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  Sierra Magazine
  September/October 2004
Table of Contents
  ELECTION 2004:
Who's Got the Power?
Collateral Damage
Dubya's Dictionary
"Wise Use" in the White House
Bush's Seven Deadly Sins
USA Tomorrow
Our Next President
Forty Wild Years
Interview: Michael Pollan
Ways & Means
One Small Step
Let's Talk
Hearth & Home
Lay of the Land
Good Going
Sierra Club Outings
Sierra Club Bulletin
Mixed Media
Sierra Archives
About Sierra
Internships at Sierra
Advertising Information
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Mixed Media

Marketing: Fossil Fuels Are So Last Century

I will Evolve
The Sierra Club's new ads show how clean cars and clean energy are hip as well as practical.
Youth culture has long been the holy grail for advertising execs. But veteran adman Jerry Stifelman isn't tapping into it to sell music or clothes; he's promoting a clean environment. Stifelman is the creative eye behind "I Will Evolve," the Sierra Club's new ad campaign promoting hybrid autos, renewable-energy technology, and energy efficiency.

The centerpiece of Stifelman's effort is a trio of print ads directed--at least on the surface--at under-30 readers. Confidence-exuding models wear T-shirts with an icon of a car sprouting stick-figure legs and the slogan "I will evolve." The ads' text cuts to the chase: "Dinosaurs failed. But we have the tools to adapt," the pitch for renewable energy says."

Fish needed gills. We need to produce energy without destroying the planet," one for hybrids points out. "150 years ago we made energy with coal and fossil fuels, which pollute the air and cause global warming," declares the appeal for energy efficiency. A bit of detail on the benefits of environmentally clean alternatives leads to the campaign's kicker: "Ask yourself, Is the Bush administration for evolution...or against it?"

An erstwhile producer of youth-oriented ads for major players like Chrysler and Jeep, Stifelman knows that twentysomethings raised on MTV are no more attuned to environmental causes than anyone else. But "they have open minds," Stifelman says. "They're looking for new ways to express themselves." Young people want a life rich in experience rather than material goods, he says, so the campaign's message is a perfect fit. So too are the direct jabs at retrograde Bush administration policies.

Just as important, Stifelman asserts, youth set trends for the rest of us. And as it turns out, they are increasingly turned off by sport-utility vehicles and what Stifelman calls "Starbucks-yuppie culture." So "with a little nudging," he says, clean technologies "could become a part of pop culture." "Youth are more concerned about what's possible," Stifelman says, "than what's happening."

I Will Evolve ads will run in a few publications you've probably heard of, like Rolling Stone and Spin, along with others whose titles may mystify you, such as Res, Clamor, and Punk Planet. No worries; if Stifelman is right, their message will percolate into older mindsets sooner rather than later.

Stifelman's media-savvy demographic is not easily persuaded. So he strives for authenticity: The models for the ad campaign are actual residents or habitués of a Winston-Salem, North Carolina, artists' warehouse. (It's also home to Psychic Revolution, a musicians' collective that tours the country in a 1971 GMC bus converted to run on vegetable oil.)

That extra effort comes naturally to Stifelman, whose company, The Change, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, specializes in "marketing to improve the world." He volunteered to work with the Sierra Club's energy program after Congress defeated an auto-fuel-efficiency bill sponsored by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2002. Faced with inaction in Washington, Stifelman says, "I knew that more could be done at the consumer end."

I Will Evolve is the flashier front-end of a broad effort by the Club called Hybrid Evolution. This summer, staff and volunteers set out on road trips around the country to promote hybrid automobiles. (The Southeast contingent was passing through coastal Georgia in their hybrid Toyotas at the same time that global leaders were zipping around the Sea Island G-8 Summit in electric GEM cars donated by DaimlerChrysler.)

The Club's teams offered citizens a chance to test-drive the cars, and to hear about the connections between fuel economy, air pollution, and global warming. Current technology can make all new cars, trucks, and SUVs average 40 miles per gallon within a decade.

Such a boost in mileage would save the average driver more than $2,200 at the gas pump over the life of the vehicle (and that's calculated at just $1.50 per gallon of gas). The increased fuel efficiency would also save nearly 4 million barrels of oil a day, more than the United States imports from the Persian Gulf and could ever expect to extract from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, combined.

As compelling as the facts are, Club staffer Brendan Bell knows that hearts and minds are won over with more than numbers. "We call it ‘hybrid evolution' because evolution means getting better," he says. Words that would make a veteran adman proud.

--Reed McManus

ON THE WEB: For more on the Sierra Club's campaign, check out

At a Glance: EarthWorks
Photographs and essay by Steve Mulligan AlyssaPress ($35)

Steve Mulligan's renditions of surprising textures and designs in the landscape open a new way of seeing nature, as in this view of a square foot of earth after a flash flood tore through a dry wash in northwest Nebraska's Toadstool badlands.

Books: Heavyweight Ecology
Intriguing but troubling stories of our relation to the wild

The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China
by Mark Elvin
Yale University Press, $39.95

The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction
by A. W. Schorger
The Blackburn Press, $42.95

It's well known that now-extinct passenger pigeons once traveled in flocks so huge they blotted out the sun in eastern America. Less familiar is that elephants once roamed over much of China, but now hang on as a tiny remnant in the southwest corner of the country.

