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Feedback

Published May 4, 2003
Updated May 13, 2003

Following the publication of "State of Denial" on April 27, 2003, several readers offered feedback. Below is a sampling of their reactions. Want to offer your opinion? Send it to: denial@sacbee.com. To have your letter considered for the opinion page of The Bee, send it to: viewpoints@sacbee.com.


(Submitted Aug. 26, 2003)

Thank you for your story on gravel extraction. (Grounds for Anger, Aug. 17) It has been the death of this small community that depended so much on tourism and retirement. The gravel pit in Sechelt, British Columbia, is right beside the hospital and it is a wonder that patients are not bounced out of their beds by the noise.

The air quality in Sechelt has seriously deteriorated since the Construction Aggregate project. The company that maintains filters on the top of the hospital and the local mall reported that they have to change them 4 times more than before the arrival of gravel extraction. As well, the open land clearing burns that occur from the gravel area pollute the air with smoke and often residents cannot see across Porpoise Bay (a distance of 3/4 of a mile) due to this smoke. Ash falls on our properties and dust falls on our properties.

The thing that upsets us the most is the fact that any monies realized by taxes are not going to the community of Sechelt, but to the Sechelt Indian Band and the Provincial Government. Even though the largest open pit gravel mine in North America is situated in the middle of the District of Sechelt, those lands were left out of Sechelt when we became a District Municipality, making the bylaws of the community useless. The lease runs out on the gravel extraction in 2039. Already we have lost two large green mountains and who knows how much more will be lost before 2039. Certainly, I won't. As I fully expect to be 6 feet under by that time ... hopefully, not under gravel.

Nancy MacLarty
Former Mayor
District of Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada


(Submitted July 7, 2003)

I recently read your remarkable report, "State of Denial", about the hidden environmental and social costs of excessive consumerism in California, and around the world. For the past eleven years, I have been working as a leader, first in philanthropy and more recently in the non-profit sector, to raise American awareness about the urgent need to consume responsibly. I served as Executive Director of the Merck Family Fund, the leading private grantmaker in this field and more recently as President of the Center for a New American Dream - the one national environmental group dedicated to helping Americans consume consciously for the environment. In these roles, I have testified before the United Nations and Congress, written two books, and attended countless meetings and events. I've worked with the federal EPA to help institutions buy green and helped assemble a network of 30,000 consumers who take monthly consumer actions together to promote green design of goods. In all this time, I have never read a better piece of journalistic work on this paradoxical yet core challenge of our times. Your paper deserves enormous credit and affirmation for taking on the question, "how much is enough?" As your title implies, the vast majority of Americans (and their newspapers) have failed to face the challenge of consumerism and its unintended yet dramatic impact on our natural world. Your straightforward report transcended finger wagging and simply went to the heart of things: can we have a safe and beautiful future if we continue to consume so intensively? The equally obvious answer is "no".

Americans consume more water, paper, gasoline, aluminum and plastic than any other group of people on the planet, and sadly, we are the global model! Californians apparently are at the head of the consuming pack. An American household generates twice as much garbage as the average European one and we are the world's leading generator of global warming gases, due to our extraordinary consumption of fossil fuel. Yet we prefer to proclaim our loyalty to the "more is always better" definition of the good life. The American dream used to focus primarily on genuine opportunity, security, and happiness. Increasingly, that dream has been overshadowed by an extraordinary emphasis on acquistion. This commercial definition of the American dream not only hurts our natural world but injures the fabric of our communities, families, and national spirit. What really matters in the long run? This is the question your paper has posed and it is the central question that all people, especially Americans, now need to ask themselves.

Thank you for being bold. Many papers have been timid, worrying that even raising the question of American consumpton is somehow anathema to American patriotism. It is a paradox. We need consumpton to maintain a prosperous economy and adequate employment, but this consumption must be directed to companies and products that are completely redesigned. We need paper - not from virgin timber or rainforests, but from recycled and non-wood fiber. We need packaging - but not from chemically harmful plastics or from ancient forests - but from biodegradable corn husks or recycled matter. We need cars - but not those that need another gallon of gas every 13-20 miles. Rather we need cars that need that extra gallon of carbon-releasing gasoline every 60 miles (think hybrid electrics) and eventually we need to move to a hydrogen economy. All of these changes in production will generate new jobs while conserving the natural world.

Californians love the environment. They have been at the forefront of many positive changes in public policy. Now they can lead as conscious consumers - using their buying power to insist on environmentally friendly food, transit, paper, and household products. Companies may not listen to government anymore but they do listen to customers. I hope your newspaper will help spark a rising demand for goods that are truly sustainable. On behalf of the Center for a New American Dream (www.newdream.org), thank you for upholding the highest standards of journalism and going deep on a topic that many prefer to simply ignore.

