Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sierra Club: Two tragic mistakes

Don Young of FWCANDO tells the story about two mistakes by the Sierra Club. Here is the full story for your reading pleasure.

This is a story of two tragic but preventable mistakes made by the Sierra Club. One in the late 1950's that still resonates and one happening right now that could resonate far longer.

The Fixer-

If you saw the 2007 George Clooney flick, Michael Clayton, you may recall that his character was a "fixer", a man whose job it is to make sure people never connect A to B. "He works in that rarefied grey zone where barely legal meets almost criminal." (NY Times) More specifically, he makes his clients messy situations "go away." If the client has questionable moral or ethical standards, he just takes the money and looks the other way. The film deftly chronicles his redemption.

Victims and followers of natural gas drilling already know the significance of connecting A to B in shale country. But did you know the Sierra Club, a once trusted but now tarnished organization, is playing the role of "fixer" for the natural gas industry? To understand why this is possible, you need to know that the Sierra Club is no stranger to bad choices.

A short history lesson-

In the late 1950's the Sierra Club played an key role in what became known as, "America's most regretted environmental mistake." The SC was faced with a difficult choice: How to deal with the prospect of a dam on the Colorado River that would inundate Dinosaur National Monument or the lesser known Glen Canyon? Though not widely known at the time, Glen Canyon was a place of jaw-dropping beauty - as awe-inspiring as the nearby, Grand Canyon.

Dinosaur NM on the other hand, is now considered of minor importance, comparatively. Under the direction of David Brower, the Sierra Club elected to cut a deal that protected Dinosaur NM. As a result, the majestic Glen Canyon lies buried under tons of of silt and acres of stagnant water in a reservoir known as Lake Powell.

Brower admitted that the Sierra Club failed. He spent the rest of his life apologizing and agonizing over his failure and trying to correct his mistake. While the dam was a regrettable environmental mistake, it pales in comparison to the latest ethical lapse by Sierra Club officials: Support of natural gas drilling.

History repeats itself-

While newly elected SC Director, Michael Brune, former director, Carl Pope, and other SC execs sit in their rarefied San Francisco offices hawking natural gas, thousands of people all over the country and untold wildlife are suffering at the hands of fossil fuel peddlers like Chesapeake Energy. Pope even toured the country with public environmental enemy No.1, Chesapeake CEO, Aubrey McLendon, promoting the idea of natural gas as a "bridge fuel." His naiveté is showing, big-time.

Pope, Brune and Co. are seriously out of touch with the sins of these environmental criminals. Even if the toxic emissions and poisoned water issues could be resolved, the impact of drilling on the American landscape is devastating. It's the most widespread destruction of the environment since the slaughter of the buffalo herds.

SC's partnering with Chesapeake is the most egregious display of green-washing I've ever witnessed. The idea of "appropriate safeguards" for this industry is about as likely as a unicorn hiding on the dark side of the moon. The industry has steadfastly resisted best management practices and lobbied successfully for exemptions to every important environmental rule. One has to wonder what's in it for SC.

Time to wake up-

With the credibility of the Sierra Club on the line, their leadership needs to wake up and smell the benzene. Their sense of shame needs a wake-up call, as well. They were so ashamed of their mistake at Glen Canyon they even published a book titled, The Place No One Knew (1963). Brower vowed to never commit the same sin again. Here's an excerpt of what he wrote in the preface:

"Glen Canyon died and I was partly responsible for its needless death. The Sierra Club has no better purpose than to try to let people know in time. In Glen Canyon we failed. There could hardly be a costlier peacetime mistake. With support from people who care, we hope in the years to come to help deter similar ravages of blind progress." David Brower, 1963

Learning from the past and changing course-

I could not agree more with the late, David Brower, who died in 2000. He was a noble and respected leader who more than atoned for his sin. I can't say the same about the current SC leadership. Their continued fraternizing with environmental criminals dishonors the good Sierra Club name and that of it's founder, John Muir.

It will take courage for the Sierra Club to admit their mistake and reverse course but they must cease and desist from their role as a "fixer" for the natural gas industry. They have an obligation to "let people know in time", to connect "A" to "B". As gas drillers step up their attack on the environment, wildlife and human health the Sierra Club needs to choose more carefully which side to be on. I urge them to act immediately to prevent another regrettable mistake.

My advice for Michael Brune, Carl Pope and the SC leadership:
1) Watch the video, Michael Clayton.
2) Read or re-read the Sierra Club book, The Place No One Knew.
3) Watch the documentary films, Split Estate and GASLAND.
4) Take a good look in the mirror.
5) Connect A to B

Email the Sierra Club:
Cancel your SC membership here:

Call or send a letter to the SC:
Sierra Club National HQ
85 Second Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105
415-977-5500 Phone
415-977-5799 FAX

Glen Canyon links-
Sierra Club magazine admits their mistake:
Wikipedia entry explaining the mistake:
America's most regrettable environmental mistake:
The End of Lake Powell Campaign:
History of Glen Canyon:
The Place No One Knew:
Photos of Glen Canyon, 1962:

Don Young
P.O. Box 470041
Fort Worth, TX 76147

"God bless Fort Worth, Texas. Help us save some of it."

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