Those species' fatal encounters with humans are documented by two works of scholarship that at first might intimidate the general reader, but soon yield intriguing stories of the complexities of coexisting with the natural world. In reaching back 3,000 years to the earliest records, Mark Elvin, a professor of Chinese history at the Australian National University, creates a sometimes heartbreaking epic of human conquest, tracing the displacement of the elephants as a symptom of other devastating encroachments on the natural world.

He quotes Chinese poets lamenting the loss of wilderness a thousand years before Wordsworth and other Romantics penned their poignant lyrics on the topic. At the turn of the eighth century a.d., for example, one writer bore somber witness to deforestation:

Great-girthed trees of towering height lie blocking the forest tracks,
A tumbled confusion of lumber, as flames on the hillside crackle,
Not even the last remaining shrubs are safeguarded from destruction;
Where once the mountain torrents leapt--nothing but rutted gullies.

Such evidence calls into question the simplistic notion that blames Judeo-Christian ideas for damage to the environment. Like their Western counterparts, the Chinese were driven to chop forests and drain swamps for basic material needs--food, fuel, and shelter for a growing population--and also for war or profit from catering to consumers, as with the ivory trade. The force of these factors leads Elvin to wonder if there is "hope that we can escape from our present environmental difficulties by means of a transformation of consciousness."

If Elvin's work is staggering in its historical scope, A. W. Schorger's reprinted 1955 study is amazing for its depth in probing the details of the life of a single creature. An ornithologist at the University of Wisconsin, Schorger interviewed eyewitnesses to passenger pigeon migrations and dug through thousands of 19th-century newspaper accounts of the immense flocks, offering a vivid sense of the landscape and the birds.

He also went back to the earliest European sightings, as when Samuel de Champlain landed at Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1605: "Upon these islands grow so many red currants that one can hardly see anything else; and there are countless pigeons, whereof we took a goodly quantity." Over the next three centuries, such a goodly quantity was shot down that the last member of a species that numbered in the billions winked out in 1914.

But the story isn't restricted to man's inhumanity to bird. Like the Chinese who feared elephants trampling their fields, New England colonist Governor Winthrop saw the birds as a threat during the near-famine conditions of 1642: "The pigeons came in such flocks (above 10,000 in one flock), that beat down and eat up a very great quantity of all sorts of English grain."

Six years later, though, the pigeons arrived after the harvest, and not only "did no harm, but proved a great blessing, it being incredible what multitudes of them were killed daily." Living with the natural world in a way that allows continual "blessing" remains our most complicated task.

--Bob Schildgen

Beyond Denial: Straight talk about Armageddon

Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment
by James Gustave Speth
Yale University Press, $24

The United States has more in common with Iraq and Iran than rhetoric about an axis of evil might suggest. At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, all three countries voted to defeat a European proposal to set global targets for renewable energy. So instead of environmental policy, we get defiant gesture.

Gus Speth knows the problem from long experience. The Yale professor of forestry and environmental studies was on the Council on Environmental Quality when President Jimmy Carter asked it for an assessment of the world's environment. By the time the troubling Global 2000 Report came out, the country was drifting from "Bad News Jimmy" to Ronald Reagan and his goofy denial marketed as optimism. "Unfortunately," Speth says, "many of our projections proved correct."

Population has grown to 6.4 billion, deforestation in the tropics continues at an acre a second, and global warming intensifies. What seems most frustrating to Speth is that solutions existed 25 years ago, yet even something as doable as auto fuel efficiency has been spurned.

He places cautious hope in the kind of international treaties that George W. Bush has repeatedly rejected, noting the effective Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer. But he warns that the ozone problem was easier to address than others since its cause was simpler (mainly chlorofluorocarbons from sources such as aerosol cans and refrigerants).

Therefore, unless we get at the more complex root causes of global warming, pollution, and desertification, treaties on these matters will be watered down. This is because negotiators must deal with much larger, more diverse economic and political stakeholders.

To get at those roots, Speth prescribes a shift to environmentally benign technology, environmentally honest prices (where costs can't be externalized or subsidized), sustainable consumption, and better education. He knows, however, that change will only occur if an engaged, sometimes enraged citizenry demands it.

His hope rests on the belief that "Web-based resources, outstanding organizations, and other levers make it possible today as never before... to affect the outcome of global challenges." If anybody doubts this, he provides 25 pages about the array of "levers" that indeed did not and could not have existed until recent years.


New from Sierra Club Books

Caribou Rising: Defending the Porcupine Herd, Gwich-'in Culture, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
by Rick Bass.

One of America's finest nature writers journeys to the Arctic to learn about the unspoiled landscape and the lives of the Natives who have depended on the caribou for millennia.

Nature's Operating Instructions: The True Biotechnologies
edited by Kenny Ausubel with J. P. Harpignies.

Major environmental thinkers, including Paul Hawken, David Orr, David Suzuki, and Terry Tempest Williams, show how to create a healthier, more prosperous environment by working with nature instead of against it, in areas ranging from energy to agriculture and even industrial production.

MORE INFORMATION: Order these books from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (415) 977-5600; Web site,; or by writing the store at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3459.

Photos: I Will Evolve photo courtesy Cheryl Gottschall.
Nebraska’s Toadstool Badlands courtesy Steve Mulligan.
Caribou Rising: Jacket: Blue Design; Illustration: Elizabeth Hughes Bass

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