Wild About Baltimore

February 27, 2014


Baltimore public school teacher Brad Hunter, above at right, a volunteer leader for the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings program, says he found out about ICO totally by happenstance.

"I'd been overseas for some time and I came back to visit my parents," he recalls. "My mom is a Sierra Club member, and the chapter newsletter was sitting on the table. It had an ad about Baltimore ICO, so on a lark I went to the website, made a call, and went on a trip. After four or five trips I decided to get trained as a leader because helping youth have positive experiences outside was just, well... fun. I've now been on 70+ trips over the last six years."


With active programs in more than 50 U.S. cities, ICO provides outdoor experiences for kids who might not otherwise have easy access to nearby nature. Hunter says most of the kids he works with have had few if any opportunities to access the natural world. "That's what ICO is all about. The main thing I want to do is get kids comfortable in the outdoors. From that comfort they can then learn to appreciate nature, and a desire to protect the natural world often follows."


"I can talk to the kids all day about things like water-quality issues in Chesapeake Bay," he says, "but if I'm able to help them have a positive experience through fishing, sailing, hiking, or just exploring around the bay, then as they grow older they'll have a greater understanding and appreciation of what an amazing resource it is."


Continue reading "Wild About Baltimore" »

A Witness to Environmental Justice Over 20 Years

February 26, 2014

Rita at NEJAC 2

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy proclaimed the month of February 2014 as Environmental Justice Month. Environmental justice activists all across the country are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 signed by President Bill Clinton twenty years ago on February 11, 1994.

This column was written by Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer Rita Harris, pictured above on the right.

Wow, it's really been 20 years! I remember where I was on that day in 1994 clearly. I was attending a conference at the Crystal City Marriott being hosted by NIEHS (National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences). There was a horrible snow storm and government offices in Washington, D.C. were all closed. However, word was quickly passing around the crowds of people at the conference that a select group of activists from our ranks had been called over to the White House.

There was so much excitement among the attendees, and it grew even wilder once the group returned and told us why they went to the White House. We were told that President Clinton had signed an Executive Order that would mandate all federal agencies develop strategic plans to address environmental justice (EJ). This was groundbreaking and historic! Many of the activists that were present at the conference and at the signing felt like this was just the one-two punch that was needed to help us with our many EJ fights and help communities across the country.  "EJ will finally be recognized now that we have the President in our corner," is what some said.

The back story to the Executive Order's signing was that strong grassroots EJ advocates on the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), which was established in 1993, actually pushed for Clinton to take the executive action he took in 1994. Although federal agencies did produce plans to address environmental justice in their decision making, environmental justice was not practiced or addressed in local government agencies and within most state environmental agencies. EJ battles are still taking place across this country and many times the term itself is even challenged, so the struggle continues.

Continue reading "A Witness to Environmental Justice Over 20 Years" »

Sierra & Tierra: Three Musketeers Fighting Climate Change

February 21, 2014

By Javier Sierra

In the battle against climate change, Latinos are in the line of fire. And our musketeers are our scientists.

We Latinos disproportionately suffer the effects of climate change because of our professional activities —we are much more likely to work outdoors— and the parts of the country where we tend to concentrate. But these are just two reasons for our extraordinary awareness of this phenomenon and our urgency to fight it.

Three Latino climatologists and members of the Union of Concerned Scientists offer several other reasons for this climate change awareness and the credibility gap that exists between us and the population at large.

Ana Prados, research assistant professor at the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology at the University of Maryland, attributes this to Latinos’ international links as the immigrant community that we are.

“We are hearing back from our countries of origin. Latin American governments are not denying climate change and if you look at policy in Latin America, climate change is weaved into it,” says Prados, who teaches climate change science not only to her students but also to policy makers here and abroad.

Robert Mera, a Kendall Fellow on Climate Attribution, agrees with our international outlook but also makes a poignant point.

“Latinos trust science more. I know we are a very religious group. But we also appreciate the world we live in,” says Mera, who contributed to the study that revealed that two thirds of the world’s carbon pollution was generated by just 90 companies.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that scientists are Latinos’ most trusted source of climate change information.

For Nicole Hernández-Hammer, assistant director for research at the Florida Center for Environmental Studies, other reasons include a strong cultural component.

“We Latinos have this special concern and care for the environment, and that’s what’s being identified in the polls. The fact is when I talk with my family about climate change, they know what I am talking about,” says Hernández-Hammer, who is dedicated to educating the public and policy makers about the dangers of sea level rise, especially in South Florida. “Miami, which is almost 70 percent Latino, economically is the world’s most vulnerable city to sea level rise.”

