Big Bad Betrayals?
I’m sort of annoyed that you let Jeffrey St. Clair get away with his crude generalities about the supposed treachery of “large environmental groups” (“Cutting the Grassroots,” Fall/Winter 2008). These groups are not the monolithic conspiracy he and his pal Alex Cockburn have been conjuring up for years. If St. Clair ever got around to checking facts, he’d have to let go of these accusations. A few examples: He complains that the large groups are “not at all grassroots” anymore, which is flat-out wrong. The Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, for example, have active
local chapters working on local issues. He also claims that large groups betrayed the environmental movement on NAFTA, yet the Izaak Walton League, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club fought NAFTA from the beginning.
Even more preposterous is his accusation that three foundations established with oil tycoons’ money “basically control the environmental movement” because organizations accept grants from the foundations. In the first place, large organizations have so many other sources of funding, from members, investments, bequests, etc., that foundations can’t “control” them simply by untying purse strings. Secondly, the fact that a foundation was founded by oil tycoons doesn’t mean these guys (most of whom are dead) or their heirs dictate who gets the grants. Nor do they necessarily place the kind of conditions on the grants that could possibly give them control of the movement. I have worked for and served on the board of environmental organizations that received numerous grants, and I
have yet to see any grant agencies that made the kind of stipulations that could give them control of the movement. Unless St. Clair has dug up numerous concrete cases with compelling evidence that big environmental groups have caved in to the demands of a foundation to the point of “betrayal,” he really has no business making such
charges. Finally, he invents a bogus David-and-Goliath dichotomy between virtuous, untainted local groups and big bad national sellouts. Any fool can see that we desperately need BOTH types of organizations, and hammering wedges between them serves no useful purpose. How, for example, can a local group sue for cleaner water if there is no state or national law to provide a basis for litigation? There are countless examples like this where federal law and lawsuits based on it have to be invoked to remedy a local problem. Such laws would simply not exist and or be upheld without large national organizations to fight for them. St. Clair also conveniently ignores the various situations where national organizations use their clout and their funds to help local groups advance their local agenda. Of course given his paranoia he probably views this as unscrupulous cooptation by the corrupt and
treacherous Goliaths. Finally, it may surprise St. Clair that in the real world, smaller groups of all kinds also depend in varying degrees on grants and on funding from wealthy individuals. There’s really no proof that small
groups are more immune to such moneyed influences than large ones or that they spend their hard-earned funds any more wisely than the big groups. Fools and incompetents come in all sizes. Aside from this complaint, keep up your great work.
Bob Schildgen, aka “Mr. Green,” Berkeley
Stick to the Hard Stuff
First, let me say that I look forward to the release of no other magazine more than Terrain. I absolutely love and admire its coverage and editorial slant. Although I should have written about how much I love the magazine before I chose to write to critique it, I felt that I had to chime in with my thoughts about the latest issue (“Cradle to Grave,”
Summer 2008). Perhaps I am getting a bit ahead of myself here, but it is, frankly, my sincere hope that Terrain will not go the way of so much environmental journalism and become lifestyle-focused. As a greenie and parent, I can tell you, for one, that there is certainly no shortage of magazines, Web sites and other resources to completely freak me out and make me feel terrible about the potential environmental consequences of what I buy and what I feed my daughter. I’m not sure we need to have Terrain dedicate its space to such coverage, particularly when you could just put in another killer article like the one immediately before it about marine sanctuaries. And green weddings? I mean, give me a break. My hopes that Terrain would give the hard truth (you have no chance to green your wedding if even as few as five people fly to it) was dashed with a single sentence that you could buy offsets for place travel
(certainly, I would think, offsets are worthy of skepticism in the pages of Terrain). And then a couple more advice columns? “How do I get green flatwear for my garden party?” Terrain is just far too valuable and important as a serious, accessible, and free environmental magazine to become the province of orthodox greeniacs and their quest for carbon purity. I urge you to leave that to Sunset, Plenty, Grist.org, Living on Earth, and the whole fleet of media covering the super-individualistic tweaks we can make to feel like we’re doing our part for the environment. However, as Terrain would most certainly agree, it’s far more important to do something about the environment than to feel like you’re doing something for the environment. Please, Terrain, keep doing what you were doing so well.
Justin Horner, Oakland
More About Nukes
This is an overdue comment on the Fall/Winter 2008 issue’s article, “Nuclear Redux.” Author Amy Kiser used many important references such as the 2007 Stanford study of wind power and reliable baseload technology. She also notes the US nuclear power industry’s replacement of the word “reprocessing” to refer to fuelfrom decommissioned nuclear weapons with “recycling,” a term more appealing to environmentalists. This latter point relates to the main lobbying group for the industry, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). Its role in utilizing the threat of global warming to promote nuclear power is described by Karl Grossman in the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of Extra and Diane Farsetta in the June 2008 Progressive. Former Greenpeace activist Dr. Patrick Moore is co-chair of the industry-funded pro-nuclear Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and has been widely quoted in mainstream media as part of NEI’s public relations efforts. Two pertinent sources of information not cited in the Terrain article include the Nuclear Information Resource Service (www.nirs.org) and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research
(www.ieer.org). IEER has developed a Statement of Principles to Achieve a Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free US Energy System. As of mid-December 2008, there were around 150 signatories to its principles, including “some of the largest public interest, environmental, disarmament, and peace organizations in the
country,” according to IEER’s home page. Your focus on this important and timely issue is most appreciated.
Elizabeth Brown, Kensington
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