Backtalk

January/February 2009 Issue

Going Overboard

MoJo's "Climate Countdown" series of articles, while informative and timely (go agarikon!), provides an example of the willingness to concede the worst based in part on mere speculation. To wit: The Editors' Note suggests that without immediate action "200 million people will have become climate refugees" by the time your kids reach the age of 40—a very disturbing prospect. Further on, however, Rachel Morris ("To the Lifeboats") relates that the 200 million figure is nothing but an estimate, and a very rough one. In fact, "the scholar who produced that number...concedes that it required some 'heroic extrapolations.'"
CHRIS KURTZ
Minnetonka, Minnesota

The Carbon Money Pit

Would someone please come bury CO2 under my town ("Not Under My Backyard")? We could use the money, even if it's only visiting officials eating in the café. CO2 is dangerous only in absurdly high concentrations. It won't cause cancer or birth defects. I'm willing to risk having my vegetable gardens grow faster. (CO2 speeds plant growth on commercial farms.) Carbon sequestration may be expensive, but until fusion power comes along, it's the most practical way to meet whatever targets emerge from Copenhagen. We're going to need our economy and our industrial base intact to cope with the century of floods, droughts, storms, crop disruptions, and waves of economic refugees we're already scheduled for.
EVANIE CRONQUIST
Skull Valley, Arizona

Fungal Bungle

In Andy Isaacson's "Return of the Fungi" the terms mushroom, fungus, and mycelium are used without apparent knowledge of their relationships. A fungus consists of a plantlike part, the mycelium, and often a fruiting part, a mushroom or a mold. There is no such thing as a mushroom independent of a fungus.
BRUCE BAILEY
Seattle, Washington

Rising Star

Rebecca's Clarren's "Is Your Eco-Label Lying?" should have itself carried a warning label. She gave the Energy Star label a "Green" rating and wrote that "Energy Star appliances and electronics with this EPA label are the most efficient." Regardless of whether you blame the corporations for gaming the system or the EPA for letting them, the Energy Star label is only the crudest guide to efficiency.
JOHN GEAR
Salem, Oregon

Editors' note: Energy Star standards have recently improved, though they are not as stringent as the EU's standards.

Genome Man's Land

Shannon Brownlee's takedown of personal genomics, "Google's Guinea Pigs," seemed unnecessarily cynical. Sure, many of the commercial DNA testing kits are scams with no real predictive power for disease, and most 23andMe consumers use the test for fun. Still, scientists and legislators have been working to anticipate the coming deluge of sequencing data: See Harvard's Personal Genome Project, which seeks to sequence 100,000 genomes, or the recently passed Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which bars insurance providers or employers from using DNA sequence data against policyholders or employees. Cost, accessibility, and our understanding of sequencing data is advancing. The jokes about commercial SNP tests may not be jokes for long.
NATHAN TANNER
Boston, Massachusetts

Reading the Riot Act

Perhaps MoJo would better serve its readers by not wasting its pages on fluff pieces about prison guards and their silly convention on how to further repress the most repressed Americans. I wish Dave Gilson ("My So-Called Riot") had focused more on the truly Orwellian state of the criminal justice system in the United States. The US incarcerates 25 percent of the world's prisoners while having only 5 percent of the total population. Sen. Jim Webb calls it "a national shame."
PETER STOUP
Jackson Correctional Institution

Please see our comprehensive report on the prison system at motherjones.com/slammed.

There's a Wrap for That

I also hate unnecessary packaging with the fiery passion of one thousand suns, but I have to take issue with MJ's painting of Apple as a packaging bad guy by saying that the box for the most recent OS, Snow Leopard, is 16 times the size of the DVD it ships ("Aboxalypse Now"). While this may be true, the volume of Apple's packaging has been trending downward. They've started using weight- and material-saving techniques, like hollowing out the Styrofoam packaging and, most recently, using only corner blocks. Thanks for an otherwise fantastic piece on the excesses of packaging.
TOM IERNA
Tampa, Florida