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18 posts from May 2014

May 30, 2014

Hiking Guru Shares Perfect Paths

Bob Manning at a trailheadRobert Manning is a hiking guru. At the University of Vermont, he researches and teaches park managment, which in practice means that he does a lot of hiking. With his wife, Martha, he cowrote the book Walking Distance (Oregon State University Press), which details 30 walks for any hiker's bucket list. Sierra spoke with Manning about his book, his experience with park management, and the best trail in the world.

The subtitle of your book is Extraordinary Hikes for Ordinary People. Who's "ordinary"? I mean, what's the face of the American hiker today?

I think it’s quite a cross-section, but the "ordinary people" part of the book is something that Martha and I feel strongly about. That’s the main purpose of the book, really: to get people walking more. Compared with people in a lot of the countries we’ve visited, not a lot of Americans are out there walking. With this book, we’re trying to do something about that, to get people to explore and create and ultimately protect these places.

A section of the Muir TrailYou have a strong connection to the John Muir Trail in particular, which you call one of your top 10 walks in the world.

I have a long and deep relationship with the John Muir Trail. When I graduated from college, it was 1968, and the Vietnam War was raging, and so I joined the Coast Guard. I enjoyed living in the city, but even more I enjoyed getting out to Yosemite. It really convinced me that I wanted something to do with the National Parks. That’s also how I became aware of John Muir and the Sierra Club. 

I always get a kick out of hiking above the tree line, of visiting places that I’d been seeing in Sierra Club calendars for years, thinking, "I really want to go there." Hiking over John Muir Pass and then on to Gifford Pinchot Pass -- the legacy of American conservation is just written into the landscape. To me, there’s no mountain range that’s more beautiful and friendly and engaging than the Sierras. That, combined with the Muir legacy, makes the trail my favorite hike.

Manning views the Colorado river nestled in the depths of the Grand CanyonYou’re an expert in park management. What’s your take on how the John Muir Trail is managed?

It has been around for a long time, so it’s well marked and well managed. One area where it excels is the permit system.

What makes a good permit system? The only innovation I’m aware of is the Grand Canyon's rafting permit system, which switched to a weighted lottery. I should also mention that you profile a hike along the Colorado River in your book.

The rafting waitlist was 20 years [laughs], and that can’t work. The John Muir Trail innovation is the simplicty of a single permit that cuts through two national parks and two U.S. Forest Service areas. It would be daunting if one had to get a permit from those four entities and then had to coordinate the dates. At Yosemite in general, they allocate things in a way that's easy for the user, even when it's not easy for them. 

Hiking the Camino de SantiagoSo nationally, we’ve got some good parks. What about internationally? In Walking Distance, you list a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as El Camino de Santiago, in northern Spain and parts of France.

UNESCO sites are very sucessfully managed. It’s the Parks Service ramped up on a global scale. For a country to get the status, they have to have a plan in place to manage it. And they take that very seriously. 

El Camino de Santiago is a Catholic pilgrimage, and yet there’s a mix of people that there.

The mix, the diversity of people, on the Camino is probably the most on any trail that I’ve walked. We met people from all over the world. Even more impressive, we came across people of all age groups. The religious significance is obviously important, but I’d say that a large portion of the people we encountered were not walking for religious reasons.

In your book, you focus on provencial hikes like the Camino and wilderness hikes like the Muir Trail. What about urban hiking? 

Martha and I have really begun to embrace urban walks. One that we did this summer is what’s called the River Thames Walk in England. It starts at the source in the Gloucestershire and goes right through London -- which takes three days -- and then on to the sea. Martha and I would like to include urban and suburban walks in a future book. We love, for example, that portion of the California Coastal Trail from Muir Beach south to Cliff House. We sort of christened it "the Golden Gate Way."

--interview by Cedar Attanasio / all photos courtesy of Robert Manning

You can learn more about Robert and Martha Manning, and 30 of their favorite hikes -- including Vermont's Long Trail, British Columbia's West Coast Trail, and Florida's Ocala Trail -- on their website.