Sincerely,

Betsy Taylor
President
Center for a New American Dream


(Submitted May 12, 2003)

I have waited a long time for a definitive article like "State of Denial" to be written and I think this article was thought-provoking and potentially award-winning. While I think this article was very informative, it was somewhat one-sided.

For instance, in the oil section you list alternatives to oil with pros and cons. In the forestry section, you list only alternatives with no pros and cons. Wood is a renewable resource unlike many of its alternatives (i.e. concrete) and the downsides of these alternatives should be listed.

Secondly, in discussing the boreal forest you downplay the fact that there are regulations on British Columbia's crown land similar or greater in degree of restriction to those on private ground in California. I know this because I have done forest/watershed regulatory consulting and/or agency work in both Canada and the U.S.

Most of your sources are from environmental groups from up there so I do not think you were getting the full picture of what is going on up there. You should have discussed this story further with the B.C. Ministry of Forests and industry groups in B.C. to really understand the nature of the restrictions and set asides.

The idea that there is no wildlife or insects in a clear cut as stated by a crack pot source in the article is absolute nonsense and is not even fit to print. Your points about the boreal are well taken if you understand what is happening in Siberia in which there are very few restrictions or set asides (something not even covered).

Finally, while I totally agree that there is too much consumption per capita, I think there is tremendous potential for greater local production of timber at minimal environmental harm right here in California.

We need to open our eyes to over zealous regulation and what that is causing in demand from other parts of the world. You stated this to some degree but I felt it was downplayed.

The bottom line is the real cost of wood resorces is going up because of increased demand with finite supply. The level of supply can be significantly upgraded if the small private woodland owners in the United States were energized via incentives and sustainable markets (about half of the commercial timberland in the U.S. is in this classification!).

I believe that all this can be done with relatively little harm to the environment and perhaps even improve the environment in many instances. My belief is not based on blind faith but on known growth rates, potentials and current conditions from more than a decade of study and practice on this subject. Once again, great job on the this article and thank you for writing it.

Sincerely,

E. George Robison
Assistant Professor Forest and Watershed Management Dept.
College of Natural Resources and Sciences
Humboldt State University
Arcata


(Submitted May 10, 2003)

After reading the "Denial" report and the response from other readers, I found myself musing over choices I made a long time ago when it become obvious to me that we, as a race, would sadly have to confront and then outlive the consequences of our treatment of this planet's resources.

The most important choice I made is that I will not indulge the primal urge to reproduce, firstly because there is already more than enough of us and, secondly, because I would love my offspring, I would not want to subject them to the future we have created. There are no "indicators" (and I humbly borrow that term from some venture capitalists) that show, as far as I can interpret, that the rate of increase of the degredation of the air, water and oxygen-providing forests is any way relaxing, that the rate of extinction of the variety of life on earth is slowing, and that the surviving populations of the "other" vertebrates living on this planet are managing or rebounding from our onslaught (except perhaps for rats, cats, dogs, cows, etc. -- i.e., animals that live off us, and animals we eat or keep as pets). Everything else is dying a slow and agonizing death. Of course, the cockroaches are faring well.

Perhaps in six or seven generations we will understand that our survival is not guaranteed manifest destiny, that life and death are one and the same in the cycle of life, and that life takes on many forms, each with a part to play, and our part in this drama is no better or worse, greater or mundane than that of air and water, and this knowledge will be in the minds of our leaders instead of a few "extremists," but for now, without an extremely unlikely radical shift in human behavior, it is going to get very unpleasant, in all likelihood horrible, before we can look forward to the future and say "tomorrow will be a good day, and the day after that even better."

David Casey
San Francisco


(Submitted May 10, 2003)

I'm glad the Bee is looking at consumption in the context of global impacts; this series is an excellent effort to think globally and act locally.

It was good of the editor to disclose how difficult it is for the Bee to find sustainable sources for its own newsprint. I hope the Bee's reporters expand this series to include other extractive industries and manufacturing abroad that benefit domestic consumers, and expand the consideration of paper-making to investigate the extent to which waste management within the state (including recycling practices for steel, aluminum, plastics and other post-conusmer goods) are sustainable.

Carl Zimring
Department of History
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, Pa.


(Submitted May 8, 2003)

I am a very experienced Northern California Registered Professional Forester who works all over the world in commercial forestry and forest products matters. Your series was very well done and right on. Good Job! From my travels and living and working abroad, I can tell you Americans are the "best" people in the world - and that includes Californians.

Your series is an important step to whittle away at the ignorance and denial regarding California's voracious consumption of natural resources - while opting for a feel good ecotopia, for ultimate improvement. It will happen, I am sure of that.

