it not for the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Bay of Havana would most certainly have maintained its status as the most polluted body of water in the Western Hemisphere, as it was in the 1980s, and organic farming would be unheard of.
I would suggest rose-tinted glasses be removed and some research be looked into on the environmental record of communist countries in the last century, compared to those of capitalist or other societies. Cuba’s current organic and environmental awakening has been born out of necessity.
You and I have the luxury of arguing whether or not that is a good thing. Unfortunately, the Cubans on the island don’t even have the luxury to argue the point. Do you think an outfit like Grist would even be allowed to exist in Cuba? I am also grateful for people as dedicated as yourselves giving us such an incredible resource to use, learn from, debate, and cherish.
Editor’s note: Share your opinions on or experiences in Cuba in Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
Re: Selling Exxon
Tyler Clements might want to remind his buddy, who yawned about An Inconvenient Truth before talking seriously about it, that Gore’s slideshow was in fact produced in Keynote (on a Mac), not in PowerPoint. That’s an important distinction because of the ease with which the slideshow was produced and woven through the movie. The crew was apparently thrilled. Not to mention all the great animations, transitions, and special effects, few of which are so easy to create in PowerPoint. Just thought you’d like to know.
Re: Selling Exxon
I applaud the article by Tyler Clements. I was a Mobil Oil employee for 11 years — Exxon and Mobil recently merged. In the ’80s and early ’90s, I was proud to work for what I believed to be a morally responsible, outspoken organization with integrity. Since Exxon Valdez, I have felt very differently about how Exxon treats its customers and the environment. Their arrogance to those who are responsible for their financial success is intolerable. When Mobil merged with Exxon, I was sad to see a respectful, responsive, fair organization disappear. Due to the massive culture change, most of my “old” friends have since left.
Nonetheless, my stock has long since been sold off; I, too, responded dramatically to Gore’s documentary, and am sick and tired of Exxon getting away with murder. Many thanks to Clements for making the big leap, especially at a time when the financial rewards are particularly attractive.
Editor’s note: Share your opinion about Tyler Clements’ decision to sell his Exxon stock in Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
Great article about the oceans, except that manatees do not live in the Pacific Ocean. Repeating biologically incorrect information just gives the sharp-eyed pseudo-scientists something to use against us.
Star Trek vs. Mad Max vs. Ecotopia vs. Planet of the Apes. Which future vision do you subscribe to?
As usual, reality will most likely be some combination of the above, rather than one of the extreme visions.
It’s unlikely that technology will solve everything, and just as likely that it will solve nothing. It will solve some problems, but our lifestyles will have to change and adapt. Civilization as we know it will end, but in its place will be a different kind of civilization. Life will go on, it will just be different, just as our life and civilization today are different than what people experienced 150 or 200 years ago.
Re: Civic Doubty
Sorry, Umbra, but if someone has the money to buy a new car, it’s almost always a better environmental choice than keeping your old one — even a 1988 Honda Civic that gets 39 mpg. Environmental Working Group analyzed 2.5 million California Smog Check records to see which cars on the road are cleanest — not just when they came off the showroom floor, but after years of use. The advances in pollution technology mean that today’s cleanest small cars are an astounding 88 times cleaner than a 1988 Civic with manual transmission driven in urban California. Readers can rate their own cars, or one they’re thinking of buying, here.
Editor’s note: Keep the old car or buy a new one? Share your opinion in Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
I’m deeply disappointed by the snarky attack on a family I recently featured in Portland Ground, my photoblog. David Roberts and Sarah van Schagen apparently think that a family of four in a human-powered vehicle is a big joke. How can you or they reconcile that kind of small-minded mocking attack on a family that is actually using an alternative transportation vehicle in daily life?
Since when did the sight of a slightly overweight person out exercising and not destroying the planet become so amusing to your supposedly environmentally oriented magazine?
You could make fun of 40 million fat-assed SUV drivers, but you think it’s time to have a little laugh at this one family in a million that is actually doing some good, and frankly driving around in a vehicle that is hell of a lot closer to the future of transport than any SUV.
I just can’t believe you’d take that approach. My opinion of Grist just went through the floor. David Roberts and Sarah van Schagen should be ashamed of how they described this family, and you and they owe them a public apology.
Just a thought about your wrinkles comment about Redford. It seems to buy into the national obsession that wrinkles are bad, aging is bad, and maybe even that a person who was once such a sex symbol should be particularly embarrassed that he is not hot and 30 anymore.
Hell, few of us are (or possibly a few of you still are). I am kissing 50 and don’t have wrinkles yet, but I think that since part of environmentalism is understanding how consumer attitudes are created by advertising in order to increase consumption (and plenty of overconsumption), and that “aging is a terrible thing” is taught to the public by corporations in order to sell stupid stuff, it would be nice for you folks to still be funny without falling into some of the more stupid cultural attitudes created by advertising.
You got my attention with your blurb about Jim Bensman being labeled a terrorist. Jim and I met at a forest-activist gathering in the spring of 1989. All of these years, Jim has been a tireless defender of the forest ecosystem in my own neighborhood. Jim’s time, energy, and skills have done more to preserve this little piece of the natural world than any other individual I know of.
The kicker is that he has accomplished it within the framework of the law, learning and using the processes set up by the federal agencies who administer these lands (a bewildering and daunting task). He has done this playing by their rules! Jim Bensman should be commended as a model citizen and stalwart patriot acting on behalf of public lands. He is surely one of my heroes in this world.
Yep. I saw him hug a tree once in Indiana — watch out for this guy!