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LETTERS FROM OUR READERS.

SHIFTING THE BURDEN

It was wonderful to see your coverage of tax shift ideas ("Sharing the Wealth," Cover Story, March/April 1999) in the magazine. As a follow-up, I would like you to know about the green tax shift that has recently occurred in Europe. Germany just passed a carbon tax and will use this new revenue to lower the unpopular social security tax. There are a number of exceptions to the new law, but it is a wonderful step toward a cleaner, healthier future for people and our planet. Hopefully, others will see the massive benefits and follow suit.

Emily Platt Conservation Education Spokane, WA

I'd like to applaud your issue on green taxes--it's long overdue that someone did such a piece. Keep up the good work.

David Fine, Manager Electronic Policy Network Cambridge, MA

Like most environmental economists, I am a longtime supporter of tax shifting; that is, levying taxes on "bads" like pollution in place of taxes on good things like earnings and property value. As a result, I was pleased to see that the issue is finding its way into popular magazines and books, like the subject of your cover story. However, for the same reason, I was disappointed by Jonathan Rowe's ill-informed companion article about the burden of the income tax.

The top federal income tax rates are smaller now than in previous decades, but the "rich" pay a higher percentage of the total income tax burden than they have since before World War n, when only the "rich" paid any income tax at all. I extracted the following from the TaxFoundation.org website:

"The top one percent of income earners made 14.6 percent of all income in 1995, but paid 30.2 percent of all federal individual income taxes. (In comparison, the top one percent of income earners in 1985 made 10 percent of all income while paying 21.8 percent of all income taxes.)

"Similarly, the top 10 percent of earners made 40.2 percent of all income in 1995 but paid 60.5 percent of all federal individual income taxes. (In 1985, the top 10 percent of earners made 33.8 percent of all income while paying 51.5 percent of all federal personal income taxes.)

"In contrast, the bottom 50 percent earned 14.5 percent of all income in 1995, but paid only 4.6 percent of federal individual income taxes that year."

Note especially the last line. Contrary to Rowe's claim, the federal income tax burden is microscopic for about half the population. Sadly, I suspect they'll be against tax shifting. The "bottom 50 percent" of income earners wouldn't see much of an income tax reduction. The tax burden of the "bottom 50 percent" comes from the regressive payroll and excise taxes, not income taxes.

John Merrifield San Antonio, TX

Jonathan Rowe replies: Mr. Merrifield is correct that upper-income people pay much of the income tax. I didn't say they didn't. I said, rather, that the income tax wasn't supposed to touch working- and middle-class people, which it certainly does.

The populist framers of the original income tax wanted to reach the unearned income of the very wealthy, which arose largely from land and resources that nature--not their own toil--had created. Thus to shift part of the income or payroll tax burden off of working- and middle-class people, and onto the use of natural resources, would bring the system closer in broad contours to what the original framers had in mind. There would be excise taxes for most people on the use of polluting natural resources; and excise plus income taxes for the rich.

BLOOD AND GUTS

Your idea of "earth-friendly" gardening is outrageous ("It's Nature's Way," Consumer News, March/April 1999). In this article you describe an "organic" lawn food "that is a blend of blood meal, feather meal and dried poultry waste, deemed perfect for your spread's nitrogen needs." Do you truly believe feathers probably obtained from factory-farm chickens, raised in huge numbers inside cramped cages are "perfect" and "natural?" Or that blood from factory-farmed animals such as pigs, raised in hugely unnatural conditions, is the type of "organic" that you wish to endorse? Did you stop to consider the environmental and health impacts of such farms? Please reread your own article "The Trouble with Meat" (Cover Story, May/June 1998), in which you show photographs of animals grown under grotesque conditions on factory farms. And then please retract your endorsement of this "organic" lawn product.

Marquita K. Hill Orono, ME

BAD MEDICINE

Thank you for your report on the alarming prospect of worldwide disease, despite impressive progress ("The Scourge of Mankind," Your Health, March/April 1999). An additional contributor to the dire situation is overuse of antibiotics, particularly in factory farming of animals for humans to eat.

Antibiotics keep infectious disease from killing off overcrowded animals until they are of a size and weight deemed suitable for slaughter. According to the National Research Council, antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be passed along to human beings through ingestion. While streptomycin, penicillin and other antibodies lose their effectiveness against human disease, campylobacter, salmonella and other food-borne illnesses increase rapidly and give rise to "superbugs."