Sadly, it is most of the other parts of the world - including my European friends - who are "in denial." So often it is harder to face up to and work on problems in the other countries and cultures: because transparancy and honesty are seen as sophomoric defects; and action as cowboyism. In the end, we get to work here in the USA for redress of problems and injustice. In part due to the good work of the free, open and responsible press (good professional journalism of the Bee, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Economist - among others. Wish there was more).

Keep up the good work: You are making a difference - all in the honorable pursuit of making money.

Best Regards,

Scott Warner
California Registered Professional Forester No. 1955
Redding


(Submitted May 6, 2003)

I'd be a little careful in touting British Columbia's management of groundfish. For much of the coast, especially nearshore waters, rockfish are mostly gone. While the quota system we have may lead to less waste than the U.S. system, the fact remains that rockfish can only handle about a 1 to 2 percent harvest rate.

The entire Georgia Straight is almost devoid of rockfish, as well as ling cod. On remote areas of the northern coast, where you would expect to have phenomenal rockfish fishing, it's sometimes hard to catch enough for supper. All the reefs and rockpiles have been heavily fished, and rockfish are extremely susceptible to fishing pressure. They will keep biting as long as you keep fishing, until they are gone.

But the biggest problem is not necessarily the trawl fishery, but the very large hook-and-line fishery. While trawls can only fish a small percentage of the coast, the hook-and-line boats can fish everything. By the way, I am a member of the Sierra Club's marine committee, and a colleague of Terry Glavins.

Bruce Hill
Northern BC Conservation Coordinator, CPAWS BC
Terrace, BC


(Submitted April 30, 2003)

I was fortunate to meet Randy Borman and the Cofanes in 1988. At that time, the trip took two days by canoe down the Rio Aguarico to get to the village of Zabalo. The last time I was there in 1998, you could make the same journey in a bus. The road that the bus took followed the pipeline, and the pipeline went to where there is oil. The Cofane that guided us in originally said it quite succinctly: "The people with money want our oil, I think they will do anything to get it." The Cofanes unfortunately are in the middle, the oil companies make the roads to get the oil and the settlers follow the road and take their land. The Cofanes just did not know that they had already lost. But we also lose, for the land that is being destroyed is one of the most biological diverse treasurers in the world. I just feel very fortunate, I, at least was able to see it before it was gone.

When I was in Quito, I was told, that when oil was first discovered by Texaco in 1972, Ecuador had no debt. Now, a short 30 years later, with major environmental damage done to all of the Oriente Province, she has a large debt. It makes you wonder where the wealth that the oil was supposed to bring actually went.

Thanks for writing the article, even though it made me sad and brought back just how futile the situation really is.

Cheers,

Greg Kareofelas
Davis


(Submitted April 30, 2003)

I'm very impressed with Denial. Congratulations to all who contributed. And kudos to the Bee for spending the money to get it done. One of its strengths is that it takes a new angle on globalization, asking us to think about it in a new way. The extensive list of follow-up print and electronic sources reveals that the Bee refuses to underestimate the intelligence and curiosity of its readers.

Charles R. Cooper
Sacramento


(Submitted April 29, 2003)

I commend the writers for an excellent job on this story. I lived in the Mojave for 5 years and ended up moving back to Wisconsin. One of the reasons was the heightened pace that Californians were consuming goods and services while not seeming to care about the consequences. My main topic of concern and study was water usage, but California's consumption problems are across the board due to its population. It is arrogance to want to conserve or preserve but to not change one's lifestyle. I hope people across the country get to see this article, but moreover, I truly hope it opens some Californians' eyes.

My only complaint about the project was that Canada's quota system was not explained very well. I am curious to learn more about it and will thanks to your inclusion of outside resources.

Sincerely,

Michael Bartley
Milwaukee, Wis.


(Submitted April 29, 2003)

Before I read your article I was in a state of denial. I thought that we had been doing all these wonderful things to improve the condition of the earth, only to learn all that's been happening is a transfer of disruptive practices to other (mostly third-world) countries.

My footprint is 3.4 planets.

Alas, what to do? What to do? I am filled with consternation over what to do. I used to feel that one person can make a difference, now I'm not so sure.

Again, congrats on a resourcefully written article and hope to see more in the future.

Carol Paoli
Quincy


(Submitted April 28, 2003)

Congratulations on that great series of articles yesterday! I hope it makes more people aware of the tremendous environmental damage we're displacing to other areas of the world.

Alice F. Low
Senior Fishery Biologist (Specialist)
California Department of Fish and Game
Native Anadromous Fish and Watershed Branch
Sacramento


(Submitted April 28, 2003)

Great article but I am surprised it does not mention Forest Stewardship Certification as part of the solution to the problems associated with using wood fibre. Perhaps another article on this is in order. FSC standards for well-managed forests in Canada's boreal are being developed right now.

