Rain Barrels on the Riverfront

May 02, 2014


On the last Saturday in April, Sierra Club volunteers and staff teamed up with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and MI Rain Barrel to host a rain barrel workshop and sale on Detroit's RiverWalk. The event was supported by the Erb Family Foundation.


"We chose this location to highlight how disconnecting downspouts and connecting rain barrels help prevent urban runoff from entering the region's aging sewage system, which often pollutes the river during storm events," says Great Lakes Program Director Melissa Damaschke, below.


Detroit Water Team volunteers and local Sierra Club staff both pitched in to help organize the hands-on workshop, and some 25 volunteers from the Club and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy were trained before the event to teach participants at the event how to make their rain barrels.


"On the day of the event, more than 30 Sierra Club volunteers came downtown to help out, and about 80 local residents participated," Damaschke says. "It was great to see so many people involved."


Continue reading "Rain Barrels on the Riverfront" »

Indigenous Amazonian People Threatened by Oil Drilling

May 01, 2014

Jaime-VargasJaime Vargas, President of the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador

By Aaron Isherwood, Managing Attorney, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program

The Sojourn
Pristine jungle and indigenous culture have long been huge draws for me. So last fall, when my brother Nicholas -- a professional opera singer and avid world traveler -- and I decided to go to Ecuador, an Amazon adventure was at the top of our list. We chose the pristine and little-visited southeastern part of the country, territory of the Achuar indigenous people whom we hoped to visit.

Achuar-man-with-blow-gunAchuar man with blow gun. Photo by Enrique Amigo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Nicholas emailed Pachamama Alliance, an organization whose mission is to empower indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture, to inquire about visiting the area independently. Pachamama Alliance responded that we'd need permission from the Achuar to visit, and put us in touch with Jaime Vargas, President of the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador, to seek permission.

From Jaime and the Internet, we learned that Ecuador is planning to auction off millions of acres of the Amazon where the Achuar and other indigenous people live, for massive oil drilling. Jaime explained that the Achuar need help from the outside world to defeat the petroleros. He invited us to visit the Achuar to learn about their struggle and help spread the word.

We took a bus from Quito to Shell, Ecuador, then flew on a tiny prop plane to a remote village deep in the Amazon, where we met Jaime. The next day, we travelled up the Rio Pastaza in a dugout canoe to the village where he grew up.

Aaron-IsherwoodAaron Isherwood in dugout canoe on the Rio Pastaza

We spent the next ten days living with the Achuar. In every village we visited, the Achuar were united in their opposition to the oil drilling and angry at the government for not consulting them.

A Promise Betrayed
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa campaigned on indigenous peoples' rights and rainforest protection; his proposed "debt for nature" swap and his speech to the U.N. Climate Summit inspired the world. So we weren't surprised to learn that the Achuar initially supported Correa. But now that his government is proposing to auction off their land to oil companies, they feel betrayed.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the petition to protect the rights of the Achuar and other indigenous Ecuadorian nations from oil drilling and the strong-arm tactics of the Correa government.

Continue reading "Indigenous Amazonian People Threatened by Oil Drilling" »

Reject and Protect: Communities Unite to Stop Keystone XL

April 29, 2014

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Jim Dougherty

By Courtenay Lewis, Tar Sands Campaign Representative

A criticism sometimes leveled at "environmentalists" is that we care more about trees than people. Perhaps we unwittingly reinforce this stereotype-we sometimes use images of burning globes to symbolize climate change and the consequences of fossil fuel development -- when in fact, for many climate and energy campaigns, working to protect human livelihoods and rights is a fundamental motivation.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Rae Breaux

Too often we fail to put faces to the individuals who suffer as a direct consequence of a society addicted to fossil fuels, and those who are bravely fighting corporations and sometimes even governments to protect their land, water, and communities.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Jim Dougherty

However, Reject and Protect was an inspiring weeklong event in which human faces took center stage. From April 22-27, farmers, ranchers, and members of tribal communities along the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route, as well as First Nation representatives whose communities are being devastated by tar sands development in Canada, came to Washington, D.C., and set up an encampment on the National Mall.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Javier Sierra

Below, fourth-generation Nebraska rancher Ben Gotschall, who has been speaking out against the KXL pipeline for several years.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Mark Heffling

With the aim of showing the Obama administration the faces of people who would be affected by Keystone XL, the "Cowboy Indian Alliance" led a week of actions which included an opening ceremony with ranchers and tribal leaders on horseback, daily water ceremonies, and a march and ceremonial tipi gifting ceremony which was joined by thousands of people on Saturday April 26th.

