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Math is Hard

I am a public interest low-level toxin researcher with an undergraduate degree in physiological biochemistry. Recently I saw, in two different publications, statements to the effect that nuclear waste from nuclear power plants was likely to remain radioactive for 10,000 years.

This caught my attention, because in the 1970s, the circulating figure was 100,000 years. Where does the discrepancy come from? The half-life of Plutonium-239, as given in the Merck Index, is 24,110 years. Four half-life cycles - 96,440 years - should lead to 93.75 percent decay.

One might guess that the 100,000 year figure was derived as a round number based on the idea that 95 percent decay was a more or less complete decay. Which leaves the question: where does the 10,000 year figure come from? Was it just by discarding a zero? Is anyone in the environmental movement even paying attention to the hard data anymore? How much longer before we hear that Pu-239 decays in 1,000 years? Or 100 years?

- Peter Hays
Eugene, OR
Picture perfect?

I wanted to write to you about the cover photo for the Summer '02 issue. It is colorful and eye-catching but if you look at it carefully you will see that there is something really wrong. The lighting is most unnatural. If you look at, or photograph a sunset there is no way that you will see vivid greenery in the foreground. Also there are no shadows to indicate where the light is coming from. It looks to me like the photographer pasted two pictures together taken at two different times of the day. This kind of manipulation with a computer can indeed create colorful pictures but they are unnatural like a cloned sheep or "star link" corn. In my humble opinion they detract from (and even parody) the important mission of the Earth Island Institute.

- John Mills
Ben Lomond, CA

The four-color printing process introduces some uncertainty into color reproduction. Otherwise, the colors in the cover photo are as they were supplied to us by the photographer, Galen Rowell. No computer image manipulation took place, and if it had, we'd have heard about it from Rowell, who has criticized the growing practice.

- CC.


- Steven Koeppel
Palm Springs, CA
Unhappy Trails, Part II

How did a conspiracy theory out of Nexus Magazine sneak into Earth Island Journal, which usually has very high reporting standards? William Thomas' article on so-called "chemtrails" (Summer 2002) doesn't contain a single verifiable fact, and is wrong in important areas. In particular, the air where jet airplanes fly isn't always dry and warm, and their contrails have been making cloudy days out of sunny ones for decades, depending on temperature, humidity and wind conditions up there. I first watched it happen in the late 1960s, when I was in college. Air traffic over central New York State was increasing alarmingly at that time.

You can also see criss-cross cloud patterns in photographs in meteorology books from the 1930s, even before jet air traffic.

It's nice that people are finally looking up and noticing their sky, but let's not add imaginary problems to all the real ones, please.

- Arthur Firstenberg
Mendocino, CA
Unhappy Trails, Part III

Thanks for publishing Stolen Skies: The Chemtrail Mystery. It's about time environmentalists were awakened to this bizarre and troubling phenomenon. No doubt the professional debunkers are unhappy that this is edging into public awareness via the media. Having researched this for over a year, I know that this is very real, despite the official explanations and cover-up. One of these days, those responsible for this massive, secret program will be held accountable for the major pollution of our environment as they monkey with the atmosphere and all living beings beneath it.

- Steven Leiper
Fairfax, CA
Re: Matriotism

Mother's Day is ready-made for conversion into an earth-wide matriotic holiday.

Didn't Mother's Day begin with women seeking a way to stop sending their sons off for cannon fodder? Who needs all that smarmy hearts-and-flowers stuff if it's not backed by real respect for the miracle of fostering new life?

Nowadays all mothers are heroes, most notably Gaia herself. For are our children not all born into a war zone? And is our chief duty in this fearsome place not the teaching of peace-building to our sons and daughters?

If Gaia and her children are to survive the wildly successful species homo sapiens, it is time for the gods to give over their overheld primary place in human spirituality back to the Goddess and her many sisters. Why do you suppose the Virgin Mary has looked so sad for centuries? Probably because her followers have misspelled the name of their community emotion with a "p" instead of an "m."

Thanks for the wake-up call, Elouise Bell.

- Eva van Loon
Wailuku, HI

On page 3 of the Journal's Summer 2002 issue, we stated that sod roofs can "cut the heat of a concrete structure by 37C (99F)." A difference of 37°C is approximately 67°F.

On page 15, the item "Tinder or Tenure" stated that "it took $39 billion ... to combat the fires that raced through [Ethiopia's] Bale and Borena forests." That figure was $39 million, and was the amount of damage done by the fires rather than the cost of fighting them.

On page 17, the items "Greeting Guests with Open Palms" includes the statement "the only other man-made artifacts visible from space are the Great Wall of China and the Fresh Kills garbage landfill in New York." Thousands of man-made artifacts are actually visible from space. We regret these errors.

Unhappy Trails, Part I

In Stolen Skies: The Chemtrail Mystery, William Thomas writes:
"Because the Federal Aviation Authority requires military tankers and transporters [sic] to cross continental airspace at altitudes below 30,000 feet, ensuring safe separation from airliners flying between 35,000 and 39,000 feet, these military flights should leave no contrails at all."

I flew as a navigator on C-141 cargo jets and KC-135 tankers for the Air Force and Air Force Reserve. What you have written is grossly inaccurate. Our flights had no restrictions as to altitude: we flew every altitude from 300 feet AGL (above ground level) to FL410 (41,000 feet above the standard datum plane), along the same jet routes as commercial aircraft. Sometimes we drew contrails, sometimes we didn't. We never - I repeat, never - carried or dispensed any type of chemical into the air. In 5,000 hours of flying I never heard one mention, rumor or innuendo about some kind of chemical being distributed into the atmosphere. And if there's one thing about being in the military, we are all plugged in to Rumor Control.


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