READ MORE:

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Pro Hiking Tips: Excercises

Breathtaking Canyons

 

May 28, 2014

Defending The F-Word

Fracking protest sign

The oil and gas industry dislikes the noun fracking, shorthand for hydraulic fracturingIt prefers frac, a literal reduction of fracture, but at this point it's probably out of luc. Last week, Merriam-Webster announced that it was including fracking in its 2014 Collegiate Dictionary (along with spoiler alert, hashtag, selfie, and turducken, among others). Frac hasn’t caught on outside the industry –- it seems vaguely French for starters -- and its verb form, fracing, would be totally confusing. (Some industry sources employ the even more tortured frac’ing.)

Blame it on those impish enviros, always eager to mock their opponents in as few words as possible on 36-by-48-inch protest signs. “No Fracking Way,” “Frack Off,” “Don’t Frack Our Future,” and “Stop Fracking Mother Earth” are just a few of the ways shale-oil opponents have happily turned the emotionally neutral term “hydraulic fracturing” into a dirty word.

It’s clever framing – put “fracking” on the list with “death tax” and “job creator” –- but environmentalists didn’t need to hire a political wordslinger to concoct a winningly charged term. Merriam-Webster traces industry use of the term “fracking” back to 1953.

Image by iStock/Joe_Potato.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

 

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Not Your Grandparents’ Road Trip: 5 Green Reasons to Visit National Parks

Mount ranier

Wailing children, crotchety parents, sand and sunscreen in uncomfortable places… you get the idea. If this sounds familiar, chances are you’ve been on what feels like an eons-long summer trip with your family. But the National Park Service’s new, sustainable outlook on life may forever change the face of summer vacations, retrofitting the National Parks we know and love with some seriously awesome green technology.

With some of the vastest wilderness resources in the country, National Parks are feeling the brunt of climate change. Extreme flooding, serious drought, wildfires and glacial melt have meant that the severity of climate change is taken very seriously by the NPS. They are growing as a voice for climate change education and activism and are leading the way with green technology and infrastructure. On Earth Day of 2012 the NPS issued the Green Parks Plan (GPP), a comprehensive road map for change that emphasizes engaging visitors and communities in initiatives that mitigate climate change and educate about sustainability.

In the year since the plan’s debut, the National Parks have made impressive progress. Ninety-two percent of construction waste is diverted from landfills and greenhouse gas emissions are down thirteen percent. Here are five clean, green examples of why you should visit and support their efforts:

1.) The Pinnacles National Park West Side Visitors Center received a Platinum LEED certification (the highest available) for energy and water saving features—the building was even constructed using photovoltaic powers sources. Captain Planet would approve.

Sequoia Shuttle

2.) At Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, you can now take a sustainable ride through the forests—the surrounding communities have partnered with park services to implement hybrid and electric buses as transportation. Thirteen other parks have also received grants from the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program to make the switch from fuel hogging diesel vehicles to electric and hybrid technologies. Ah, smell that fresh, clean air! 

3.) Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks also spearheaded an initiative to start illuminating park attractions with solar power—the famous Crystal Cave is now completely lit by solar powered lights, which seriously lower energy consumption.

4.) On the East Coast, Assateague Island National Seashore is using solar power to generate light for the bathrooms, convenience store, campground office, ranger station, and parking lot.

5.) In Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Cottonwood Cove Marina Building on Lake Mohave is the first ever LEED certified floating building, and is highly energy efficient and sustainably constructed.

Cottonwood cove floating buildingJeffrey Olson, an NPS Spokesman, said “There were over 273 million visitors to the parks last year alone, and we hope our sustainable initiative will engage visitors, neighbors and communities and to ask them to participate for the betterment of national parks and our world.”

When asked why Sierra readers should make an effort to visit the parks, Olson responded “visitor participation can have big environmental benefits. We hope our commitment to sustainability spreads and that park visitors, Sierra readers included, find opportunities to take similar steps in their own lives”.

- Photos and video courtesy of the National Parks Service

MAREN HUNSBERGER is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is a rising senior studying biology and environmental science at the College of William and Mary. She loves hiking, running, animals of all shapes and sizes, and wants to be David Attenborough when she grows up. 