REject-and-ProtectPhoto by Javier Sierra

The Sierra Club's Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska chapters and partners including Idle No More held solidarity events that same day in Oklahoma City and Lincoln, Nebraska, featuring landowner and tribal representatives who are playing leadership roles in the fight against Keystone XL.

Reject-and-ProtectPhotos by Bora Chung (left) and Javier Sierra (right)

This week also marked a Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle spiritual encampment in Green Grass, South Dakota, where Native nations came together to pray for communities living at the source of tar sands development.

Reject-and-ProtectPhoto by Bora Chung

Continue reading "Reject and Protect: Communities Unite to Stop Keystone XL" »

Team Minnesota Rocks the Capitol for Clean Energy

April 25, 2014


By Michele Rosier, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign organizer

Team Minnesota Beyond Coal rocked it on Earth Day, partnering with the Minnesota Clean Energy & Jobs campaign to turn out more than 500 people to a rally at the state capitol in St. Paul. The assembled activists urged that at least 50 percent of Minnesota's electricity come from renewable sources by 2030, and energy-efficiency programs in the state be quickly scaled up.

Speakers at the rally included Governor Mark Dayton, U.S. Representative Betty McCollum, Arctic explorer and climate activist Will Steger, Rev. Peg Chemberlin of the Minnesota Council of Churches, SEIU leader and Sierra Club North Star Chapter volunteer leader Javier Morillo-Alicea, clean-energy business owner Tim Gulden, and South St. Paul High School senior Priyanka Zylstra.

Before the rally, some 100 youth from all around the state met with Governor Dayton (below) to talk about clean energy.


Continue reading "Team Minnesota Rocks the Capitol for Clean Energy" »

Getting Wet, Getting Dirty, and Having the Best Time Ever With ICO

April 23, 2014


By Briana Okyere

Debby Rudy's love affair with the environment began in the summer of 1996 when she attended a local meeting of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club. "I felt a need to be among more kindred spirits," she claims.

Debby, above at left, found those kindred spirits in two Sierra Club members who were opening up an Inner City Outings (ICO) program in Harrisburg. "It turned out to be one of those rare moments of fate, when you stumble upon something you had been looking for your whole life," she recalls. "They were looking for volunteer leaders to hike, camp, bike, bird watch, paddle, and be outdoors with like-minded people, while taking urban youth on new forays into the world of nature. I couldn't say 'Where do I sign up?' fast enough!"


She did more than just sign up. Debby started at ICO as a volunteer, but it wasn't long before she became a Certified Leader, then a Co-Chair, then Treasurer, then Chair and Treasurer. In 2002, she became the Regional Representative for the Mid-Atlantic Region, and from there served one term as National Vice Chair, then another term as National Chair of ICO.


ICO acquaints inner-city youth with the outdoors in an effort to cultivate an understanding and appreciation for the environment. To Debby, who has been with the program for 18 years, this is the most important aspect of her work. "That 'nature connection' is how every ICO leader influences their local program," she says.

"The most memorable trip I was ever part of was a Columbus Day three-day-weekend outing to Assateague Island National Park," she recalls. "Our participants were so excited. None of them had ever seen the ocean before, let alone been out of Pennsylvania. After a very long drive, we pulled up at the park rest stop to change into swim suits. The kids saw the ocean beyond the sand dunes and took off in their street clothes for the water. They were screaming and yelling for joy and ran right into the surf -- clothes, shoes and all.


"They were astounded, amazed, and joyously happy to see the ocean," Debby says. "Despite having to try and dry out all those street clothes overnight in the cool, damp sea air, I would have let them do it again in a heartbeat. That was a pure moment. Seeing something new, forgetting the tribulations of urban life and being carried away by the simple joy of being in the sand and in the waves. I look at some of the photos from that outing and it brings tears to my eyes -- happy, joyful tears."