On the other hand, the population at large is walking in the opposite direction. Recent polls reveal that climate change concerns among Americans has hit historic lows. Why?

“Part of it is the interference by certain groups like the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil, Chevron, that are hiding the important facts and aren’t backed up by real science,” says Mera.

“First, there is a campaign of disinformation,” agrees Hernández-Hammer. “There are organizations that are trying to have a fabricated debate, a pretend debate. And when there is doubt, it causes people to be confused and makes them believe that there is not a conclusion.”

For Prados, there is also a great lack of scientific awareness.

“I teach around the world and I notice that the scientific literacy in the US is lower than just about everywhere, including Latin America. Also some teachers in certain Southern states are prohibited from teaching climate change. That contributes to the lack of literacy of climate change,” she concludes.

Recently, this notion was sadly confirmed by a National Science Foundation survey, which found that one in four Americans believes the sun orbits the earth and that only one third of them support more funding for science and technology.

So, what are the solutions?

“The key is for scientists to bring their issues to the communities and how they can present them in a way that can resonate with their communities, ways that will explain to them their vulnerabilities, especially in coastal areas,” says Hernández Hammer.

“If we educate our citizens, they will be the ones educating public officials. If public officials hear this from their citizens, then they will have to do something,” Prados suggests.

“But the disinformation situation needs to be corrected”, warns Mera. “As long as that’s going to be in the way, there’s going to be a backlash. That’s unfortunate but that’s the case.”

In any instance, they all insist a sense of community must be present in the fight against the climate crisis. In other words, all for one and one for all, in true musketeer spirit.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC

Repairing America with Good, Green Jobs

February 20, 2014


Last week more than 1,300 business, labor, environmental, and civic leaders -- including some 100 Sierra Club staff, volunteers, speakers, and community partners -- took part in the seventh annual Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, D.C.

Good-Jobs-Green-JobsThe conference, whose motto is, "Where Jobs and the Environment Meet," focused on repairing the infrastructure Americans rely on every day -- our water systems, electrical grid, transit, road, pipelines, and schools -- with an eye toward environmental sustainability and family-sustaining jobs that cannot be outsourced.

The Sierra Club is one of the primary sponsors of the conference, along with the BlueGreen Alliance, the United Steelworkers (USW), and Alcoa.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune (below) was among the keynote speakers on the conference's opening day. "We need to recreate our economy with clean energy that takes the place of fossil fuels," Brune said. "Everybody here knows it’s going to be a challenge to do that. But we must. The ultimate rewards for all of humanity when we achieve that goal will be greater than we can imagine. The Sierra Club is 100 percent committed to creating an economy that is 100 percent powered with clean energy."


BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director David Foster (below), who emceed the conference, said that "to some of our critics, 'good jobs, green jobs' is a quaint notion; that you can have both good jobs and a clean environment. But you can't solve a 21st-century problem like climate change with the 19th-century infrastructure that caused it. The theme of this year's conference -- Protect, Produce, Prosper -- sums it all up: We can create all the jobs we need and fix our environmental problems by repairing America."


A secondary theme that ran through the conference was the growing income disparity between the very wealthy and all other Americans, and how the middle class will benefit from the creation of good, green jobs. "One thing 20th-century America taught the world is that a lot of wealth in a few hands is never going to be as productive as a lot of wealth in a lot of hands," Foster said.

Leo-GerardAlso speaking at the opening plenary session were USW President Leo Gerard (at left), AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Gerard recalled that when the USW and the Sierra Club joined forces to create the BlueGreen Alliance seven years ago, their shared concerns were carbon emissions, chemical safety, and trade. "Then you come back seven years later and you see what we've done," he said. "The membership of the affiliate organizations in the BlueGreen Alliance represents 14 million Americans. Imagine what we could do to advance our agenda if we mobilized that membership."

Trumka (below) followed, saying that the biggest challenges facing our society are climate change and restoring economic prosperity. "I'm here on behalf of the labor movement to tell you we remain committed to stopping runaway climate change," he said. "There is no other path for our children and grandchildren. We must keep up the fight for generations to come. The people who want to solve climate change must engage with the people whose jobs are at stake. The challenge of climate change can only be solved when we find a formula of clean energy that meets every day people's needs."


