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The Planet
Cutting Through the Clutter

I live in Berkeley, California. Not exactly the heartbeat of America. A week after the election, there are still more Dennis Kucinich signs in my neighborhood than probably anywhere but the block in Cleveland where his parents live.

But even relatively informed Berkeleyans don’t know much about what the Bush administration is doing on environmental issues. We ran a story a few issues ago entitled, "How to Stop the Bush Administration. Start Talking." So I did.

I talked with friends, with fellow bus riders, with the young tattooed guy who cuts my hair, with other parents from my son’s high school. Hardly anyone has heard much about the Bush administration’s new mercury policy. Certainly no one understands it. So if that’s a problem we face in Berkeley, then it’s likely to be a bigger problem in Baton Rouge. (Sorry, Louisianans, I just picked that because of the alliteration.)

That’s the challenge the Sierra Club is facing all over the nation. We’re running ads, taking the Bush administration to court, releasing reports—doing all the kinds of grassroots activism we’ve been doing for a century. But that’s not enough.

Americans are bombarded by an estimated 60,000 messages, ads, signs, and e-mails every week, up from 20,000 just five years ago. We don’t listen to or believe most of them. But there’s one source of information that Americans still trust to cut through the media clutter—and that’s each other. Or more specifically, trusted and informed friends and neighbors.

That’s why we’re investing so much energy into mobilizing people to talk. This spring, around Earth Day, Club members all over the country will be knocking on doors, standing outside supermarkets, hosting neighborhood meetings.

Keeping your message simple helps to cut through the clutter. For example, here’s a small statistic that tells a big and important story. In 1995, taxpayers paid 18 percent of the cost of cleaning up abandoned toxic waste sites. This year taxpayers will foot the entire bill, thanks to Bush administration policy changes.

Another easy-to-remember fact: Every administration since Theodore Roosevelt’s has left more wildlands protected upon leaving office than upon arriving. Except the Bush administration, which has stripped protection from 10 percent of America’s land, opening an area larger than Texas and Oklahoma combined to logging, mining, and oil extraction. But for the most part these wildlands are still wild. They have been tied to the train tracks—but there’s still time to cut the ropes and rescue them. But we can’t dawdle. The logging trucks and drilling rigs are moving fast.

To find out how you can help, contact your local chapter. For Earth Day activities, go to day2004.

— John Byrne Barry

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