Sierra Club Helps Local Group Aire Puro Clear the Air
Thanks in part to assistance from the Sierra Club's
International Program to a new Honduran environmental group
- Aire Puro (Pure Air) - Honduras eliminated lead from its
gasoline in February.
Because lead can cause developmental problems in children
and blood disorders in adults, its use as a cheap additive
to increase gasoline performance was phased out in the
United States over the last two decades. While other nations
followed suit, many developing countries have yet to convert
to cleaner burning fuels.
Until Honduras eliminated leaded gas, there was no country
in the world with a higher concentration of lead per gallon
of gasoline. In some parts of the capital, lead levels in
the atmosphere exceeded international standards by 500
percent and lead concentrations in blood were rising,
especially among children.
The Honduran government had promised to introduce unleaded
gasoline in 1993, but oil companies and the Ministry of
Economy became locked in an impasse over gasoline price
In 1994, Aire Puro began a public campaign to break the
deadlock. Advised by Sierra Club member Baird Straughan, who
lives in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, and with
timely counsel from other Club leaders, Aire Puro mounted a
grassroots campaign to accelerate the lagging transition
from leaded gasoline.
Using Sierra Club publications like "What You Can Do to Save
Your Neighborhood, City or Town" and "Conservation Action"
from the Organizer's Library,
the group used the tried and
true Sierra Club tactics of gathering signatures, briefing
the press, lobbying decision makers, gaining spokespeople
and staging public events - including an offer of a ticket
to a rock concert as a prize for the best letter to the
economic minister. When the minister finally announced
approval for imports of unleaded gasoline, he publicly
thanked Aire Puro "for the pressure."
"There are almost no grassroots advocacy organizations like
the Sierra Club in Latin America," said Straughan. "So
there's often no political will to make the hard decisions
that environmental protection entails."
He did emphasize, however, that the success of Aire Puro to
buck that trend proves there is a growing need for Club
activists' skills beyond North America. For example, Aire
Puro received key pointers in the art of lobbying from
International Program Director Larry Williams and other Club
members via the Internet.
"Our grassroots organizing skills are very much in demand,"
said Williams. "The Internet makes it possible to give
technical assistance to new organizations over long
distances and at little cost."
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