Imagine a country free from pollution, where communities are healthy, wildlands are protected, and every citizen has the power to help keep things that way. If that sounds implausible in today's political climate, don't worry. Visionary ideas often do. But this greener future is achievable if everyone works together.
Since the 2004 election, Sierra Club leaders have been doing some soul-searching. While close to 70 percent of Americans agree with most of the Club's values, only 20 percent identify as strong environmentalists. That's a disappointing fact, but it also presents an opportunity. If we are able to explain what the Club stands for without resorting to technical terms or eco-speak, we can build an unstoppable force for conservation. That doesn't mean abandoning the causes we've worked hard on for so many years, but restating them in terms of goals a majority of Americans can share:
GET THE POISONS OUT of our water and air by enforcing existing pollution laws and making polluters clean up after themselves and reduce dangerous emissions; CHOOSE CLEAN ENERGY for our homes and cars by encouraging use of renewable electricity and the raising of fuel-economy standards; BUILD BETTER COMMUNITIES that are safer for cyclists and pedestrians by keeping public-transit systems strong and sprawl at bay; PROTECT NATURE for the next generation by designating public lands as parks and wilderness areas, restoring native species, and creating open spaces for people to enjoy; and EXERCISE DEMOCRACY by speaking out in our communities to improve the environment in all these ways and more.
These ideas tap into basic American values of fairness, opportunity, and progress. No matter where we live, we all want safe and healthy neighborhoods. We all want nature close by and a say in how our communities grow. And we all want neighbors who will work with us to protect what we love. So let's get started.
Come Together, Right Now
This fall Sierra Club members from all over the country will converge on San Francisco's Moscone Center to participate in the Club's first-ever large-scale national convention, Sierra Summit 2005. From September 8 to 11, they'll listen to speakers like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Arianna Huffington, take part in a variety of workshops and discussions, learn about the latest outdoor and green products, network with other activists, and help set new priorities for the Club. Whether or not you're a member, you can find out how to join the fun at sierrasummit2005.org.
Get to Know Mr. Muir
John Muir wrote in longhand, but now some of his correspondence has entered the computer age. The Wisconsin Historical Society recently posted online 100 pages of his letters to longtime friends in the state, where Muir grew up before venturing west and founding the Sierra Club. Written between 1861 and 1914, they offer an intimate glimpse of the personal and intellectual development of America's most influential conservationist.
Our Ears Are Burning ALL-ALLIANCE EDITION
"Not so long ago, there weren't many issues on which the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers . . . were inclined to agree, let alone unite politically. . . . [But] more than ever, what's better for the environment is also what's best for the economy."
—Star Tribune (Minneapolis–St. Paul), February 17
"Four years ago, relations between the Sierra Club and Western ranchers were so strained that some members of the environmental group lobbied to ban grazing on public land. Today, the environmentalists and ranchers have set aside their differences to fight what they consider a common threat: proliferating oil and gas wells."
—Wall Street Journal, March 23
"As sure as a bear sleeps in the woods, conditions are ripe for an era of cooperation between outdoorsmen and environmentalists. . . . An active sportsman, [Brighton resident Tim Snowden] has assumed the wildlife chair for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club with the determination to use his outdoor connections to build a working relationship anchored in common concerns.
"To the extent that . . . the Sierra Club can join mainline organizations such as the Colorado Wildlife Federation in a clear voice for balanced outdoor values, our wild areas will be a better place for all."
—Denver Post, May 31
GRASSROOTS BY KARINA KINIK
Black Lung at Black Rock?
Tongue-studded counterculturists who flock to the Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert each Labor Day weekend may soon experience more of a burn than they bargained for. San Diego–based Sempra Generation wants to build a 1,450-megawatt coal-fired power plant on the desert's edge, about 100 miles north of Reno. Scheduled to open by 2011, the facility would be one of the largest in the country, providing electricity for about 1.5 million homes, many in Southern California. According to the Nevada Clean Energy Coalition, which includes the Sierra Club, the location allows Sempra to dodge California's strict air- and water-quality regulations. Not only is there no coal in the Silver State, but also "the power won't go to Nevada," claims Marge Sill of the Club's Toiyabe Chapter. Nevertheless, Nevadans would live with the Sempra plant's fallout: It would release some 8,590 tons of air pollutants and consume more than 5 billion gallons of scarce desert groundwater each year. For more information, go to nevadacleanenergy.org.
UTAH AND TEXAS
Standing and Fighting
Utah and Texas activists are using the courts to smoke out polluters. After the Utah Air Quality Board had prohibited the state's Sierra Club chapter and the Grand Canyon Trust from challenging permits for two new power plants in western and central Utah, they filed a notice to appeal in May. At issue is "standing," the legal right to initiate a lawsuit. The requirements for it vary from state to state, and the air board vaguely declared that the groups didn't "best represent" those affected, even though both have local members.
Texans have gained more solid footing: In May, a state judge found in favor of a coalition of San Antonio–area activists and residents, ruling that anyone living within 20 miles of a proposed coal-fired power plant could sue for damages caused by its operations. The Lone Star Chapter is already at work seeking a similar radius for a Waco power plant.
Shellfish Versus Shell Oil
It's a spicy mixture that would make any New Orleans chef proud: A "gumbo alliance" of environmentalists, shrimpers, and fishermen is fighting liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals off the Louisiana coast. In April, the Sierra Club, the Louisiana Charter Boat Association, and the Gulf Restoration Network sued the U.S. Department of Transportation, calling for a review of an LNG permit granted to a Shell Oil Company subsidiary. They charge that the terminal's "open loop" system—in which every day up to 200 million gallons of Gulf water would be heated to "re-gasify" the LNG—could kill marine life by the billions. The surge of proposals for similar facilities (see "American Idylls," page 30) stems from a 2002 federal decision that "streamlined" the permitting process. "It's like a feeding frenzy right now to see who can get permits," says the Delta Chapter's Darryl Malek-Wiley. For updates, visit healthygulf.org/fisheries/issues.htm.
5 ways illustration by Greg Mably
Summit illustration by Lloyd Dangle