When I fled Burma in 1988, I knew nothing about the environment," said Ka
During 11 years of exile, he has risked his safety by returning repeatedly to his
homeland to interview victims of
the military dictatorship's brutality. "More and more, these people are
about issues that directly implicate the environment as well: the woman whose
baby was killed when a soldier kicked her into a fire during a forced relocation
for the pipeline; the boys and girls who were forced at gunpoint to labor on the
logging road; the fisherman who lost his traditional livelihood when
international trawlers forced him out of the sea."
Ka Hsaw Wa, slight and boyish-looking, could easily pass for the college
he was more than a decade ago. Now, though, he understands both the "deadly
partnership" between multinational oil magnates and the Burmese generals-who
leveling forests for a massive natural-gas pipeline-and the "intimate
between human liberty and ecological health. "We have a chance to join hands
stop the abuse at its sources," he said. "Those who have been
committed to protecting human rights, and those who have focused on the
environment, must recognize that we work at cross-purposes if we do not work
Ka Hsaw Wa, who now lives in Thailand, spoke at the Sierra Club's San
headquarters in January to bless an alliance between the Club, the nation's
largest grassroots environmental organization, and Amnesty International USA, its
counterpart in the human-rights arena. At his side was Dr. Owens Wiwa, whose
brother, Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa, was executed with eight others by the
Nigerian military in November 1995 for speaking out about toxic oil spills and
government repression. Wiwa fled days later, and now lives in Toronto.
The Club and Amnesty, which together have nearly a million members in the
States alone, have previously collaborated on behalf of the Ogoni and Russia's
Alexander Nikitin, charged with espionage for blowing the whistle on dangers from
decommissioned nuclear submarines. Their three-year "Defending the
campaign will bring more such cases of persecution to broader attention via
first-person accounts by indigenous activists on the Internet and annual
"Environmental Defender" reports, and through the two organizations'
communications and activist networks.
There is, sadly, no shortage of
worthy candidates. William Schultz, Amnesty's executive director, noted that just
days earlier, 1991 Goldman Prize winner Wangari Maathai, coordinator of Kenya's
Green Belt Movement, and other protesters had been hospitalized after being
clubbed for trying to plant seedlings at the gates of a forest slated for
development. As a participant in a morning roundtable discussion observed,
however, "We don't have to go abroad to find examples of corporate
cite just one, Navajos are struggling to defend their sacred homeland in the
Arizona desert against expansion of Peabody Coal's Black Mesa mine.
The "Defending the Defenders" campaign aims to turn up the pressure
on the U.S.
its part in human-rights abuses. Carl Pope, the Club's executive director,
criticized Democrats and Republicans alike for supporting a foreign policy he
described as "see no evil, hear no evil." Appearing at a news
announce the campaign, he promised to "press our government to insist that
corporations based here, marketing here, and raising money here, develop and
implement credible human-rights and environmental protection policies wherever
they do business."
"It should no longer be acceptable," said Pope, "for
corporations to say, 'we
have complied with the law where we are doing business,' if that law does not
recognize basic environmental and human rights."
The San Francisco-based Goldman Fund is underwriting the Club/Amnesty alliance
and is also providing support for a variety of other advocacy groups to stop
human-rights abuses and hold corporations accountable. In the previous two weeks,
Wiwa said, the Nigerian junta had killed at least two dozen activists in its
reign of terror on behalf of multinational oil interests there. By defending the
defenders, "this coalition will help ensure that such things never happen
"If anything happens to us, we
will not die in vain," Wiwa said, unavoidably evoking the memory
of his martyred brother. "A lot of people are watching." B.J.
Werbach Walks "Thin Green Line"
From news-minded 60 Minutes to celebrity-driven Entertainment Tonight, television
is chock-full of newsmagazines. But Thin Green Line is one of the first to put
the spotlight on environmental issues.
"It's a cross between Dateline
and TV Nation," says hostand former Sierra Club presidentAdam Werbach, who
cites Michael Moorešs satirical, muckraking (and short-lived) television show as
Werbach's show will debut April 22Earth Dayand air monthly on the Outdoor Life
Network (OLN), a cable channel devoted to individual sports like hiking,
mountain-biking, skiing, and surfing.
"Our audience is passionate about the pursuit of outdoor recreation," says OLN
Executive Director Peter Englehart, "so we're assuming they will also be
passionate about environmental issues."
Werbach, still a Sierra Club Board member, agrees that taking the conservation
message to television is a naturaland necessaryway for
environmentalists to reach potential new allies.
Thin Green Line will introduce viewers to the human stories behind the
environmental headlines. One of three segments of the first half-hour show will
focus on David "Gypsy" Chain, the young Earth First! activist killed by a falling
tree last September during a protest against the cutting of Headwaters Forest
redwoods in Humboldt County, California.
The premiere episode will also report on the fight against buffalo slaughter
outside Yellowstone, and profile California kayaker/conservationist Scott
Lindgren, who has lost six friends to kayaking in the past year.
"TV is signal-rich, but content-poor, while the environmental movement is
content-rich, but signal-poor," Werbach says. "Our goal is to take the great
stories that need to be told to a medium that needs substance." Werbach invites
readers to send story ideas to Act Now
Productions via e-mail at email@example.com.Jennifer Hattam
In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups
spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work protecting our natural heritage.