Continue reading "Getting Wet, Getting Dirty, and Having the Best Time Ever With ICO" »

John Muir Way Opens in Scotland

April 21, 2014


The John Muir Way, a 134-mile coast-to-coast lowland trail in Scotland, officially opened on April 21 -- Muir's birthday. The opening was part of the annual John Muir Festival, which runs from April 17-26 this year.


The route echoes the Sierra Club founder's own personal journey from his birthplace of Dunbar (above), on Scotland's east coast, to the west coast at Helensburgh (below) on the River Clyde, where Muir set sail for the United States in 1849 with his family.


Along the way, the trail passes by castles, historic towns and villages, beautiful coastal scenery, and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Scotland's first national park. Visitors can walk or cycle the entire way across the country or take scenic day trips on any stretch they want. Most stretches of the trail are easy to access by public transport, and there are numerous charming villages and towns in which one can stay along the way.


Continue reading "John Muir Way Opens in Scotland" »

Connecting the 9 in New Orleans

April 18, 2014


On a recent Saturday, the Sierra Club joined up with community allies in New Orleans to host a recreational outing, the Connect the 9 Community Bike Ride, to advocate for better pedestrian and bicycle connections between the Lower Ninth Ward and the rest of the city.


Participants benefitted from exercising outdoors and sharing in an urban learning experience. Sponsoring the event with the Club were Global Green USA, the Green Project, Bike Easy, and the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED).


"Our goal was to increase awareness about the barrier the St. Claude Avenue Bridge poses to pedestrians and bike riders going from the Lower Ninth Ward to the Bywater neighborhood and the rest of the city of New Orleans," says Darryl Malek-Wiley (at right, below), a Sierra Club organizer based in the Crescent City. "The bridge needs safety improvements and a separate, protected lane for pedestrians and cyclists."


New Orleans' Industrial Canal, which runs 5.5 miles from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain, has only three bridges crossing it. The St. Claude Bridge, built in 1919, is the only one that's low-rise. It's also the closest bridge to the river and the Bywater, where jobs for people living in the Lower Ninth Ward are located.

St.-Claude-BridgeSt. Claude Avenue Bridge. Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

"This was both an educational event and a celebratory bike ride," says Malek-Wiley. "We just learned that the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission has committed $45,000 to study the feasibility of adding an extra lane to the bridge for bikes and pedestrians."


Continue reading "Connecting the 9 in New Orleans" »

Selenium: Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining's Toxic Legacy

April 16, 2014

Mountaintop-removal-miningMountaintop removal mining in West Virginia. Photo by Vivian Stockman, courtesy of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

By Peter Morgan, Staff Attorney, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program

Surface coal mines in Appalachia have a problem. For years, they've been getting away with blowing up mountains and dumping the waste in streams. That mining waste releases toxic pollutants -- such as selenium -- into the streams. Now the companies are being held accountable for their pollution, including at older mines that are no longer active but still discharge selenium.

MTR-pollutionStream polluted with runoff from a mountaintop removal mining site. Photo by Matt Wasson, courtesy of iLoveMountains.org

Across Appalachia, coal companies have tried to cut costs and access more coal by using a highly destructive form of mining called mountaintop removal (sometimes referred to as MTR). These mines use high explosives to blow up the rock and other materials that overlay coal seams in the mountains and ridgelines of Appalachia. The rocks, which were under pressure in their original setting, expand when the mountain is cracked open. This means that there's even more material left after the blasting. The mining companies dispose of this mining waste by dumping it directly into the neighboring streams and valleys. Approximately 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried with coal mining waste.

MTR-valley-fillA valley fill in southwestern Virginia.

That's where the problem starts: All of that newly exposed and cracked-open rock is now in constant contact with the water in the streams. Over time, pollutants start to leach out of the rock and into the streams. These waste dumps, called valley fills, are left in place even after the mining's done. Some of the pollutants that leach out of the valley fills -- like selenium -- stick around in the environment.

Continue reading "Selenium: Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining's Toxic Legacy" »

Urban Girls Explore, Enjoy, and Protect

April 14, 2014

Yellow-Creek-Park-KYPhoto by Jenny Sevcik, courtesy of the Owensboro Messenger Inquirer.

By Winny Lin, Sierra Club Pennyrile Group Volunteer

On Thursday April 10, the Sierra Club's Pennyrile Group in western Kentucky partnered with Owensboro Girls Incorporated to take 30 girls to explore Yellow Creek Park in Daviess Country during their spring break.

