December 25, 1990

Board of Directors

Sierra Club

730 Polk Street

San Francisco, California 94109

Re: Top Priorities for the 1990's


I was extremely disturbed to hear that transportation, and in particular the halting of highway expansion, was not chosen as one of the Sierra Club's top priorities. Either you are not well informed (which I hope, since this is easily remedied), or like most of your neighbors, you have allowed yourselves to become so automobile dependent that the destruction caused by cars and roads has become invisible to you.

Roads are at the crux of almost every current environmental problem, and hence, halting the expansion of the highway system (and other parts of our auto-dependent culture) is one of the most effective spigots by which we can choke off environmental destruction.

The automobile (due to auto air conditioners) is the greatest threat in the U.S. to the ozone layer that protects all life on the Earth. It is also the largest U.S. contributor to global warming. Highways kill wildlife (including many endangered and threatened species) in huge numbers, both directly on the road and through habitat fragmentation and degradation. They are a big factor in the loss of biodiversity and its consequent extinctions. Highway expansion -- and the urban sprawl that it feeds -- destroys precious farmland and open spaces. It increases per capita energy consumption and pollutant emission. And, of course, it kills and maims thousands of us, too, every year (my own mom died in a highway accident in 1951). I have never heard this mentioned, but it is obvious that sprawl begets more sprawl, because people who grow up in an auto-dependent environment acquire the values that perpetuate it (have you ever heard of "cognitive dissonance"? -- people who invest a lot in something have a tendency to defend it).

It is impossible to drill for oil, log, or even deluge the wilderness with tourists without roads. Roads are key. And, of course, while diverting funds away from road construction, we can make them available to promote (in order of priority) walking, bicycling, rail, and buses (or even to pay off the national debt or house the homeless -- equally worthy causes).

Please tell me you are re-considering!


Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.