Relentless Pressure, Applied Relentlessly
by John Byrne Barry
I was young then, I remember that much. There was this earnest man with
his shirtsleeves rolled up, leaning forward and talking with his hands. "The first
thing you have to understand," he told me, "is that being right is not
I don't remember who he was, which political issue he was talking about,
where we were. I do remember not wanting to believe him. Like I said, I was young.
The Sierra Club is not young; we're now eight years into our second
century as a grassroots force for environmental protection, and as an organization we have
no illusions that being right means we'll prevail.
For more than two decades the auto industry has blocked an increase in
fuel-economy standards, despite affordable and available technology and an avalanche of
evidence about the dangers of global warming.
Then, earlier this summer, the Senate approved a study that should
lead to the first boost in fuel-efficiency standards since 1975. A few weeks later, Ford
Motor Company announced it would voluntarily increase the fuel economy of its SUV fleet by
25 percent over the next five years. (See "Finally, Progress on
Ford executives didn't wake up one morning and decide this was the right
thing to do. The Club roundly embarrassed the automaker for its gas-guzzling Ford
Excursion. And those senators who changed their vote for fuel-efficiency didn't suddenly
have a bout of conscience.
After more than 20 years of pushing and pushing against what seemed to be
an immovable object, it moved.
What happened? Why now? We don't know, but it certainly wasn't just
because we were right. More likely, it was because of what one activist calls
"relentless pressure, applied relentlessly."
Talk about relentless. The Club poured unprecedented resources over the
past eight months into mobilizing activists to push for a stronger wild forest protection
plan (See "We Like Our Forests Wild").
The Forest Service is now reviewing comments and testimony before issuing
its final plan. The agency received more than 1 million comments from the environmental
community in support of strengthening its plan - that's four times more than any federal
agency has ever received during a comment period. Did we need that many? There's no way of
knowing, but with the powerful timber industry and vocal off-road vehicle advocates
opposing the initiative, there's no such thing as too much pressure.
Being right may not be enough, but with 1 million people behind us, we're
hard to ignore.
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