I cringe when well-meaning efforts to make progress toward sustainable consumption start with extreme, wholly unsustainable practices like Wendee Holtcamp's in "My 30 Days of Consumer Celibacy" (Summer 2007). Since the late 1960s, environmental economists have argued that the fundamental problem is the dramatic underpricing of goods and services due to the exclusion of externalities such as the cost of cleaning up pollution. Yes, the economy would suffer if everybody bought only used things: We generate wealth by transforming nature into objects of value to humans. But since the world, and especially the United States, consumes far more than our natural capital stocks can sustainably produce, we need to begin experimenting with ways to demand less, and we need to get smart about who we buy from.
U.N. Green Growth Program
I live in a small town about 100 miles from Lowville, which Joseph D'Agnese visited in "Falling in Love With Wind" (Summer 2007). There are problems with the kind of industrial wind farm he wrote about. For example, landowners who are considering "hosting" a turbine on their property often find that the setback requirements around these giant turbines are so great that their options for future land development would be severely restricted. What's more, energy from these turbines does not qualify as baseload power. I believe that wind power will be most successful when drawn from small, decentralized networks, not from highly subsidized industrial-scale systems.
Chateaugay, New York
Bring on the Sun
If every house in North America put solar panels on the roof, we could produce five times the electrical energy we currently consume. No need for giant wind turbines, or big coal plants, or new transmission lines. The biggest hurdle would be cost, but that's decreasing with new technology. And shouldn't home-owners get tax breaks equal to those of big coal, oil, nuclear, and wind companies?
Our Children's Genes
Laura Wright's article on the complex interplay between our genes and the environment in the development of human disease ("Looking Deep, Deep Into Your Genes," Summer 2007) hits the nail on the head. Research efforts have not kept up with our changing needs as we struggle to adapt to our ever-evolving environment. My 12-year-old son has autism, and mercury seems to be one of the causes of his illness. He has received multiple chelation therapies, but as his mercury levels rise again, his symptoms reappear: His language and auditory processing abilities deteriorate, and his stomach and intestinal inflammation, as well as his skin rashes, all return. We pay for these marginally effective therapies ourselves; few are covered by our insurance. Our search for a cure is a constant struggle.
Calling Al Gore
In Claudia Dreifus's interview with marine biologist Jane Lubchenco "Troubled Waters," (Summer 2007), the question arises as to whether the oceans need a spokesperson who can attract as much attention as Al Gore did for global warming. Today's oceans are not what they were 200, 100, 50, or even 10 years ago. It will take decades for the consequences of global climate change to reshape the land as dramatically as we have remade our oceans through industrial fishing.