Category — Sierra Club
[Ed. note: Tomorrow's post, "'Deep Ecology' versus Energy," will examine radical environmental metaphysics in more detail.]
An influential branch of the modern environmental movement rejects a human-centered anthropocentric view of the world in favor of a nature-first ecocentric view.
Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in a 1973 essay differentiated between shallow ecology, a concern with pollution and resource depletion in the developed world, and deep ecology where “the equal right to live and blossom” ends what is seen as a master-slave relationship between human and nonhuman (lower animal and plant) life. 
The platform of the Deep Ecology Foundation, formulated by Arne Naess and George Sessions, declares that “present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening” and calls for
changes in policies affect[ing] basic economic, technological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature (1992: 216) identifies the “terminal sin” of man’s altering nature and complained about how “the greenhouse effect is the first environmental problem we can’t escape by moving to the woods.” He laments how “the cheap labor provided by oil” makes the “deep ecology model” difficult to fathom much less implement (200).
In chapter 12 of Earth in the Balance (1992), Senator Al Gore complained about a “dysfunctional civilization” predicated on fossil fuels.
The Sierra Club’s ‘Deep Ecology’ Turn
Mainstream (Washington, DC-based) environmentalism embraced natural gas in the 1980s as a “bridge” to a sustainable future. But no more. The Sierra Club is at war with natural gas, as it is with oil, coal, hydro, and nuclear. Biofuels is also out of favor with Big Environmentalism, which leaves wind and solar and not much else. [Read more →]
May 22, 2013 4 Comments
What’s the Sierra Club’s position on the development and use of natural gas from shale? Depends on whom you ask . . . within the actual organization.
By now, of course, we’re all well aware of the Sierra Club’s newly staked-out position in opposition to natural gas, notwithstanding the fact that the Club used to support it.
With its “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign, the Sierra Club now proclaims (without even a shred of irony) that natural gas is “environmentally damaging and harms public health.” Yet empirical evidence–even studies commissioned by none other than the Sierra Club itself–shows the opposite is true (also see here, here, and here).
But no one ever accused the Sierra Club of being constrained by novelties such as consistency, accuracy, or metaphysics.
The shift toward ideological opposition to an energy source they once pragmatically supported was in some ways predictable. The Club couldn’t sit on the sidelines as American oil and natural gas production soared to record highs due to the development of shale and other tight resources. The activist uprising around “fracking” posed too great a fundraising opportunity for them to ignore.
But that rapid 180-degree turn on natural gas has also put the Sierra Club in an uncomfortable position. With the near-daily news stories explaining the air quality and climate benefits of natural gas, the Sierra Club’s opposition to natural gas undermines its stated goal of protecting the environment.
In response, the Sierra Club has come up with a bold and fascinating strategy: Say whatever the heck they want, regardless of whether it contradicts their statements elsewhere. [Read more →]
March 18, 2013 6 Comments
The Sierra Club’s war on coal, since joined by its war on gas, is really a conflict against industrial progress. Reliable, affordable energy is a ‘commanding heights’ of the economy, and the enemy has wanted to take it ever since Paul Ehrlich et al. got going in the 1960s and 1970s.
The irony is that an honest Sierra Club executive back in the 1980s gave windpower its most infamous nickname, the Cuisinarts of the Air. Sierra Club members have resigned over the organization’s pro-wind policy, and grassroot environmentalists have tasted wind only to spit it out (here and here). And the Old Mare refuses to address devastating criticism about industrial wind, such as from Jon Boone here at MasterResource. 
Many examples of Sierra Club policy against environmentally superior dense energy can be chronicled. Here is one from Mississippi involving a state-of-the-art coal plant.
