One of the America’s most influential radical environmentalist groups
Deems technological progress inherently harmful to the natural environment
Elected eco-terrorist Paul Watson to its board of directors in 2003
Assets: $88,509,397 (2009)
Grants Received: $38,898,329 (2009)
Grants Awarded: $40,734,048 (2009)
Founded in 1882 by Scottish immigrant John Muir, the Sierra Club today ranks among America's most influential environmentalist groups; and with nearly 750,000 members, it is also among the largest. The Sierra Club was initially intended, in Muir's formulation, to "do something for wildness and make the mountains glad." In recent decades, the organization has lobbied vigorously for an ever-wider net of federal regulation aimed primarily at the entire notion of technological progress.
This shift toward a more aggressive agenda may be properly credited to David Brower. When he took over as the Sierra Club's first Executive Director, the organization was a collection of 2,000 nature enthusiasts, hikers and trailside conservationists, whose accomplishments included blocking the construction of dams on protected land and convincing Congress to establish a national park in Washington State.
Brower turned the organization into the leader of the environmentalist movement with an activist base of over 77,000 and financial reserves topping $3 million. The Sierra Club became a foe of development, portraying any new construction initiative as a greed-driven effort to exploit natural resources. The organization eventually parted company with Brower, who went on to found the Wilderness Society. But his heritage was reflected in the 2003 election, to the Sierra Club’s Board of Directors, of Paul Watson, one of the most radical activists in the so-called animal rights movement. ("There's nothing wrong with being a terrorist, as long as you win," he declared at a 2002 animal rights convention.)
While the Sierra Club continues to lobby for land conservation—in 2002, for instance, its activists mounted campaigns against Arctic Refuge oil drilling and worked to thwart construction on Utah's 120-mile freeway, the Legacy Highway—it is in technological progress that the group sees its most formidable adversary. Taking literally David Brower's 1992 comment that "All technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent," the Sierra Club has in the past pressed for "a moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered crops and genetically engineered organisms.” Although GEOs hold out numerous environmental advantages (including the potential for farmers to grow more food on less land and cut down on pesticide use), the Sierra Club contends that "genetic engineering solutions should never be used to divert attention from the solutions to the problem of hunger that carry less biological risk (e.g., better distribution of food, land reform, sustainable soil conservation strategies, promotion of regional sustainability, reduced consumption of animal products, and stabilization of population)." The Sierra Club in 1998 filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, demanding the suspension of genetically modified crops. The suit was unsuccessful.
Over the years, the Sierra Club has dropped all pretense of being non-partisan. In June 2004, it published a "fact-sheet" alleging that the "Bush administration is weakening proven clean air protections and threatening the progress we have made over the last 30 years." A similar warning was voiced by Sierra Club President Larry Fahn, who gave Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry his organization's official endorsement.
In addition to publishing calendars and books for children as well adults (proceeds from which underwrite Sierra Club initiatives), the organization publishes Sierra magazine, a bi-monthly periodical featuring articles of interest to environmentalists. Additionally, the Sierra Club distributes the Sierra Club Insider, a bi-monthly newsletter informing subscribers of the club's ongoing campaigns. The Sierra Club also publishes its own blog, called "Field Notes." Authored by Carl Pope, the blog focuses heavily on the alleged environmental transgressions of the Bush administration.