Fran Caffee - Ilana
Meallem and Mohammad A. Taher
Aurora, Illinois Valley of the Fox Group Chair
When Fran Caffee moved to Aurora, on the banks of the Fox River
about an hour west of Chicago, there was no Valley of the Fox Sierra
Club Group. So she founded one.
“There weren’t many Club activists in Kane County at
the time,” she recalls, “and there certainly wasn’t
a handbook for starting a new group. It was just ‘by-gosh,
by-golly.’ But I found there are a lot of like-minded people
in this area; it just takes work to get them together.”
Caffee’s activism had been limited to “soft stuff”
like letter-writing when she was raising a family, but when she
and her husband moved briefly to Savannah, Georgia, in the late
‘80s, she found herself ready to take the next step. “So
I looked up the local Sierra Club,” she says matter-of-factly.
A nearby state park along a salt marsh was threatened with development,
“but we stopped it,” she says. “And that was just
the first of several successes. So when I moved back to Aurora in
1990, the first thing I did was start the Valley of the Fox Group.”
The river itself has been the group’s main focus, and Caffee
has been an indefatigable catalyst for community involvement. “There’s
a world full of people eager to help,” she says. “As
a result of our efforts there’s now a Fox River Study Group
made up of citizens’ groups and representatives from sewage
treatment plants and all the municipalities along the middle section
of the river.”
Caffee is close to completing a longtime objective: hiking the entire
Appalachian Trail. “I’ve hiked all but 200 miles,”
she enthuses. “This fall I’m going to climb Mt. Katahdin
to celebrate my 65th birthday!”
Ilana Meallem, Isreal,
and Mohammad A. Taher, Jordan
Sierra Club Interns
Maybe it’s her irrepressible optimism. But when asked to
describe the downside of her 2,000-mile, Seattle-to-San Diego hyrbrid
roadtrip, Ilana Malleam can’t think of anything. On the plus
side, though, there’s no shortage of memories.
“It was so wonderful to be able to meet all the different
Sierra Club people in different states, to be taken into their homes,
get to see what issues they were working on, and how they connected
with the public,” she says.
During July, Malleam was one-third of the “I
Will Evolve” road trip trio that also consisted of Mohammad
A. Taher and Brendan Bell, of the Sierra Club’s global warming
team. The crack team’s mission? To announce to the West Coast
that hybrid cars emit far less CO2 than regular autos, and that
driving them instead is one big step we can take to delay or stop
the devastating effects of global warming. Their travel gear included
a trunk full of hip, fun “I Will Evolve” materials,
including bumperstickers and factsheets that state: “Fish
need gills. Birds got wings. We need to produce energy without destroying
If the journey wasn’t your typical roadtrip, neither were
the travelers. Malleam is an Isreali Jew; Taher a Jordanian Muslim.
Both are graduate students at Israel’s Arava environmental
institute who joined the Sierra Club as interns this summer. By
participating in the Club’s hybrid roadtip, and through the
Arava institute, Malleam and Taher hope to convey that environmental
problems affect everyone and must be solved by everyone, regardless
of national boundaries.
Global warming, says Taher, is one environmental problem that the
United States has played a big role in creating, and thus, can help
to stop. “We want to show that global warming is a global
problem,” says Taher. “In Jordan, we have no surface
water, only underground water, and it is predicted that as the world
gets hotter, we will have less water. So my message is that by driving
hybrids, Americans can help people in other parts of the world.”
Given his interest in sustainable agriculture, Taher returns to
the role of water in the Middle East as an example that the environment
can be a force that brings people together. “While the PLO
and Israel have been in conflict, water management groups on both
sides continued to have a dialogue,” he says, “even
when diplomatic relations broke down completely.” Taher sees
the scarcity of water in the region as an unyielding fact, and believes
that countries in the area will have to work together and find common
ground in order to ensure a sustainable future.
The Arava Institute plays a
unique role in connecting and educating young environmentalists
in the Middle East. “I probably wouldn’t have met any
Israelis my age if I hadn’t come to Arava,” says Taher.
But despite his enthusiasm for the school, he may be forced to leave.
Though nearly his entire tuition is covered by grants, his native
Jordan would likely not recognize a diploma awarded in Israel.
While Taher ponders his future this fall, Malleam will head to
Brown University in Rhode Island to continue work in her field:
rectifying the environmental injustices suffered by the traditionally
nomadic Bedouin peoples of the Middle East. Like economically disadvantaged
groups in the United States, Bedouins often live with elevated levels
of air and water pollution.
But wherever their pursuit of a more equitable and healthier planet
takes them, they won’t likely forget the summer roadtrip of
2004. “I approached one guy driving a red mustang,”
says Malleam. He looked tough—not the core hybrid demographic—but
Malleam convinced him to check out out the Prius. “Once he
was sitting in our car, he began to take to it, asking about the
dashboard and acceleration.” One small step for evolution.
— profiles by Tom
Valtin and Brian Vanneman
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