When it comes to lifestyle choices, how do Sierra readers measure up? Do they fit the sack-wearing, tofu-eating, finger-wagging stereotype we've tried to debunk elsewhere in this issue? Or are they closet fast-food junkies, or SUV drivers like millions of their fellow Americans? From the surveys we send periodically to about 1,000 readers, we get some intriguing hints. For example:
Like the rest of the nation's population, the readers who responded are fairly evenly split between men (48 percent) and women (52 percent). Compared with the average American, they're older (45.9 years compared with 35.3), wealthier (their median household income is $82,000, compared with $50,800), and more likely to be college educated. Geographically speaking, 42.5 percent of readers live in the West, where the Sierra Club has its deepest roots, with the rest distributed throughout the Northeast (16.9 percent), the South (20.6 percent), and the north-central region (19.9 percent).
In their free time, Sierra readers–not surprisingly–like to be out-of-doors. Sixty-one percent participated in backpacking, hiking, or other wilderness activities in the past year. Readers go bicycling, running, swimming, canoeing/kayaking, skiing, and overnight camping at more than twice the rate of other Americans, and they're way more likely to have bought a backpack, camp stove, or sleeping bag lately. But they also enjoy the urban good life–dining out, attending live performances, and visiting museums. They read everything from "chick lit" to classics. They're no Luddites either: Almost 90 percent of Sierra readers have a personal computer at home.
In many respects, our readers are conscientious consumers, with 88 percent using energy efficiency as a purchasing criterion, and 65 percent saying they're willing to pay more for products that are lighter on the earth. About half shop regularly at farmers' markets or other places that sell natural foods. They are good citizens, too. About half compost and 85 percent recycle. (Nationwide, only 35.1 percent are recyclers.) Forty-seven percent said they have written to a public official in the past year, compared with 6 percent nationwide. But our readers are not saints. Only 1.7 percent go carless; 27 percent of households own an SUV. Only 38 percent use natural household cleaners. And in case you were wondering, 37 percent eat tofu.
To make your voice count on environmental issues, we recommend that you write or call (rather than e-mail) your national elected officials at:
Washington, DC 20510
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
U.S. Capitol Switchboard
Visit the Sierra Club's Web site at www.sierraclub.org/takeaction, where you can sign up for the Take Action Network to send free messages to your elected officials.
For the inside story about Club conservation campaigns and how you can help, ask for a free subscription to the bimonthly print newsletter the Planet. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, 85 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94105-3459.
Our Ears Are Burning
"Several dozen members of the Sierra Club waved signs and chanted about the ills of pollution...'There's a better way to make polluters pay!' they cried. The best-dressed demonstrator? A woman wrapped in a black cardboard tube with grayish cotton wool poking out the top. 'I'm a smoke stack,' she informed me through her eye hole."
— Philadelphia Daily News, June 24, 2004
"When the Environmental Protection Agency last year decided to change the rules on emissions from older coal-fired power plants, officials acted as though they were simply doctoring the details of some out-dated document, bringing the thing into the 21st century.
"Not so, said environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, who argued that the rules change would result in significantly increased levels of emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide from the old, soot-belching power plants...
"On Thursday, the EPA's inspector general said the environmental groups were right. Unquestionably so."
— Springfield (Mass.) Republican, October 4, 2004, editorial
Grassroots By Reed McManus
Alabama: Saved by a Mouse
"Thank God for the beach mouse," University of South Alabama civil engineering professor Scott Douglass told the Birmingham News after Hurricane Ivan roared across Florida's Fort Morgan Peninsula in September. "The developers hate that thing, but it saved their developments." Ivan devastated structures along the Gulf Coast–except in areas where conservation requirements forced contractors to build back from the beach to protect dunes, prime habitat for endangered Alabama and Perdido Key beach mice. The wider the distance between buildings and the ocean, the less impact the hurricane had. Waves simply couldn't reach resorts that were built 500 feet back from the mean tide line to protect the rodents' domain.
Thanks to a lawsuit by the Sierra Club's Alabama Chapter, in 2002 a federal judge blocked two developers' plans to construct high-rise condos on the Fort Morgan beachfront. Currently, the chapter is suing the feds to expand the area designated as mouse habitat. "Protecting the beach mouse protects whole beach ecosystems," says Neil Milligan, chair of the Alabama Chapter. "And that's good for all of us."
New Jersey: Unstately Pleasure Dome
The Meadowlands area across the Hudson from Manhattan is familiar to some as home to New York's pro football teams, to others as a dumping ground for goons who end up on the wrong side of TV mobster Tony Soprano. But it's also a haven for wildlife: Its tidal creeks and grasslands support redwing blackbirds, tree and barn swallows, as well as herons, terns, snowy and great egrets, and other shorebirds. Pontoon-boat tours help humans enjoy the view.
However remarkable, all those attractions are having a hard time competing against a proposed 4.9-million-square-foot mall and sports complex on public land. Called Xanadu, it would have an indoor ski slope, a wind tunnel for mock skydiving, a nightclub, and a chocolate waterfall. In October, the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit to stop Xanadu, claiming that it would degrade or destroy seven acres of wetlands, and that massive parking garages could add 125,000 more vehicles to the roads each day in a region already beset with air pollution and traffic problems. Unless those problems can be solved, the chapter thinks Xanadu should remain as imaginary as Coleridge's poetic "pleasure dome." Says chapter director Jeff Tittel: "Northern New Jersey needs another mall like we need another waste dump."