- Executive Director of the Sierra Club
- Former Board member of the California League of Conservation Voters
- Former Political Director of Zero Population Growth (now known as Population Connection)
- Executive Committee member of George Soros’ organization, America Coming Together
Born in 1945, Carl Pope was a member of the Students for a Democratic Society during the 1960s and earned a BA from Harvard College in 1967. He subsequently served two years in the U.S. Peace Corps, where he promoted family-planning education in rural India. The Peace Corps experience converted Pope to the cause of trying to limit population growth and prompted him to write his 1971 book Sahib, an American Misadventure in India. He also became the Political Director of Zero Population Growth (now known as Population Connection) from 1970-73.
From 1973-83, Pope was the Executive Director of the California League of Conservation Voters. During that period as well, he served in various capacities with the Sierra Club, holding such titles as Associate Conservation Director, Political Director, and Conservation Director between 1973 and 1992. He then became the Sierra Club's Executive Director in 1992 and held that post for the next 18 years. Pope set a political tone for the organization with his assertion that “the extreme right hates environmentalism, because environmentalism says human beings are all in the same lifeboat together.”
In 1986 Pope co-authored Proposition 65—the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act—a ballot initiative that required any product containing any of several hundred “known carcinogens” to bear a warning label, even when the concentrations of those substances were far too low to cause adverse health effects. Pope’s friend (and former Sierra Club president) Larry Fahn was the longtime executive director of As You Sow, an organization that made large sums of money suing companies under Prop 65.
In 2002 Pope joined a number of fellow environmentalists—including Brent Blackwelder, Denis Hayes, Randall Hayes, Fred Krupp, Mark Van Putten, and Kathleen Rogers—in signing a letter that urged President George W. Bush to: (a) attend that year's Earth Summit in South Africa; (b) pledge to “reduce United States emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants”; and (c) “increase U.S. assistance to developing countries to protect their environments and the global environment.” The letter also blamed globalization and capitalism for “the uneven distribution of … economic gains among and within countries, the growing pressure on natural resources, and increasing pollution.”
In November 2002, Pope was a specially invited participant in a Washington, DC meeting that Democrat activist and SEIU official Gina Glantz convened in order to initiate the creation of America Votes as an “umbrella group” for a number of pro-Democrat voter-mobilization organizations. Other participants included Harold Ickes, Jim Jordan (campaign manager for Senator John Kerry's 2004 presidential run), Ellen Malcolm, Steve Rosenthal, and Andrew Stern. Pope subsequently served as chairman of America Votes.
In a 2003 interview, Pope lamented: “The Sierra Club is insufficiently yellow, brown, and black. We need to reach out and build relationships with communities that are not currently a significant part of the Club.” People of Chinese, African, and Hispanic ancestry “are every bit as environmentally minded as middle-class white Americans,” he added, but “they don't feel comfortable with our culture”—thus “we have to learn about that and figure out what we can do to address it.”
When the billionaire financier George Soros assembled a team of political strategists, activists, and Democrat donors at his Long Island beach house on July 17, 2003 to discuss how President Bush could be defeated in the 2004 election, Pope was among those invited to attend. Other guests included Robert Glaser, Morton Halperin, Peter Lewis, Ellen Malcolm, Robert McKay, John Podesta, and Steve Rosenthal. An outgrowth of that meeting was the creation of the voter-registration group America Coming Together, where Pope served as Executive Committee Treasurer during the 2004 presidential campaign season.
In the run-up to the 2004 election, Pope spoke alongside filmmaker Michael Moore at a pro-John Kerry rally at Portland State University. Organized by the Young Voters Project and the College Democrats, this event was financed by the Sierra Club, which, according to Pope, was endorsing Kerry for president because he “is probably the member of the United States Senate who has most steadfastly stated a really important truth: our continued dependence on fossil fuels and oil is bad for our national security, is bad for our economy, is bad for our health, is bad for the environment.”
In 2004 Pope feuded openly with fellow Sierra Club board members who had formed a splinter group, Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization, which held that unchecked immigration into the United States could be harmful to the country's natural environment. By Pope's reckoning, this notion was steeped in the bigotry of people who had been infected by “a virus” of “hate.” That same year, the Los Angeles Times disclosed Pope’s close ties to David Gelbaum, a California philanthropist who had recently given the Sierra Club a record $101.5 million, contingent upon the organization endorsing his open-borders philosophy. “I did tell Carl Pope in 1994 or 1995,” Gelbaum said to the Times, “that if they [the Sierra Club] ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.”
