Wake Up, World: Tar Sands Aren't the Oil Answer

It's important that Weekly readers know that half-educated guesses about energy resources can be more dangerous than ignorant bliss ("We Won't Run Out of Oil Anytime Soon--but Open Your Wallets!" Mailbag, April 12). Apparently, physicist D.C. Cox is living in a parallel universe when he says tar sands will keep industrial civilization chugging along for another 200 years, and that we have all the natural gas needed to make that happen.

It's not about potential reserves; it's about flows, what can we produce and have available for use on a daily basis. Peak oil is not about running out of oil. We've already consumed the easiest half of the Earth's supply, and we'll very likely see annual production decline in the near future.

Digging up and processing tar sands is a very different way of obtaining oil. Mining tar sands is a major operation requiring vast quantities of energy, water, land and very expensive equipment. Finally, the end product must be blended with light crude to make it equivalent to conventional oil. Since North American natural gas production has already peaked, it's hard to imagine that the Alberta tar-sands project will be allocated increasingly greater quantities to heat this mined material.

We need greater public discussion of this important issue based on good analyses, not knee-jerk reactions and faith that everything will just continue along without having to make major changes.

Bob Cook,
Co-founding member, Sustainable Tucson

Danehy Was Right to Take on Sept. 11 Conspiracies

Tom Danehy is to be lauded for ridiculing the conspiracy myths about Sept. 11 (April 12 and April 26).

Skeptic had a long, well-researched article about the events of Sept. 11, available online, that carefully debunks conspiracy talk. Interested readers can look it up to see for themselves that an airliner loaded with jet fuel really can bring down a steel-frame building. The article does a thorough job of discussing Flight 93 and the crash into the Pentagon, again confirming official accounts.

The World Trade Center buildings are not the only steel frame buildings to collapse from fire. The Sight and Sound theater in Lancaster County, Pa., did. The McCormick Center in Chicago also fell because of a fire.

An emeritus professor of civil engineering at the UA showed me a summary of safety factors used in building design. Based on yield strength, buildings, according to him, are designed with a factor of safety of 1.5 to 2. This means that if a frame is supposed to support a million tons under foreseeable circumstances, it is designed to support 1.5 to 2 million tons without permanently deforming.

He also showed me a graph of yield strength versus temperature. Above 800 degrees Fahrenheit, the yield strength of steel goes to hell rapidly, and at 1,000 degrees, it is only 60 percent of what it was at room temperature. At 1,200 degrees--and it is believed that temperatures got hotter than that--it's 40 percent.

The process of failure in a building from overloading accelerates as individual members begin to fail, and the load shifts onto the remaining members. Photographs shown in Skeptic show the progressive failure of the World Trade Center towers before their collapse. What happened during the collapse of the three World Trade Center towers, as floor crashed down onto floor after floor after floor, became dynamic loading, which is different and much more severe.

William Winkelman

Symbols Suck!

Some years back when I lived in Tucson, I wrote the morning daily newspaper suggesting that the ugly monstrosity on Sentinel Peak be bulldozed and replaced by appropriate vegetation ("Paint and Pain," Currents, April 26). If I recall accurately, the single responding letter questioned my manhood and my patriotism.

Symbols and the people who need them are so lame.

I'm not suggesting that my new neighbors here on the prairie are superior to Tucsonans. It is just that we lack a prominence. Even so, every time the winds leave a spit of sand a foot or two above the surrounding waste, someone goes out and plants a cross on it.

Oh, our junior college basketball team went to the nationals and won three out of four. How did your team do?

Mack Hitch

We Need to Redefine 'Highest and Best Use'

There has been much debate between land developers and conservationists on how to develop or protect Arizona state trust land ("Turf Battle," Currents, April 26). To comply with the state constitution that declares the land should be sold to those with the "highest and best use," the land should be kept by the state and turned into a state land trust with the purpose of housing 1 million people in a model solar-powered arcology.

Arcology, a word coined by world famous architect Paolo Soleri, is a car-free ecological city (

Its creation would fulfill the mission of using the land to support education in Arizona, because arcology is a new kind of educational structure; every part of the arcology is a place of learning to live in harmony with the environment. Unlike the development pattern of car-crazy urban sprawl, the land surrounding an arcology remains wilderness, allowing for a harmonious relationship between urbanism and the ecology to arise.

It's time to illuminate the phrase "highest and best use" in the state constitution, not in terms of money, but in terms of our survival. We must save the ecosystem from being destroyed by the ugly, meaningless and deadly pattern of strip-mall urbanization. We can design a new type of city that matches the beauty, awe, magic, mystery and wonder of the Sonoran Desert.

Libby Hubbard

Richter's Story Hit a Bit Close to Home

Reading Stacey Richter's piece on Winterhaven ("Christ Their Lord," April 26), I was reminded of New Year's 1974, right after I first moved to Arizona. I was living with some friends right around the corner from Winterhaven, which I knew nothing about, but my friends did.

A day or two after New Year's, about 2 or 3 a.m., under a big full moon, my friend Kurt said, "Hey, let's take a walk." So, we headed out the door, tripping our brains out, my having no idea what I was about to see.

We ambled on into Winterhaven. There were no lights on, anywhere, when I noticed the lawn of this house. It looked like it was all silvery and made of tinsel. Then I noticed the mailbox. It, too, was all silvery and made of tinsel, with a big red bow around the box. Then the house! It, too, was silver, looking very much like a giant present, and had this huge ribbon over it, with a gigantic bow right on top. As I began to exclaim "What the f**k is THAT??" my friend Kurt was almost on his knees laughing. On the lawn, I finally noticed a sign that said, "First Prize--Esthetic." After he stopped laughing so hard, Kurt explained Winterhaven to me.

Peter Van Keuren

In Defense of Mike Logan

I seriously doubt that Mike Logan wrote Tuscon, or if he did, it was a typo ("On Tuscon Tucson," Books, April 26). If it was a typo, I'll bet it was the only time Tucson was misspelled.

Logan graduated from the UA with a degree in journalism. He may have received his advanced degrees here as well. Yes, a copy editor should have caught it.

Jim Johnson

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