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.
In 2002, the Sierra Club reported $23,619,830 in revenues, and disclosed $107,733,974 worth of assets to the IRS. Among its financial supporters are the Bauman Family Foundation, the Beldon Fund, the Blue Moon Fund, the Bullitt Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Foundation for Deep Ecology, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Joyce Foundation, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Scherman Foundation, the Turner Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and many others.
The Sierra Club has endorsed a document called the Earth Charter, which blames capitalism for many of the world’s environmental, social, and economic problems.
The organization co-sponsored the April 25, 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” which advocated unrestricted access to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand. It also became a member organization of the Abolition 2000 and Win Without War anti-war coalitions.
In 2004, the Sierra Club’s then-executive director, Carl Pope, feuded openly with fellow 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.”
This stance on immigration only became more entrenched over time. In her 2015 book Adios America, bestselling author Ann Coulter wrote: “In 2012, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune announced that the Club officially supported mass immigration—amnesty, no borders, more legal immigration, the whole nine yards.”
In an earlier era, the Sierra Club had repeatedly and passionately warned about the dangers posed by unchecked immigration. In 1978, for instance, the organization adopted a resolution expressly asking Congress to “conduct a thorough examination of U.S. immigration laws.”