In June 2006 Pope, along with United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, announced that their respective organizations had formed an alliance aiming to “heighten public awareness about the job-creating potential of solutions to global warming.”
In 2006 Pope signed a statement that accompanied The Great Warming, a documentary film intended to serve as a rallying cry against climate change. It read, in part: “The world’s scientists are in agreement: climate change is real, and we are largely responsible. America’s religious institutions, corporations, environmental and political leaders are in agreement ...” Other signatories included Brent Blackwelder, Robert Edgar, Kevin Knobloch, John Podesta, Kathleen Rogers, Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, Ted Turner, and Jim Wallis.
At a September 2007 “teach-in” presented jointly by the International Forum on Globalization and the Institute for Policy Studies, Pope helped lead a workshop titled “Ingredients of Systemic Change.” Co-sponsors of the teach-in included the Global Project on Economic Transitions, Greenpeace, The Nation Institute, the Progressive Student Union of George Washington University (where the event was held), and the Sierra Club.
Pope has been a strong supporter of the environmental activist and self-declared revolutionary communist Van Jones, calling him “an extraordinarily important leader.” When Jones—amid controversy over his radical past—was forced to resign his post as President Barack Obama's “Green Energy Czar” in September 2009, Pope characterized Jones (who is black) as a victim of the “old and ugly instinct” of racism. Too many Americans, said Pope, “are still uncomfortable with Barack Obama [and the fact] that we have a black president.”
Pope stepped down from his post as executive director of the Sierra Club on January 20, 2010. He then served as the organization's chairman until November 2011 and has been a consultant for the group since December 2012.
In June 2010 Pope called President Obama “the best environmental president we’ve had since Teddy Roosevelt,” adding that “his agencies have done a phenomenally good job.”
In an April 2014 piece titled “How the Global Economic System Is Destroying People and Planet,” Pope wrote: “Manufacturing goods in China for export to the U.S. not only shifts pollution from the U.S. to China, but dramatically increases total global pollution—Chinese manufacturing has emission rates ranging from 6-17 time those in the U.S. and the [European Union].”
By Pope's telling, “market fundamentalism and the privatization of world food security” have together created a food crisis. Only by bringing its food production under the authority of the federal government, he claims, will America be able to sidestep a catastrophic famine.
In a July 2015 article in EcoWatch, Pope warned that a societal transition to a carbon-free economy would inevitably cause the “destructive engine of capitalism” to “savagely ... overturn long-established livelihoods and leave a trail of wreckage behind” them—just as the late economist Joseph Schumpeter, whose theories on the cyclical accumulation and annihilation of wealth under capitalism were derived from the works of Karl Marx, had predicted.
Srongly opposed to the burning of fossil fuels, Pope in 2015 celebrated the fact that “in the last five years, a coal company has gone bankrupt on the average every month.”
Pope has condemned the production of genetically modified foods, warning that applications of agricultural biotechnology will lead inevitably to “ecological catastrophe.”
In addition to his work with the Sierra Club and the other organizations cited above, Pope has also served as: (a) a board member of American Rights At Work, California Common Cause, the National Clean Air Coalition, Public Interest Economics, Public Voice, and the Wildlands Conservancy; (b) a co-convener and founder of the Apollo Alliance and the Blue-Green Alliance; (c) chairman of the Green Group; (d) an advisory board member of GridPoint, Inc.; (e) founder and president of American Families United; (f) a director at Entech Solar, Inc.; and (g) a principal advisor to Inside Straight Strategies.
Pope maintains a weblog titled “Taking the Initiative,” where he disseminates his opinions on a host of subjects ranging from the political to the personal.
Over the years, Pope has contributed money to a number of political candidates, mostly Democrats. Among the recipients of his donations have been Cory Booker, Barbara Boxer, Sam Farr, and Henry Waxman. Pope also has made donations to the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund and the Sierra Club Political Committee.
Pope has co-authored two books: Hazardous Waste In America (1982), and Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress (2004).