 

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Save the Vacation

No Vacation Nation: 7 Facts That Will Have You Packing Up

Public Transportation Surges in Los Angeles

How Can I Save Fuel on Summer Vacation Trips?

Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

Our family will take a long road trip by car this summer. Now don’t get on your high horse, Mister Know-It-All, and command us to ride bikes to our destination. Here’s the deal: I don’t give a damn if burning fossil fuel causes global warming, but I do want to save money on gas. How can I accomplish this? —Neal, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

Enjoy your trip, Neal, and keep the ol’ car radio tuned to your favorite right-wing global-warming-denial talk show so you can pick up some new rhetoric for blasting us climatological Cassandras.

There are a number of ways you can cut your fuel consumption. The first thing to do is to give your vehicle a tune-up if it hasn’t had one in awhile. Following are eight more ideas, with estimates how much they’ll save you, courtesy of the EPA and Car and Driver magazine. (The percentages have a big range because of wide variations in fuel efficiency and driving habits.)

1. Drive sensibly: Chill out, don’t stew about environmentalists or vent your road rage with jackrabbit starts, jamming on the brakes, changing speeds, etc. Aggressive and stupid driving can reduce fuel efficiency by anywhere from 5 percent to 33 percent.

2. Slow down: You can waste 30 percent or more of your fuel by speeding. For every 5 miles an hour you drive over 55, you use 6 percent more fuel.

3. Keep your cargo off the roof, if possible: Wind resistance can squander from 6 to 17 percent of your fuel on the highway.

4. Don’t idle excessively: Don’t leave the engine running when you pop into your favorite fast food joint. A minute of idling can cost 1–3 cents, depending on the type of  engine. You get zero mpg when idling.

5. Keep tires inflated: You can save up to 3 percent on fuel by keeping tires inflated to the recommended level.

6. Reduce air conditioning: You can waste up to 15 percent of your fuel by using the air conditioner. Although driving with windows open creates wind resistance and therefore reduces efficiency, the loss is considerably less than the loss from air conditioning. I once advised rolling up the windows when going over 45 mph. I hereby stand corrected.

7. Shed weight: You can waste 1 to 2 percent of fuel for every 100 extra pounds you carry. This includes human cargo. See my timely blog, “Does Obesity Waste Fuel?”  which cites a study indicating that moving overweight Americans in cars requires a billion more gallons of fuel per year than if we all weighed what health professionals recommend. 

8. Use cruise control except on steep hills, in heavy traffic, on roads that are winding or have sharp bends, or are slippery from rain, ice or snow.

If you want to go way, way deeper into saving gas, delve into "109 tips for Hypermiling.”  But beware, because some of this advice might lead to family squabbles, like “Let the most efficient driver drive,” or sound way too eco-trippy: “Drive like you ride a bike,” or be downright dangerous, like driving barefoot, coasting in neutral, turning off the engine to coast, or pushing your car instead of starting the engine when you’re only moving a short distance. - Bob Schildgen

Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!

 

READ MORE:

How Does Less Gas Become More Emissions? 

How Much Energy to Make a New Car?

Does Obesity Waste Fuel? 

May 27, 2014

5 Blogs about Sierra Club History

MuirAndRooseveltThe Sierra Club was founded by John Muir and his eco-conscious compatriots 122 years ago this week. Since then the club has sought to explore, enjoy and protect this amazing planet. Together we’ve protected millions of acres of wilderness, saved endangered species and kept natural resources clean. Muir would surely have been proud of the relentless efforts of our members.

To commemorate this anniversary week enjoy these Green Life posts about the Club’s legacy.

1. Women of the Sierra Club: Marion Randall Parsons - A writer, artist, photographer, mountaineer and nature enthusiast, Parsons was a force to be reckoned with. Read all about the first lady to be elected onto our board of directors.

2. Original Beards of the Sierra Club - Beards have come back into fashion, but our earliest members were masters of this style long ago. Take a look at some of our favorite facial hair.