Kemper Plant (Mississippi) Obstructionism
For the past two years, the Sierra Club has fought the completion of one of our nation’s most state-of-the-art power plants. Why? It’s certainly not because of the environmental impact. The Kemper County plant just north of Meridian, Mississippi, would produce fewer emissions than even a typical natural gas power plant and uses recycled municipal wastewater for an even smaller eco-footprint. [Read more →]
September 12, 2012 4 Comments
MasterResource is home to a growing number of grassroot environmentalists who are challenging the Washington, D.C. establishment to reconsider industrial wind turbines. Jen Gilbert’s Dear Sierra Club (Canada): I Resign Over Your Anti-Environmental Wind Support and Jon Boone’s three-part The Sierra Club: How Support for Industrial Wind Technology Subverts Its History, Betrays Its Mission, and Erodes Commitment to the Scientific Method of what Robert Bradley has summarized in his post, Windpower: Environmentalists vs. Environmentalists (NIMBYism, precautionary principle vs. industrial wind).
My piece for National Review (reprinted below) looks at the bigger picture of how reasoned criticism and intellectual diversity have struggled to penetrate the environmental mainstream. The result of such intolerance has been Faustian bargains such as the Sierra Club going all-in for wind power (see their response to Robert Bryce’s recent op-edin the New York Times). After all, it was the Los Angeles director of the Sierra Club that coined the moniker, Cuisinarts of the Air.
Scholarship and reasoned dissent are essential for public trust. The faster this is recognized by mainstream environmental groups, the better the result for both the environment and economy.
by Steve Hayward
When Gregg Easterbrook’s voluminous book A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism was published in 1995, it received the predictable reaction from the environmental community: outrage. Despite– or probably because of– Easterbrook’s bona fides as a mainstream-liberal writer for The New Republic, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Newsweek, the environmental lobby swung into full distort-and-denounce mode. The Environmental Defense Fund, for example, alleged the existence of factual errors that “substantially undermine his thesis that many environmental problems have been overstated.” [Ed.: See EDF's Part I and Part II rebuttals] [Read more →]
July 27, 2011 6 Comments
The Sierra Club: How Support for Industrial Wind Technology Subverts Its History, Betrays Its Mission, and Erodes Commitment to the Scientific Method (Part III)
Editor note: In Part I and Part II, Jon Boone set the stage for a final analysis of the Sierra Club’s current position in support of wind power. This conclusion to the series provides a discussion on the science, realities, and the unintended consequences that may be the result of current environmental movement thinking, which it typifies.
MBA types who wouldn’t know a bat from a bowtie now run the national Sierra Club. Their interest is in gaining membership and revenue. In a critique aptly entitled, Torquemada in Birkenstocks, Jeff St. Clair said this about Carl Pope: “[He] has never had much of a reputation as an environmental activist. He’s a wheeler-dealer, who keeps the Club’s policies in lockstep with its big funders and political patrons. Where Dave Brower scaled mountains, nearly all of Pope’s climbing has been up organizational ladders.”
Environmental organizations that support wind technology by pretending that the ends justify the means, by falsely assuming that wind can do anything meaningful to alter our existing energy profile, are largely responsible for the depredations unloosed by the wind industry. Their imprimatur gives the industry a legitimacy it does not deserve. This “legitimacy” welcomes the industry’s trade association to a place at the government table, which then compels politicians to bestow upon the wind lobby political favors, given the political penchant for compromise. [Read more →]
April 19, 2010 9 Comments
The Sierra Club: How Support for Industrial Wind Technology Subverts Its History, Betrays Its Mission, and Erodes Commitment to the Scientific Method (Part II)
Editor note: In Part I, Jon Boone traced the history of the Sierra Club from its inception in 1892 to today and commented on its evolution as an environmental body. Part II focuses on the realities of today’s wind power initiatives and its influence on Sierra Club beliefs. Part III concludes with a discussion on the science being used to promote its policies and the unintended consequences that may result.
Between the Gush for Wind and the Hard Place of Reality
The physical nature and enormous size of industrial wind projects has caused a lot of blowback. Between Maryland and West Virginia, for example, there is potential for around 2000 wind turbines, each nearly 500-feet tall; they would be placed atop 400 miles of the Allegheny Mountain ridges. About 20 acres of forest must be cut to support each turbine—4-6 acres to accommodate the free flow of the wind per turbine; one or more large staging areas for each wind project; access road construction; and a variety of substations and transmission lines. Cumulatively, about 40,000 acres of woodlands would be transformed into an industrial energy plant far larger than any conventional facility. Most of this montane terrain contains rare habitat and many vulnerable wildlife species.