"Stopping the inappropriate use of select antibiotics in animal husbandry" is important for reducing antibiotic resistance, according to Vincent Perreten and colleagues writing in the October 23, 1997 issue of Nature. Our government and farmers should listen to them, as the U.S. and Canada are the only "developed" countries that permit subtherapeutic use of penicillin and tetracycline in animal feed.

Meanwhile, we all should listen to the physicians, environmentalists, animal protectionists and biblical scholars who teach the enormous advantage of a completely vegetarian diet. With abundant vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts making less healthful animal foods unnecessary, resorting to antibiotics to perpetuate animal factories is a dubious practice at best.

David J. Cantor Pennsylvania Correspondent Global Resource Action Center for the Environment New York, NY

LIFE CYCLE

As the daughter of an undertaker whose family has been in the business for over 85 years, I must offer this response to the article entitled, "Dust to Dust?" (Currents, November/December 1998).

Mr. Kaufman quotes a member of England's green burial movement calling embalming "packing people with poison." Our way of life in the 20th Century is poisoning us and our planet much more than our way of death. Most people today are packed with toxic substances throughout our lives, from not only our food but from prescription drugs and even the air we breathe. We die only once; we eat three times a day, drive polluting vehicles, use bug sprays and clean our houses with chemical solvents. All the embalmed corpses buried in metal and concrete are far less of a danger to the planet than the pollution of the Earth by our daily lifestyles.

The article quotes one woman who is "appalled" by how we bury our dead, believing that "the most humane and natural thing is to let dead bodies return to the Earth and be recycled." When we live in a world that does not recycle the stuff of our lives, how we bury our dead is merely a reflection of how we live. The amounts of paper we use daily cause more destruction of nature than the "28 trees destroyed" to harvest one of mahogany for a "prestige" casket. What of the plastic, styrofoam, disposable diapers and other non-biodegradables that pile up in landfills and seep poisons into the soil and water tables?

Before we attack an industry or belief, let us look at ourselves to be sure we are not part of the process. All of us have contributed to the diminution of the Earth and her resources. We must first change our way of life so we can then put better attention to our way of death. If we do, maybe we'll even live longer. It's unquestionable that we'll live better.

Francine Salerno Chicago, IL

TAKE IT BACK

Your article on leasing as the economic wave of the 21st century, rather than owning ("Lease It!," Money Matters, September/October 1998), failed to mention one project which can be implemented quickly and easily with the same result.

Apple toner cartridges arrive at my door with packaging and prepaid return label. After I remove my empty toner cartridge I place it in the return box, affix the label and return it via U.S. Mail to Apple, which recharges the cartridge and sends it to the next user. I have no desire to own cartridges, nor do I have any great desire to find a firm which will recharge them for me. I also do not want the cartridges in my local landfill. Since all I want is the toner, Apple has made this possible, and has anticipated your writer.

Britta Karlberg Essex, MA

PAPER TRAIL

I read with interest your article "Beyond Wood" (Currents, January/February 1998). It is gratifying to see that information about environmentally responsible papers is receiving the attention it deserves. As you noted in the article, there are an ever-increasing number of options from which consumers who care about the environment may choose.

Fortunately, consumers need not make the choice between environmental responsibility and quality. Rather than coming from "a tiny backroom industry a few years ago," tree-free paper has been around as long as paper itself. And it has survived and thrived in many instances because of the inherent quality of the raw materials and the craftsmanship that has been passed down from generation to generation of papermakers.

For an excellent list of environmentally responsible papers, your readers may wish to contact ReThink Paper, a program of Earth Island Institute in San Francisco, at (415)788-3666, or visit their website at http://www.earthisland.org.

Peter Hopkins Pownal, VT

BALANCING ACT

I recently realized that I want to devote myself and my future to helping with the conservation of this amazing planet and all its remaining inhabitants and habitats. In doing the first of my environmental research, I discovered your magazine and subscribed. With my very first issue I have found such a great motivational source, but I also see I have my work cut out for me. I thank you for your up-to-date information and resources, and for some much-needed guidance in this vital fight for global balance and awareness.

Kristin Graham Cocoa, FL
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Date:Jul 1, 1999
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