3. Women of the Sierra Club: Allison Chin - After working with an Inner CIty Outings group, Chin stepped up her involvement and eventually became the first board president of color. Learn more about her thoughts on the outdoors, diversity and civil disobedience. 

RetroHikingFashions4.Retro Hiking Style - Early Sierra Club ladies wore dresses and bloomers on outdoor club trips. Check out these fabulous photos from 1896 to 1946.  

5. Chiura Obata and his Sierra Legacy - After Obata was released from the interment camps he took part in Sierra High Club trips, sharing his technique with other clubbers on the trail. The painter left behind inspirational art and a story of resilience.

 

- top image courtesy of the Library of Congress

- bottom image by Joseph N. Leconte

HS_Bianca_BlogBianca Hernandez is the Acting Web Editor at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.

 

May 21, 2014

Environmental Media Draws Teens into the Green Movement


Some act of visionWhen you think of sustainability, chances are that young adult novels and comic books are not the first things to come to mind. But getting kids to read new narratives may be the thing that piques their interest in the world's well-being. The green novel for adults is nothing new (Edward Abbey’s 1975 The Monkey Wrench Gang), and the earth-conscious read for kids and teens has been rapidly evolving (Carl Hiaasen’s 2002 Hoot). The hyper-popular YA dystopian novel is even incorporating elements of eco-awareness: from the coal mines of The Hunger Games’ District 12 to the desolate wasteland outside the walls of the Divergent series, environmental devastation is taking up more space in young adult literature. The newest wave of YA fiction is breaking away from the dystopia and focusing on the reality of the present, addressing green issues like fracking and environmental justice while keeping the focus on teen life.

Lori Ann Stephens’ new novel Some Act of Vision, for example, is a fast-paced read with a sci-fi lens. Currently a finalist for the National Reader’s Choice Awards in the YA category, Stephens’ novel centers around a young ballerina whose life is disrupted when fracking-induced earthquakes rip her town apart on the eve of her big debut. The geological disturbance destroys a nearby chemical plant, which releases a compound that has a, shall we say, interesting effect on her (that's where the sci-fi comes in--no spoilers here!). The political intrigue that follows the disaster is thrilling, and the splash of first romance balances out the whole book perfectly.

Stephens says she was listening to a piece on NPR about fracking when she thought of the premise for the novel. It hit her that her teenage son, and many young people his age, probably had no idea what was going on with the fracking industry in their home state of Texas—things like geological instability and water pollution so bad residents could light their tap water on fire. “The first step” she says in reference to eco-awareness, “is being aware and educating [yourself] about the reality of the situation.” She admits that including environmental catastrophe in her novel felt like a bit of a risk, adding that “youth already feel like their world is falling apart”. But despite the seriousness of the subject matter, Stephens hopes readers will see themselves in her protagonist and feel more empowered to engage with their environment and take part in activism on their own.


Mayah's lotThe comic book world is also taking a turn for the green. Like young adult novels, the material is engaging and colorful, with characters so vivid you feel like you could reach out and touch them. Comics like Mayah's Lot, about a young girl's fight to keep her inner city community from being exploited by a corporation that wants to dump toxic waste in an empty lot where she’s growing a garden, showcase teen heroes bringing people together to fight for the good of the city. Rebecca Bratspies is one of the authors of the comic (along with Charlie La Greca), and is also the founder of the Center for Urban Environmental Reform.

The main goal of comics like Mayah’s Lot and YA novels like Some Act of Vision is to reach young people with the messages they may be accustomed to tuning out. As part of a narrative, environmental issues become personal and tangible for teens, ultimately using fiction to deepen their awareness of the real world around them.

 

 

-Photos courtesy of Lori Ann Stephens and Charlie La Greca & Rebecca Bratspies, respectively

MAREN HUNSBERGER is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is a rising senior studying biology and environmental science at the College of William and Mary. She loves hiking, running, animals of all shapes and sizes, and wants to be David Attenborough when she grows up. 

Read More

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May 20, 2014

Mothers of the Movement: Rachel Carson and Her Sisters

Martha_maxwell
Martha Maxwell with her two favorite things.

