Sierran Masthead

Sierra Summit Focuses on a New Energy Future and Healthy Communities

By Laura Fuderer, Michiana Group Delegate to Sierra Summit

Occurring only a week after Hurricane Katrina, the club’s National Environmental Convention called “Sierra Summit” was haunted by the devastation and suffering caused by the disaster.

The two top directions that delegates voted for were building a new energy future and vibrant, healthy communities. While many delegates were concerned that these issues left out other major concerns, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope suggested that these two can be construed to encompass a great deal, such as global warming and varieties of pollution. He responded to members who were distressed that these directions appeared to be turning away from what we were especially good at, such as preservation of federal, state, and local land. He said that the club is an organism and “nothing will be amputated.” The top methods or “capacities” that delegates identified were building coalitions, media visibility, and influencing voters and decision-makers. Pope voiced a theme that was echoed in the conference, which was to stress the positive and to focus on visions and solutions rather than issues and problems.

Other themes during the conference included the urge to take back our democracy, to speak out and get involved, to highlight values shared by most Americans, to reach out to non-environmentalists, and to embrace green consumerism (such as sustainable alternatives, smaller houses, energy efficiency, shorter commutes, and neighborhoods that encourage exercise).

The first speaker was a surprise guest, Al Gore. Gore had been scheduled to speak that day in New Orleans–about hurricanes and global warming! So he talked to us instead about that topic, using as his theme the Biblical quotation “Where there is no vision, people perish.” He urged the Sierra Club to take global warming as its most urgent focus.

The next speaker, Robert Kennedy Jr., was awesome in his command of the facts and implications of what’s happening to the environment, which he described as “a science-fiction nightmare.” He cited some of the 400 roll-backs of environmental protections that the Republican administration has attempted or enacted. He faulted the media for failing to inform the public, saying Americans are “the best-entertained and least-informed people in the world.” He denied the contrived conflict between environment and economy, because good environmental policy is also good economic policy.

The third speaker was Ariana Huffington, who addressed the political realities that environmentalists face. She challenged us to stop celebrating small victories because it lowers our standards. While the media have failed to expose environmental devastation, the online revolution created by the Internet offers us a powerful tool for informing and winning over the public. She advised repeating a message “until it penetrates” and to consider other methods such as satire to undermine our opponents’ position.

George Lakoff summarized the two opposing mentalities of conservatives and progressives, contrasting the former’s belief in the strict father figure and a rigid hierarchy of behavior versus the latter’s nurturing impulse and greater openness and sense of equality. He urged us to stop arguing based on the facts, because they will only be denied or discounted. Rather we must reach out to other Americans by finding shared values and using those values to frame our concepts in a convincing way, such as “we’re all in this together.”

Among numerous smaller sessions was one addressed to the concept of neighborhood design. Speakers pointed out that children’s exercise has been engineered out of the modern neighborhood through street designs that discourage bike-riding and convenient walking between homes or to schools and stores. Bigger homes and schools are more wasteful of energy, plus it’s been proven that children do better in smaller schools. Because developers make a fortune with their projects, the public has the right and the opportunity to make demands and set guidelines.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[11/18/05]efp

Fall 2005