Continue reading "Repairing America with Good, Green Jobs" »

President Obama Announces New Truck Efficiency Standards

February 18, 2014

Semi truckIn a speech today in Maryland, President Obama directed his administration to move forward with standards to make our tractor trailers and commercial vehicles more efficient. Already the administration has set historic standards for passenger vehicles of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 that will cut U.S. carbon pollution nearly 10 percent. These truck standards are another step to slash oil use, save Americans money and bring down carbon pollution.

Medium and heavy-duty vehicles, everything from 18-wheelers to delivery trucks, are the fastest growing source of oil consumption in the transportation sector. Even though these vehicles only make up seven percent of the vehicles on the road, they guzzle more than 25 percent of transportation fuel. Although new fuel-saving technologies are found in some trucks, most 18-wheelers on the road average around six miles per gallon (mpg) -- about the same as they did decades ago.

In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized the first-ever efficiency standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles sold from 2014-2018. These standards will ensure that new engines are more efficient, and will reduce fuel consumption in semi-trucks by roughly 20 percent.
Semi Truck Savings

Developing the next round of efficiency standards now will allow manufacturers to innovate and develop new fuel saving technologies, such as plug-in electric drive-trains, aerodynamic trailers, higher-efficiency engines, advanced materials and lower rolling resistance tires. Last year Peterbilt and Cummins showcased a 10-mpg truck as a part of the DOT's Super Truck program. While 10-miles-per-gallon might not sound like much, it's a big deal. By increasing fuel economy 54 percent over today's average trucks, this prototype could slash greenhouse gas emissions and save an average driver $20,000 in fuel costs annually.

It is critical that the new standards developed by EPA and DOT are strong. Stringent standards will not only drive innovation for a wide range of new technologies, they will ensure that these technologies spread throughout the marketplace, instead of being found on only a small portion of vehicles.

Of course, setting new efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles is only one part of the solution to reduce carbon pollution and oil consumption. We must create an energy-efficient, multi-modal freight system that relies on trains and ships, as well as trucks. When we’re smarter about what we ship and how we ship it, we save money and reduce carbon pollution.

President Obama's announcement of new heavy-duty vehicle standards will build upon a strong legacy of passenger vehicle standards that are already reducing our oil consumption, including a transition to plug-in electric vehicles that run on little or no oil. While it will take EPA and DOT two years to develop new standards and incorporate input from the public, this is another tremendous opportunity to save drivers money at the pump and make our air cleaner to breathe. But most importantly, this is the kind of policy action that’s good for manufactures and businesses, it's good for workers and consumers, and it’s a very real and significant step to addressing carbon pollution.

-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club

Planning Families to Protect the Future

image from http://aviary.blob.core.windows.net/k-mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp-14021815/935ffc44-5ea3-4220-acef-929dc45253b2.png
Deepa Pullanikatil, program manager for LEAD, speaking at the Congressional Briefing on Population, Health, and Environment.

By the end of the century, scientists expect the global population to reach nearly 11 billion. That’s almost four billion more people than are alive right now.

When you think about population growth, it’s pretty easy to see how it can disturb the environment: more resources used, more energy produced, more housing needed, more food consumed, etc. Over one billion people currently live in biodiversity hotspots, and that number is rapidly increasing.

But what you may not think about is how much of a positive effect family planning can have on the environment and women’s health.

Groups like the Sierra Club and Population Action International (PAI) are actively working to integrate population, health, and environment (PHE) into government plans in the U.S. and around the world, especially in countries like Niger where the average woman has 7.03 children and the unmet need for family planning is high. To put that into perspective, if each woman alive today between the ages of 15 and 44 had 7.03 children--that’s roughly 1.6 billion women--they would have 11.3 billion children.

“When couples can plan the number, timing, and spacing of their children, that helps the environment and the economy,” said Beverly Johnson, chief of the Policy, Evaluation, and Communication Division of the USAID Office of Population and Reproductive Health.

The more women that have access to family planning, the better their quality of life, and the better it is for the environment. When women are able to make their own choices in reproductive health, the whole world benefits.

The community of groups that work on PHE focuses on five main ideas: health, population, environment, food security, and livelihoods. Their goal is to address the day-to-day challenges of women and to integrate these ideas in a comprehensive way.

And PHE can be found all around the world.

Continue reading "Planning Families to Protect the Future" »

Reject the Keystone XL Pipeline Once and For All

February 07, 2014


By Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Campaign Director

The State Department's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline, released last week, backpedaled on State's earlier claim that the pipeline would have no significant climate impact. The report concluded that Keystone XL could create climate pollution equivalent to nearly six million cars, or eight coal-fired power plants.