You may have heard of Rachel Carson, but have you heard the story of Martha Maxwell?  Maxwell married a miner 20 years her senior and followed him through the west, panning for gold.  When their claim was jumped by a German taxidermist she was inspired to pursue taxidermy and began shooting and stuffing animals on her own, building a large collection of species, from foxes to bighorn sheep, which she displayed at museums around the country.  A staunch vegetarian she addressed those who would call her a hypocrite by asking, “Which is the more cruel? To kill to eat? Or to kill to immortalize?”

Maxwell is just one of many inspiring women profiled in Robert Musil’s book Rachel Carson and Her Sisters. Musil had several goals in writing this book. One was to contextualize Silent Spring as the culmination Musil cover of decades of work by other women in science, who were consistently overlooked, underappreciated and dismissed by their male peers and institutions.

These ladies ranged from Victorian garden observers to die-hard chemists and marine biologists. “They are tied together by a fierce sense of activism” and beautiful writing, says Musil. Compelling writers like Rachel Carson and Terry Tempest Williams bred curiosity and bridged the civilian-scientist gap by presenting scientific evidence in a ‘readable’ format. Indeed, their writing is what drew Musil in.  He too wants “people to connect with science in an approachable way.” 

These women were not writing for the sake of writing, they all had political motivations.

Richards_telescope
Ellen Richards and her mentor Maria Mitchell.

One of Musil's most intriguing subjects is Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman admitted to MIT. She quickly established herself in chemistry and focused on sanitation.  Not one to mince words, she accused the American Public Health Association of murder for their shoddy upkeep of Boston Public Schools, which until then, had no ventilation or clean toilets. This speech rendered her unemployable, but she continued to teach chemistry and lobby for better sanitation in schools despite being blacklisted.

Women like Richards and Maxwell shattered the idea of the lady as a ‘shrinking violet.' Their dogged activism paved the way for Carson’s crusade against pesticides, argues Musil. Carson’s work has opened the doors for countless other female environmental activists. 

Rachel Carson and Her Sisters is a Rutgers University Press publication and is available on bookshelves and as an ebook now.

 

--top image courtesy of The Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, the second courtesy of Robert Musil and the third courtesy of The Vassar College Observatory

HS_Caitlin_BlogCaitlin Kauffman is an editorial intern at SierraShe is a sea kayak and hiking guide in the Bay Area and the Greater Yellowstone area. She enjoys good eye contact and elk burgers.

 

Read More:

How Rachel Carson are You?

"Silent Spring"--Told in Vanity License Plates

Women of the Sierra Club: Marion Randall Parsons

No Vacation Nation: 7 Facts That Will Have You Packing Up

Cathedral LakeWhen was the last time you took a vacation? How long did it last? These are among the important questions explored in the recent short film The Great Vacation Squeeze, written and directed by John de Graaf. De Graaf has explored the differences in vacation and leisure time between the US and Europe for years, and in 2002 he co-founded the organization Take Back Your Time “to point out the problems connected with overwork in America.”

Supported by Sierra Club Productions, this film is one of his latest projects that examines just how stark these differences are and hopes to inspire people to do something to change it. De Graaf believes that the idea of vacation and leisure is strongly intertwined with the Sierra Club’s mission statement.

“The Sierra Club's purpose is enjoying, exploring, and protecting the natural world, and it's hard to enjoy it or explore it when you don't have any time off. It also leaves you less likely to want to protect it,” he said. “As a member I think it important that the club not forget its commitment to enjoying and exploring nature.”

Which of these facts from the film will convince you it's about time for paid vacations?

Time to catch up. The US is the only wealthy country without paid vacation time, which may be an underlying cause of a whole host of issues, including stress and overwork. “Our lack of policy [mandating paid vacations] contributes to serious health problems, weakens family connections, and [reduces] the opportunity for all of us to get out in the natural world, especially children,” de Graaf said.

