Readers' Forum

Readers' Forum is a place for your feedback and ideas. We welcome you to use this space to share your thoughts, inspire us with your personal stories, and challenge our thinking and that of our readers.

Sierra Club debate


After reading your article “Dividing the Sierra Club” in the Summer 1998 issue, it is time to reassess the cant with which the immigration issue was largely discussed.


It is just as disingenuous to say that one has “no position” on immigration as it is to say that one is neutral on, for instance, clearcutting. In the real world, to fail to oppose something is to endorse it. The recent Sierra Club vote means that the world's largest and most powerful environmental organization is still officially on record as tolerating continuing record levels of legal immigration into the US.


As far as I'm aware, Sierra Club members are glad to be part of the only environmental group that has a democratic structure and sets basic policies by votes of the membership. However, we must remember that the Club's leadership sometimes tends to be motivated more by political fear than ecological understanding.


There are few things in ecology as indubitable as that more Americans, whether they come from immigration or births, will increase the already tragic levels of our impact on the biosphere. Though no other people rival the destructiveness of Americans, we need fewer people everywhere, consuming less, and using less destructive technologies. We need all three of these things, and we need them fast.


When ecology and politics meet, whether in a legislature or in an environmental organization, politics usually wins – that, of course, is precisely why the human species is in such a global pickle.


YES! should be more hard-nosed about this almost universal dichotomy. In immigration, for instance, it is important to follow the ancient principle of “Who gains?” – a question which was curiously neglected in the Sierra Club debate. Some neglected winners in preserving high immigration levels seem easy to spot: corporations whose wage levels are pushed down; agriculture, which has grown used to low wages; and even those millions of ordinary Americans who hire immigrants who'll accept low wages to mow their lawns, repair their roofs and sewers, and mind their children.


Population levels and migration cannot be separated from either their ecological or their economic contexts. In the present manic phase of economic globalization, for instance, the MAI aims to utterly remove any national obstacles to the free movement of capital, as the WTO is already chipping away the ecological protections that national environmental movements have won. But as a friend once pointed out, if capital can go anywhere, it's only fair that people should have totally free movement as well – an argument that is hard to deny. And indeed, this may happen through globalization during the next century.


However, we need to face that we have an ultra-high consumption US population growing more rapidly, partly from immigration and partly from domestic births, than some developing countries. We have to decide honestly what, if anything, should be done about it, since our descendants and the Earth will bear the consequences of our decisions.


Ernest Callenbach
Berkeley, California

Global solutions

No one in the leadership of the Sierra Club believes that population isn't a serious problem; the question was whether we believed that controlling immigration into the US was the best way of dealing with the crisis (See YES! #6, Summer 1998). The answer of our membership was a resounding NO.

John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, exhorted us to remember that “when you pick anything up by itself, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” To deal with population on a wholly national level ignores that we live in a global environment. We will not succeed in protecting America's environment, let alone the planet's, without thinking of global solutions.

Focusing on immigration into the US results in blame directed at immigrants – who are frequently fleeing political or environmental upheaval – instead of blaming ourselves for driving sport utility vehicles and clearcutting our forests.

Is it environmentally preferable for someone to move to the rainforest in the Petén region of Guatemala and begin cattle farming or to move to Los Angeles and drive a car? I'll leave that for other people to argue about, but in the meantime, we should work on the areas where we can make a difference. Instead of arguing about immigration, we should focus on international family planning, reducing consumption in the US, and raising the status of women worldwide. There's too much work to do to waste our time arguing amongst ourselves.

Adam Werbach
Former Sierra Club president
cofounder, Act Now Productions
San Francisco, California

Of plants and pacifiers

My husband and I had just decided to introduce a pacifier to our six week-old baby when the endocrine disrupter issue of YES! arrived (#6, Summer 1998). Of course, there are many reasons not to use a pacifier, but I found the argument in “Safer Homes & Gardens” by Scott Morris was one that cannot be ignored. Thank you for helping to protect our little daughter from vinyl chlorides!

I thought your readers might be interested in a resource I found: The Natural Baby Catalog (888/388-BABY) features nontoxic wooden toys with a beeswax finish and organic cotton clothing for children.

Also, Morris's article recommended spider plants, philodendron, and golden pothos as helping to absorb 80 percent of the formaldehyde in a room. However, I was wondering about the toxicity of the plants themselves. I have been warned against houseplants because babies will put the leaves in their mouths, and most houseplants are poisonous when ingested. Do you know if any of those three plants does not present this hazard?

One more question: I have been told that Teflon pots and pans can be toxic. I want to replace ours, but cast iron and copper are both so expensive. Do you recommend one over the other, or is there a cheaper alternative? Should I even be concerned?

Meanwhile, we will be following most of the advice in the article. Thank you for this valuable information!

Diana Partington
Los Angeles, California

Editor's note: Great questions! Our local Poison Control Center informed us that spider plants are not toxic, even when ingested. Golden pothos and philodendrons, however, contain oxalate crystals, which can cause mucus membranes to swell and choke babies who eat these leaves.

For the second question, we turned to green living expert Annie Berthold-Bond, who says, “Until more is understood about how our bodies handle the small amounts of metals that may leach from cooking pots, the best choice is to use glass or porcelain enamel over metals such as steel or iron. Stainless steel is also a good choice, although there have been reports that very small amounts of nickel can leach out when cooking acidic foods.”

For other readers who have questions about how to live sustainably, see our new column, which is written by Annie Berthold-Bond and Doug Pibel, “YES! ... But How?

Getting and spending

Regarding “The Overspent American” (Issue #6, Summer 1998), it is gratifying to see that people who chose simple lives can achieve happiness without going about it the long way. We spend (waste) so much of our time trying to achieve the larger goals through the medium of consumerism, when we are naturally born to achieve happiness without the widgets of production.

Amy Seif
Rocky Mountain Institute
Basalt, Colorado

Fresh air

Congratulations on another excellent issue – from content to layout to printing. Only the Positive Futures Network could make the themes discussed in Rx for the Earth (Issue #6, Summer 1998) feel like a breath of fresh air!

George Kostveit Gabriel
Nesoddtangen, Norway


I am a big fan and supporter of YES! However, I have a real concern about the “subvertisements” appearing on your inside back cover. (See “No Comment,” YES! #2, Spring 1996 and YES! #6, Summer 1998).

I find subvertisements to be out of character with the work you're doing. Subvertisements are negative and sarcastic. Your journal is about positive futures and integrity. Although these ads may appear funny, I do not believe that a correct way to get your message across is by criticizing others. A better way to advance is through your own positive actions.

I frequently tell people about articles in YES! One of my colleagues took home a couple of my issues. He returned, shocked by the religious subvertisement in Issue #2. He found this ad so insulting that he never read the rest of the journal, apparently discounting the entire magazine!

I encourage you to consider the impact of subvertisements in YES!

Anne Reiling
Corvallis, Oregon

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