Pictured below with some of the girls are (middle row) Pennyrile Group volunteers Rick Fowler (chair), Sister Ann Patrice Cecil, and Valerie Holcomb, and (back row) Aloma Dew, Nancy Connor, Mary Cupp, Winny Lin, and Brad Smith. Volunteers prepared healthy sack lunches for all the girls -- peanut butter on wheat bread, carrots, popcorn, oatmeal cookies, and water or milk.


At the park, Eric Miller (pictured at top of post and below), director of the Western Kentucky Raptor Center, talked to the girls and their counselors about the injured birds of prey who are taken in by the center and how they are rehabilitated there. Eric used Diva, a 1-year-old barred owl, as an example. Diva was hit by a car and sustained a broken wing and a head injury. Since she could not gain lift to fly, now she is the center's good will ambassador for teaching children about birds of prey. Miller told the girls that these are our birds to protect!


Next, Valerie Holcomb (below) volunteered to lead all the girls on a 1.5-mile-long wildflower walk. They explored, and Valerie was able to pinpoint several kinds of wildflowers on the trail -- spring beauty, Dutchman's breeches, May maple, poppy, and wild violets. During the hike, the girls enjoyed walking on the hanging bridge, and just chatting with their friends on a gorgeous sunny day. Everybody loved the sun after a long winter!


Thanks to Brad Smith for organizing this perfect educational outing for these urban girls. The icing on the cake was when two photos -- including the one atop this post -- appeared the next day on the front page of Messenger Inquirer, the only paper in Owensboro.

This is the second time the Pennyrile Group has partnered with Owensboro Girls Inc. to help the girls to learn about nature. Last time it was an outing to John James Audubon State Park (below), named after the famous ornithologist, naturalist, and painter, who lived in the area for a decade during his middle age.

Audubon-State-ParkPhoto by Zachjank, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Girls Incorporated is a national non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. Girls Incorporated of Owensboro-Daviess County has been in the community since 1969 as a provider of informal educational opportunities for girls between the ages of 6 and 18. The Pennyrile Group has partnered with Girls Inc. since 2009 on a variety of projects, including planting flowers and vegetables in the summer, teaching them about composting, and hosting outings to nearby state parks. (Below, last year's trip to John James Audubon State Park.)


A Parent and Faith Leader's Perspective: Why We Need Strong Smog Standards

April 11, 2014

Reverend-Doug-BlandAs the father of an asthmatic child, and as a person of faith, I'm grateful for the Clean Air Act. That might seem like an odd introduction, but let me explain.

Last fall, Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) complained that, in enforcing the standards of the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has "overreached" its authority. Overreach - that mental picture might seem scary to some: the hand of big government imposing its way into our lives to tell us what we can and cannot do.

As a Christian, though, the image that comes to my mind when I think of overreach is very different. On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, against a clear blue sky, God over-reaches space and time. In the touching of two fingers, heaven and earth meet, and Adam "became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7b). According to the second creation story, God took the dust of the earth and gave it human form. But the lump just lays there, inert, lifeless, until God breathed spirit---the Hebrew word is ruach, "breath" - into Adam's lungs.  

That Biblical story takes on real flesh and blood as I'm desperately racing to the emergency room with my son, Aaron, in the seat beside me. It's another bad air quality day where I live, and Aaron is having yet another asthma attack. His face is ashen and his lips are sky blue as he tries to suck in the life giving air that he can't force into his lungs. I reach out my hand across the seat to him---to assure him, to assure myself---but he's too weak to even lift his fingers up to meet mine. There is no breath in him.

I carry him in my arms, limp as a ragdoll, into the emergency room where doctors and nurses who meet us at the door. I watch as their hands reach out to heal. Aaron's breath is restored. Standing next to his bed I can't talk without crying, so I just make an OK sign with my hand, a question in my eyes. He lifts up his hand so his OK meets my OK. Overreach.

It could have been much worse for Aaron. The reason there aren't more bad air quality days like this for Aaron and for millions of others was because, in 1970, Republicans on one side of the aisle and Democrats on the other side of the isle reached their hands across the partisan divide to create the Clean Air Act.

Continue reading "A Parent and Faith Leader's Perspective: Why We Need Strong Smog Standards" »

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