What do many of the country's most urgent environmental issues--global warming, mercury-contaminated waterways, coastal oil and natural-gas drilling--have in common? They're all about energy. That's why the Sierra Club has made moving beyond fossil fuels its top conservation priority for the next five to ten years.
The Club started its direction-setting process in early 2005 with a survey of its staff and activists. At last year's Sierra Summit, delegates voted to adopt three new initiatives: SMART ENERGY SOLUTIONS to encourage investment in renewable fuels, innovative technologies, and energy efficiency; AMERICA'S WILD LEGACY to protect wildlife, national parks, and wildlands; and SAFE AND HEALTHY COMMUNITIES to fight water and air pollution and other environmental hazards. Club volunteer leaders will focus on change at the state and local levels and urge federal policymakers to follow suit.
An early energy effort is the push for more "clean car" laws. Eleven states and Canada have enacted, or are in the process of enacting, legislation requiring automakers to produce cleaner-running vehicles than federal standards dictate. Getting others on board would force the industry to make all cars for the U.S. and Canadian markets meet the tougher criteria. The Club is also encouraging states to adopt clean-energy programs. Our goal is to have a nationwide standard of at least 20 percent renewables by 2020.
One of the main ways to preserve our wild legacy is to strengthen enforcement of the Endangered Species Act and fight any attempts to weaken it. The Club is also defending our coasts, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and other vulnerable areas from oil and natural-gas drilling, mining, and logging. Finally, the Club is working to shield citizens from toxic threats, focusing first on local drinking-water quality. By addressing the largest sources of pollution--sewage and stormwater runoff--and ensuring that the Clean Water Act is enforced, we can help foster safe, healthy communities.
Summer camp isn't just for making s'mores anymore. Each year, the Sierra Student Coalition sponsors weeklong training programs for high school and college students who want to make a difference as environmental leaders. Participants learn how to start campus groups, run effective campaigns, and work with the media. They also enjoy hikes, games, and fireside chats with guest speakers from the environmental movement.
The trainings cost $150 to $180, which includes a Sierra Club membership, and will be held from mid-June to mid-August at state parks in California, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and Washington. Need-based scholarships are available, as are group discounts.
MORE INFORMATIONTo apply, visitssc.org/t/sprogs.htmor call (888) JOIN-SSC. Applications will be accepted until programs are full.
The Sierra Club and Greenpeace's mercury-testing project (see "Sierra Club Bulletin," November/December 2005, page 63) has yielded a startling statistic: One in five of the U.S. women who responded has enough toxic mercury in her body to harm an unborn child. Researchers for the country's largest study on mercury contamination analyzed more than 6,500 hair samples and found a direct link between elevated levels and frequent fish consumption. Read the report at sierraclub.org/mercury.
Full Feather Jacket
Last year, Sierra profiled Jon Trouern-Trend, a blogging birder and U.S. Army sergeant first class who was stationed in Iraq in 2004. (See "Lay of the Land," May/June 2005, page 15.) Birdwatching allowed Trouern-Trend to connect with nature in hostile territory. "As I was watching some wood pigeons, a pair of F-16s came tearing down the runway with their afterburners going," he writes. "The noise was incredible. . . . The birds were unfazed." Now entries from his blog are featured in Birding Babylon ($9.95), a May release from Sierra Club Books. To order a copy, visit sierraclub.org/books or call (415) 977-5600.
Our Ears Are Burning
"Having once battled for tax giveaways to promote more oil drilling, Bush has decided that 'America is addicted to oil.' Next, he'll take out a Sierra Club membership."
--Washington Post editorial on President Bush's State of the Union address, February 3
VIRGINIA: Slaying Monster Homes
Is bigger better? Not when it comes to the encroachment of "McMansions," or oversize, mass-produced suburban houses. Last November, after two years of lobbying by the Sierra Club's Mount Vernon Group, the Arlington County Board adopted northern Virginia's toughest size restrictions on new single-family homes and renovations. Depending on lot size, a house, garage, and driveway can now occupy only 25 to 45 percent of the property, down from the previous limit of 56 percent for the residence alone. The limits will leave more room for shade trees, which lessen air-conditioning needs, improve air quality, and reduce polluting stormwater runoff. Rob Swennes, secretary of the Mount Vernon Group, hopes other communities will "use the Arlington victory as a model." So far, the nearby city of Alexandria and neighboring Fairfax County are studying the issue. For more information, go to www.arlingtonva.us/lotcoverage. --Kristen Pakonis
CALIFORNIA: Pay to Pave
Tractors are holding ground against tract houses in California's Central Valley, one of the country's most fertile agricultural regions. In January, developers planning to subdivide 5,400 acres in Stockton agreed to settle a lawsuit by paying $17.5 million to protect nearby farmland. The Sierra Club filed the suit two years ago, claiming the city had illegally approved the projects. The settlement, which will fund conservation easements in San Joaquin County, requires the Stockton City Council to vote within six months on whether to charge developers a citywide farmland-preservation fee. "We're hoping that for every acre of prime land that's paved over, an acre will be saved," says Eric Parfrey of the Club's Mother Lode Chapter. --Erin Pursell
WISCONSIN: So Long, Soot
Madison, Wisconsin, residents may have a reputation for tolerance, but not when it comes to dirty power plants. Pressured by the Sierra Club's Midwest Clean Energy Campaign, Madison Gas and Electric Company agreed in January to switch its downtown coal-fired plant to natural gas over the next six years. The 104-year-old facility emits more sulfur dioxide, a main component of soot, per kilowatt-hour than any other coal-burning power plant in the state, increasing health risks such as asthma and heart attacks. According to Wisconsin coordinator Jennifer Feyerherm, the fact that the Madison plant lacks modern pollution controls "still drops jaws around here." The campaign plans to push the utility to make the switch before the deadline. --E.P.