Strong ties. “It was John Muir, key founder of the Sierra Club, who, as I point out in the film, was the first American to advocate a paid vacation law, way back in 1876,” de Graaf said. Muir called for a law of rest that would give time off each year for people to reconnect with nature. The idea lived on in the early 20th century when President William Howard Taft suggested of a three-month long vacation for every worker.

So close, yet so far. During the Great Depression, the Labor Department proposed a two-week paid vacation law, but it failed due to business opposition. Still, two-week trips were common in America at this time, whereas they’ve now dwindled into near oblivion.

Practice what we preach. Seventy-three percent of Americans say vacations help recharge their batteries, but fewer actually take this time. Of all working Americans, 28% receive no paid vacation time and 24% get only one week or less.

Vacations are win-win. “They do wonders for us in so many ways, as every other country understands, and they are actually helpful to business productivity and creativity as well,” de Graaf said. On an individual level, vacations can be healing in that they give us relief from stressors of daily life. Time off also promotes reflection. “In idleness there is the opportunity for contemplation, there is the opportunity for soul-searching, and for seeing, for really truly, clearly seeing, what’s around us,” says Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson in the film.

Europeans have it better. On average, Europeans live longer and are less likely to suffer from chronic illness after age 50, even though they spend less on health care. Having long, paid vacation time may have something to do with this. It's known that taking breaks from work greatly reduces stress and even improves productivity. 

It’s about justice. “Most low-income Americans never have the opportunity and don't even get paid vacations,” de Graaf said. Many believe that a law mandating paid vacations would eliminate this inequality and ultimately benefit all Americans.

If you’re interested in organizing a viewing with your community, school, or local Sierra Club chapter, you can reach de Graaf at jodg@comcast.net.

--Image by David Fox, used with permission of John de Graaf

Jessica ZischkeJessica Zischke is a former editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College. On campus she works as an editor of Dartbeat, the blog of the student-run newspaper The Dartmouth, and as the Sustainability Chair for her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta.

 

READ MORE:

Save the Vacation

Family Vacations: The Good, the Bad, the Eco-Friendly

Holy Green Vacation!

A Supercell is Born

While you were watching a CGI Godzilla emerge from the Pacific this weekend, these stormchasers were capturing the birth of a monster storm (no special effects required).

Thanks to the time-lapse video made by Basehunters, we can see this supercell thunderstorm taking shape over Newcastle, Wyoming.  

Bianca Hernandez is the Acting Web Editor at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.

May 16, 2014

How Not to Bike to Work

National Bike to Work DayHappy Bike to Work Day! If you’re already a cycling commuter, pat yourself on the back. If you’re new to the game, you may be concerned about doing it wrong. Here are 6 bike-to-work mistakes to avoid:

1. Don’t ride like Alec Baldwin.

2. Leave your Pinarello Dogma at home. A commuter bike should be sturdy, serviceable, and not too expensive. (Despite one’s best efforts, theft happens.) There’s no reason to go out and buy something new just to commute on--unless, of course, you really need a cool new ride.

3. No more spandex than necessary. Really, it’s not necessary to go the full Tour de France route just to ride 4 miles to the office. Besides, many would-be cyclists actually have a fear of spandex, and seeing lots of folks riding in street clothes puts them at ease.  (On top of that, Invista, the maker of Lycra, is owned by the Koch brothers.)

4. Mind the high heels--it’s very difficult to pull off. (However, it can be done.)

5. Don’t be a jerk. Even though you are addressing climate disruption, creating a more livable city, and adding years to your life, you are still (technically, at least) subject to the vehicle code, not to mention the laws of physics. Blowing through stop lights, besides being really stupid, only serves to aggravate drivers and turn off would-be cycling commuters. Remember, for cyclists there is safety in numbers: the more people who ride, the safer it is for everyone.

6. Your virtue does not illuminate you. It’s less of an issue in sunny May, but if your commute has you travelling in the early morning or later evening hours, lights fore and aft are a necessity. Without them you are invisible to many motorists, and even if you think you can avoid them they will find a way to ruin your ride. 

--image coutesy of iStock/annie-claude

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental ProgressOtherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber


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