Now President Obama must choose whether to fight climate disruption or expand dirty fossil fuels like tar sands. The Keystone XL pipeline fails the basic climate test. Climate disruption, water pollution, property taken by eminent domain, and poisoned air are not in the interest of the American people. Last June, the president vowed he would not approve the pipeline if it would "significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." He should now reject the tar sands pipeline once and for all.

The president has more than enough evidence on carbon pollution, drinking water threats, public health threats, and safety threats to reject the pipeline. The facts speak for themselves: tar sands are toxic, corrosive, difficult to clean up, and carbon-intensive. Tar sands are the dirtiest form of crude oil in the world, and we just don't need them. They should stay in the ground.

Continue reading "Reject the Keystone XL Pipeline Once and For All" »

Thousands Gather for Nationwide Vigils Opposing Keystone XL

February 05, 2014

Keystone-XL-vigilSan Francisco

Thousands of citizen activists held 280 vigils in 49 states, Washington, D.C., and Montreal on February 3, urging President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The vigils followed the release of the State Department's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) on the pipeline, which backed away from State's previous claim that it would have no significant climate impact.

Keystone-XL-vigilNew York City

The Sierra Club, CREDO, Rainforest Action Network, and 350.org joined with dozens of other Forward on Climate allies to organize the vigils, which many are calling the largest activist action that any Obama administration announcement has generated to date.

Keystone-XL-vigilWashington, D.C.

"This amazing public reaction came together in less than 72 hours because Americans across the nation want the president to hear it again, loud and clear -- it's time to move forward on clean energy," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "The president must reject Keystone XL."

Continue reading "Thousands Gather for Nationwide Vigils Opposing Keystone XL" »

Philly Rally Against MTR

February 04, 2014


Sierra Club volunteers and staff rallied with coalition allies in Philadelphia last week, calling for the EPA to use its powers to end mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) and enforce the laws that state agencies like the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection are unable or unwilling to enforce.

Let's let Pennsylvania Sierra Club volunteers Karen Melton and Sue Edwards, who spoke at the rally, describe what went down:

More than 75 chanting, singing people braved the single-digit wind chill on January 29 to rally outside the EPA regional office in center city Philadelphia, calling for action to end the destruction of Appalachia's mountains, streams, and waterways. EPA Region 3 covers the Mid-Atlantic, including Virginia and West Virginia, where coal companies have leveled more than 500 mountains using millions of tons of dynamite, polluting thousands of miles of rivers and streams in the process.

Mountaintop-removal-miningPhotograph by Mark Schmerling.

Activists from Sierra Club in West Virginia, Southwest Virginia and Pennsylvania joined with members of Rising Tide, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), the Alliance for Appalachia, Occupy Sandy, Swarthmore College Mountain Justice, Protecting Our Waters, and veterans from a Philadelphia vet's service center to pressure the EPA to take action to protect Appalachian waterways.


The rally included Marley Green, Sierra Club field organizer from Virginia, who spoke about the importance of getting EPA action to end the practice of mountaintop removal. Junior Walk from West Virginia described the nightmare of destruction in his community, showing jugs of brown well water contaminated by mountaintop removal. He reported on a meeting with EPA officials earlier in the day, which he said left the Appalachian activists unsatisfied. "They think the answer is to allow more coal mining!" he said.

Continue reading "Philly Rally Against MTR" »

Club Spearheads Clean-Water Rally in Sixteen Florida Cities

February 03, 2014


The Sierra Club Slime Crimes Campaign team played the leading role in a historic statewide rally on January 22 to make a stand for clean water in the Sunshine State.


Concerned Floridians from more than 100 different organizations gathered in 16 cities at risk from water pollution and unrestrained over-consumption of water resources.


"We were joined by local and state-level officials we engaged over the last month who want to join the fight to save Florida from the threat of lost jobs, lost quality of life, and lost natural environments that we now face due to the degradation of our state waters," says Sierra Club organizer Cris Costello.


"Civic and environmental groups from every corner of the state have come together to launch a historic endeavor -- a collaborative campaign to harness the resources of energy and organizations and individuals from throughout our state to demand and win the protection of Florida's springs, rivers, lakes, and estuaries."


More than 30 media outlets around the state covered the rallies.


Continue reading "Club Spearheads Clean-Water Rally in Sixteen Florida Cities" »

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