SIERRA CLUB MEMBERS take our mission--explore, enjoy, and protect the planet--to heart. But in this carbon-dioxide-threatened world, is it possible to do much exploring without the baggage of guilt? Sierra Club Outings confronted that dilemma head-on.
After much research, the Club's travel arm, which leads 350 conservation-based trips each year, is partnering with NativeEnergy to offer carbon offsets. Now wilderness adventurers can easily calculate and purchase offsets for the CO2 emissions from their journeys.
When a traveler purchases offsets, the vendor uses the money to fund clean-energy projects. The offsetting business is currently unregulated, so Outings consulted Club energy specialists and the Gold Standard, an offsetting-verification organization, to identify top vendors.
Outings looked at the organizations' transparency, the quality of their energy programs, and the "additionality" of their projects--that is, whether they would've happened without funding from offsets, says Tanya Tschesnok, the department's publicity manager. NativeEnergy has met its carbon-reduction promises: It helped build New Hampshire's largest solar array, and future projects include several wind turbines on family-owned farms.
Tschesnok notes that carbon-neutral travel isn't possible--CO2 is still emitted when you fly or drive to your destination. But "you can help decrease global carbon emissions by funding targeted renewable energy projects," she says. Plus offsets are "a great tool for educating people about the true costs of travel."
Outings is also working to reduce its emissions by using group transit when possible and choosing ecofriendly accommodations. Still, some might wonder, why travel at all? Tschesnok hopes offsetting will nudge people to seek deeper answers. "The true 'offset' of our trips is that they turn travelers into activists," she says. "We haven't done our job if people don't come home saying, 'What can I do to help?'"
In April, Sierra Club members elected four current or former directors and voted in one new representative to the Club's volunteer board of directors. The 15-person board sets conservation priorities, approves the annual budget, and oversees staff and volunteer activities. Each year five seats are up for election. The winners for 2008 are:
JONI BOSH, a current Club director and executive at American Solar Electric from Phoenix (35,878 votes)
NATHAN WYETH, a former Club director and recent graduate of Brown University from Providence, Rhode Island (27,843)
BARBARA FRANK, a current Club director and an environmental activist from La Crosse, Wisconsin (27,023)
LARRY FAHN, a former Club president and the executive director of As You Sow, a corporate-accountability advocacy group, from Mill Valley, California (26,877)
JEREMY DOOCHIN, a student at Vanderbilt University and founder of the Student Environmental Outreach Coalition from Nashville, Tennessee (24,734)
The recently elected directors provide a "mix of new ideas and experience that will help continue the Club's tradition of strong grassroots leadership," says board member Sanjay Ranchod. To recommend candidates for 2009, e-mail Nominating Committee Chair Donald Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MADE IN THE USA What can fight global warming, slash energy costs, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and revitalize our economy? The Green Jobs for America campaign, launched in April by the Sierra Club with the United Steelworkers and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Focusing on 12 states, the campaign promotes private investment and government policies to expand renewable energy. bluegreenalliance.org
DUBIOUS DISTINCTION You've heard of the Emmys and the Grammys, but how about the Foolies? The Sierra Student Coalition, as part of the Energy Action Coalition, helped choose the recipients of these awards for the biggest contribution to our fossil-fuel addiction. This year's "winners" include Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis (for his company's financial backing of mountaintop-removal mining). energyactioncoalition.org/foolies
POWER POLITICS To educate Americans about the importance of switching to a clean-energy economy--and highlight the differences between the presidential candidates' approaches to the country's energy future--the Sierra Club kicked off the Power 2 Change campaign this spring. It supports green policies such as getting 20 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020. sierraclub.org/power2change
THE GREEN EASY In March, New Orleans's Holy Cross neighborhood, still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, got a hand from Sierra Club activists, architects, and other volunteers. As part of the two-week Historic Green event, they helped weatherize residences and salvage building materials from demolition sites. historicgreen.org—Karina Kinik
Arizona: Natural Security
For Sierra Club activists working on U.S. border issues, securing human and environmental rights is key to achieving true national security. "With NAFTA and the maquiladoras, we see that those who exploit people are the same ones who exploit and pollute the land," says Sean Sullivan, co-chair of the Club's Rincon Group. "You're not going to be able to protect one without the other." In March, Sullivan received the Justicia de Corazon award from Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, a Tuscon, Arizona–based social justice group, for his work to defend protected lands near the U.S.-Mexican border and to educate the public about the underlying causes of migration. "The Secure Fence Act of 2006 cuts a whole eco-region in half, and many species need to use both sides of the border to continue viable populations," says Sullivan, who lobbied Congress to uphold borderland environmental protections. He has also worked to protect the habitat corridors of such animals as the ocelot (above). —Tom Valtin
British Columbia: Nice Break
Our neighbors in British Columbia are cheering a victory that favors farms over fairways. Last year Patricia Aldworth, a member of the Sierra Club of Canada's Malaspina Group, spearheaded protests against a massive development on protected farmland. The project in Powell River, a remote town about 80 miles northwest of Vancouver, included a golf course, gated community, airport, hotel, and convention center on 850 acres of cropland preserved by B.C. law. Aided by Club activists, environmental groups, and outraged residents, Aldworth's efforts bore fruit when the provincial Agricultural Land Commission rejected the proposal. "People saw that we need our agricultural land," says Aldworth, "and that more and more development is not sustainable." In February, she was elected to Powell River's city council. —Heather Conn
Maryland: In Focus
From a workshop on "wacky weather" to a hybrid car display, the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) last winter brought home the impact of global warming to a group of Maryland high schoolers. The Sierra Club's student arm invited scientists, Club volunteers, and a Democratic congressional candidate to Oxon Hill High School to discuss climate-change solutions with about 100 teens. The one-day event was part of Focus the Nation, an environmental education initiative held at 1,000 campuses and businesses nationwide; the SSC participated at more than 200 schools. "Focus the Nation has changed the way both students and administrators view environmental activism," says student Dominique Hazzard, the SSC's campus organizer at Oxon Hill. "The [school] administration definitely gives our group more respect now." —Heather Conn
Illustrations, from top: Gilbert Ford, iStockphoto/George Peters; used with permission.