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Last Words

Sierra Magazine
Inside Sierra: Why Politics?

By Editor-in-Chief Joan Hamilton

The Sierra Club may be best known for protecting wildlands and fighting pollution, but getting the right people elected to public office is also a vital part of our job. When we published our first congressional voting charts 20 years ago, some people advised, "Stay out of politics. It's dirty." We replied that we were already in politics, because we care about public policy. And good policy requires good politicians.

In the congressional campaigns of 1996 and 1998, our support helped remove two dozen anti-environmental candidates from office and elect two dozen environmental champions. The newcomers have already made a measurable difference. In 1998, for instance, when we tried to increase the size of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, we lost in the House by ten votes. When the issue came up again in 1999, we won by ten votes.

The 2000 election offers even more dramatic opportunities, according to Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope and Sierra senior editor Paul Rauber. In their article "Why Vote?", Pope and Rauber explain that the anti-environmental leadership of Congress does not have a firm hold on the future-the balance could easily tip in our favor. We could also elect an environmentalist president to work with that greener Congress and name up to four new justices to the Supreme Court. Dramatic change wouldn't happen all at once, the authors say, "but at least we could finally see what progress looked like."

Some good environmentalists may be planning to sit out this election, discouraged by reports of imperfect candidates and corrosive campaign contributions. But that would be a shame. Environmentalists in other parts of the world, including Russia's Aleksandr Nikitin, Mexico's Rodolfo Montiel, and Nigeria's Ken Saro-Wiwa, have suffered imprisonment and worse for voicing their environmental convictions. "We may think that our political situation is frustrating and impossible," Pope says. "But Ken Saro-Wiwa died fighting for the kinds of opportunities we take for granted."

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