Great Basin/High Desert: SAVING UTAH'S TRUE LEGACY
When a four-lane, 13-mile road was proposed along the southeastern shore of the
Great Salt Lake, Utah activists knew it was futile to lobby Governor Michael
Leavitt. The Republican
governor had not only proposed the "Legacy Highway," he was its most passionate
supporter. So activists took their case to the federal government.
Local Sierra Club members sent hundreds of letters to the EPA to protest the
construction and brought almost 1,000 activists to an agency hearing in October.
They also teamed up with farmers and duck hunters, who shared their fear that the
highway would turn farmlands into subdivisions and destroy 160 acres of wetlands,
along with pelicans, eagles, and other birds. "It makes the message more credible
to have all these groups
speaking with one voice," says Marc Heileson, conservation organizer for the
Club's Southwest office. "We can't be written off as extremists when
fifth-generation Mormon farmers are part of the effort."
In January, their voices were heard: the EPA declared that it would veto any
highway project across the Great Salt Lake wetlands.
THEIR OWN PRIVATE IDAHO
U.S. Air Force officials were so confident their bombing-range expansion plans
would be approved, they bid a mere $10 for 960 acres of state land on Idaho's
Owyhee plateau at a January auction. But members of the Sierra Club and other
conservation groups in the Owyhee Canyonlands Coalition (OCC) had a surprise in
store: a $5,000 bid.
"The area is worthy of national-park status," says Roger Singer, conservation
coordinator for the Club's Middle Snake Group. "We hoped to raise public
attention by bidding in the auction, to make it known that people are determined
to protect the area."
The Idaho Land Board ultimately awarded the land to the Air Force, calling the
OCC "obstructionist" and questioning the organization's solvency. But media
coverage publicized the widespread opposition to the military's plans. Activists
hope to rally that concern in defense of adjacent public lands. A majority of
Idahoans support wilderness designation for these rugged canyonlands, which are
home to elk, deer, and bighorn sheep, and offer world-class rafting
Atlantic Coast: MEGAPORT, MEGAPROBLEMS
Sierra Club volunteer Caroline Karp wasn't surprised by plans to build a huge
port on Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, and bring 20 container ships, some too
big to fit through the Panama Canal, into the bay each week. "The port is
absolutely the wrong scale for the bay," Karp says. "But it fits with the
backlash against environmental protection that's going on in this state."
Graduate students in Karp's environmental policy seminar exposed potential
problems with the megaport by researching crime rates in port cities and likely
impacts on transportation patterns. The proposed development could change the
shape of the bay (due to dredging); fuel sprawl; destroy habitat for lobsters,
clams, and the threatened least tern; and sully the water and air.
The Club got the anti-megaport message out with a "Fish or Foul? Family Festival"
highlighting the development's likely effects on the local tourism and fishing
industries, and a "Flotilla of Fun" boat-in.
State officials are still pushing for
a port, but the huge allied shipping companies Sea-Land and Maersk pulled out of
the plan after activists made it clear that the project wouldn't meet
water-quality and wetlands requirements.
Hawaii: ALIEN INVASION REPELLED
Most conservation efforts seek to reduce human impact on the environment, but
volunteers in Hawaii may be making two wrongs into a right. Kokee and Waimea
Canyon state parks, in mountainous northwest Kauai, are lush with native
vegetation, including at least 22 endangered species and half of the island's
rare plants. But this rich ecosystem is threatened by an invasion of
fast-growing, non-native plants. Many of the new species were introduced
intentionally, like the ornamental Kahili ginger and the strawberry guava, used
Last year, more than 1,400 volunteers, including Club members from Kauai and
other Hawaiian islands, cleared 254 acres of more than 600,000 alien plants-and
got a hands-on
introduction to conservation principles.
To spend part of your vacation helping preserve paradise, contact Kate Reinard
at the Kokee Resource Conservation Program, P.O. Box 100, Kekaha, HI 96752, or
Rocky Mountains: GREENER FUTURE FOR GREYS
The Greys River, the longest undammed river in Wyoming outside Yellowstone
National Park, flows through a remote western part of the state. Here in
Bridger-Teton National Forest, you'll find big peaks and rocky slopes, meadows
and forests, elk, goshawks, lynx-and a history of clearcuts.
Last year, nearly 1,000 acres at the headwaters of the upper Greys, which is
already rife with sediment, was threatened by a proposed timber sale. Activists
charged that the resulting clearcuts and new roads would increase sediment
tenfold, fragment wildlife habitat, and damage fisheries.
Thanks to an appeal filed by the Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Wyoming
Outdoor Council, and other conservation groups, the U.S. Forest Service halted
the sale in November.
Across the Nation: NATURAL BEDFELLOWS
The National Rifle Association
and the Sierra Club might seem like natural adversaries. But members of these
groups in Houston, Texas, have been working together for more than two years to
protect the Katy Prairie wetlands, a resting stop for migrating waterfowl. This
type of collaboration is hardly an isolated occurrence. The past year saw new
efforts by Club activists to organize among hunters, fishers, and farmers.
bringing these often-at-odds constituencies together, Sierra Club chapters across
the country are trying to broaden their base of support to include all groups
that use (and love) our natural resources. While South Dakota Club members are
joining sportsmen to clean up local waterways and wetlands, Oklahoma and Maryland
activists are fighting the spread of huge factory farms with
the help of family farmers and the African-American community.
To spotlight Sierra Club activism in your area, contact Jennifer Hattam
at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail
jennifer.hattam@sierra club.org; or fax (415) 977-5794.