How can such a looming industrial presence be reconciled with the goals of maintaining choice natural habitat while reducing the impact of human activity? For the Sierra Club, the answer is: The use of siting guidelines and wildlife assessment studies that would restrict limited liability wind companies from placing their huge machinery in the most sensitive places and away from rare and threatened species of plants and animals. If the war on carbon is to be won, and if skyscraper-sized wind turbines are part of the price for winning that war, then accommodation must be made. In the words of one wind developer, “some will have to sacrifice if we’re to have the clean, green energy from the wind” replacing coal and putting a stop to mountaintop removal coal extraction practices.
More than a few Sierra Club members and local chapters have resisted the national organization’s encyclicals on wind precisely because such hulking intrusion seems inimical to environmental common sense. The chair of the Maryland Chapter’s Conservation Committee, one of the nation’s leading naturalists, resigned in large part because of this concern. In response to such dissidents, the Club’s national leadership insists that it, and not its member chapters, be the final arbiter of what wind projects meet its standards: “It is important for the Club to speak with a unified, clear voice in its reaction to wind energy projects. It will not be good for the Club if one chapter is focusing totally on concerns about impacts on birds while the chapter in the next state is urging the public to support wind projects as a crucial element in reversing the impacts of global warming.” The organization enforces its authority under threat of expulsion, as was the case when its executive chairman, Carl Pope, in the wake of another controversy, excommunicated the entire Florida 35,000-memmber chapter for four years.
To “manage the negative environmental impacts of wind,” the Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, the American Bird Conservancy, Greenpeace, and the Audubon Society all recommend guidelines that, if followed, provide wind projects with their environmental seal of approval. Even on public lands. And with no evident sense of irony for the Sierra Club—since this is a policy taken from Gifford Pinchot’s playbook. John Muir is likely turning in his grave. [Read more →]
April 18, 2010 5 Comments
The Sierra Club: How Support for Industrial Wind Technology Subverts Its History, Betrays Its Mission, and Erodes Commitment to the Scientific Method (Part I)
Editor note: In this three part series, Jon Boone traces the history of the Sierra Club from its inception in 1892 to today and comments on its evolution as an environmental body. Given this organization’s prominence in environmental thinking today, this is an important and informative essay on the merits, possible motivations and effects of such movements. Part II will focus on the realities of today’s “Gush for wind” initiatives and its influence on Sierra Club beliefs. Part III concludes with a discussion on the science being used to promote its policies and the unintended consequences that may result.
“A lot of good arguments are spoiled by some fool who knows what he’s talking about.”
~ Miguel de Unamuno
In the Beginning
By the dawn of the twentieth century, European sensibilities and burgeoning technologies, filtered through the American experience, had brought a close to the vast North American frontier. A centuries-long march to the beat of seemingly inexhaustible abundance was replaced by a dawning recognition of limitation, of natural resources ravaged and lost. Passenger pigeons, once the most common bird in colonial America with numbers in the billions, had become extinct, along with several other species. Many more were on the edge of extinction. The bodies of millions of native songbirds dangled around fashionable ladies’ millinery. Miners even used birds to assess air quality in coal shafts.
Habitat for much of our native flora and fauna had also been transformed or eliminated. Most of the Eastern hardwood forests had been timbered while millions of acres of wetlands had been built over, such as the sweeping Klamath marshes in Oregon. Industrial development, including incipient factory farming practices, had already altered much of the natural agricultural landscape. Coal, steel and railroads combined to forge giant cities like Chicago out of virtual wilderness in only a few decades. Electricity, refrigeration technology, and the internal combustion engine would soon conspire to bring new settlement in places so environmentally sensitive that most wildlife could not survive the intrusion.
John Muir’s new Sierra Club, founded in 1892 “to make the mountains glad,” was, from its beginning, caught between the growing power and expansive ambitions of the United States and its ongoing paradoxical relationship with nature, torn as it continues to be between celebrating the natural world and ruthlessly subduing it. Muir, the Club’s first president, understood the concern that drives much of contemporary environmentalism: Wherever human beings are, there’s much less of everything else. And he vowed to protect the remaining wilderness. [Read more →]
April 17, 2010 7 Comments