Helene Walsh
Edmonton, Alberta


(Submitted April 28, 2003)

Thanks for a wonderful overview of the ecological disasters facing the globe and, especially, of our California connection to them. I'm using The Sacramento Bee as a primary text in my College Composition classes at Sacramento City College, so my students are reading the supplement and we'll use it for our final exam. I've been encouraging my colleagues to use "State of Denial" in their classrooms, too.

I'm working with Newspapers in Education to see if our Bookstore at City College can order offprints for classroom use for summer and fall semesters.

I can see the use of this supplement at three of our levels: the pre-college writing class could focus on the personal connection and the ecological footprint of each student, the freshman level writing class can work on a number of issues that are raised as in-class discussions, paper topics and research papers, and the critical thinking (sophomore level) classes can work on the connections, contradictions, and implications.

Thanks for this in-depth focus and quality writing about an important set of issues. Please consider the area community colleges as a target audience for future supplements and investigative series like this.

Dr. Travis Silcox
English Department
Sacramento City College


(Submitted April 28, 2003)

Your article this Sunday, State of Denial, was great. Of particular importance and relevance to me was the information regarding forest management. I'm a professional forester helping to manage forestland in Placer County. I'm very glad you brought some of our problems to attention. In particular the fact as a state we have a huge demand for wood products and we are harvesting trees in the state at historical lows. As you showed, demand is increasing and we are importing the wood from other countries who often have less environmental protection than we do. People are often mislead into the notion that we are doing less environmental damage in our forests by not harvesting trees. Without natural fire in the ecosystem our forests are often enhanced by harvesting.

I'm just thankful you made people aware that as a state we are shifting the responsibility of sustainable forestry to other countries who don't have the environmental protection we do. They are usually more interested in helping their economies. I just wish the professional resource managers in the state were able to do their jobs more efficiently so we could supply our state with wood products in a sustainable fashion. We have some of the most highly trained resource professionals but they are often forced to the side as politicians, lawyers and others make choices. Meeting our own demand for wood resources is very possible. People need to make the choice of managing our own forests sustainably or shifting the responsibility to other countries. Thank you for letting people know about this problem.

Andy Hill
Antelope


(Submitted April 27, 2003)

Your article, State of Denial, although excellent, only addresses half of the equation. The article says we could decrease our global impact on the environment (footprint) by changing our lifestyle and thus decreasing the demand for goods and services. It says nothing about the impact of population on the environment.

Even if everyone had an equal footprint of 24 acres, the amount of footprint increases with increased population. Therefore we must limit population if we want to decrease our impact on the environment.

Dan Walters recently wrote a column telling how immigration and population growth increase the demand for goods and services.

To make matters worse, we have a government that favors big business and has gutted the environmental laws and doesn't enforce the ones we have. Re: front page article about Christine Whitman.

Sincerely,

Wanda Longnecker
Graeagle


(Submitted April 27, 2003)

Your State of Denial document is something I wish all Americans could be forced to read and to learn. I'm grateful to you for focusing again on the ultimately most important topic---the preservation of the earth. Your report must have taken a very great amount of time and obviously it took a huge amount of expertise The result is outstanding.

I am glad you are helping people to, hopefully, remember the basic facts about our consumption and our pollution. Today, driving my non-SUV vehicle, I was quite dwarfed by all the SUVs speeding past at 90 miles an hour, not to mention huge pick-up trucks driving like little sports cars. I know I shouldn't even be driving ANY vehicle, but SUVs really appal me.

Mr. Bush's leadership in the American "I'm right, me first, I get it all" movement will hopefully be countered, at least a bit, by your global vision of what REALLY needs to be done.

Thank you very much,

Claudia Krich
Davis


(Submitted April 27, 2003)

What an eye opener. I live in a small house, drive very little, eat too much red meat and need to conserve more. I thought this was an excellent article that will probably bring the activist back in me. I sent the link to many other people and I do hope they read it. I ran for the 3rd Assembly seat last election and my opponent (the Republican) who won couldn't wait to get his Chevy Tahoe and start commuting back and forth from Chico to Sacramento every day. When will we ever learn.

Thank you for writing this article.

Stuart King
Chico


(Submitted April 27, 2003)

Your article on environmental restrictions at home shifting the burden elsewhere is outstanding work. I've long wanted to see these issues covered. I am oft impressed with the journalism going on at the Sac Bee. Very impressive.

If we are serious about environmental conservation and protection it seems we should be honest with ourselves. Blocking new power plants and oil production in California does not protect the environment in any way if it merely shifts the production and manufacture elsewhere, and as you've pointed out may actually be more harmful. After all, logs from Canada and elsewhere must travel further to reach California then locally sourced materials. So much for self sufficiency. Again, I applaud your work. Finally someone has at least addressed the tip of the iceberg on coming to grip in practical terms with these important issues. Outstanding effort.

Nick Schutz
Klamath Falls, Ore.


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