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Mile High Presidential Debate: Domestic Policy and Energy

October 04, 2012


By Becky English, Rocky Mountain Chapter Energy Committee Chair

For months, Denver has been looking forward to the first debate of this presidential campaign season. On Wednesday October 3, a beautiful autumn day, the campus at the University of Denver burst forth with outdoor games, music, several dozen tables representing organizations and causes, and demonstrations lining nearby streets. Some 7,500 people bought tickets for the privilege of being on campus for the event.


Just days before the October 4 deadline to register to vote, a half-dozen organizations sponsored voter registration on the D.U. campus, and most reported vigorous activity. At this venue, registrations skewed Democratic. However, there were at least three groups of students on campus visibly supporting Governor Romney and Republican platform positions.


The debate focused on domestic policy. Inside, longtime PBS News Hour journalist Jim Lehrer had an agreement with the audience that there would be no applause and no vocal outbursts for or against anything being said onstage. [Below left, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper; at right, a Young Evangelical for Climate Action.]


Outside, students who watched the debate on jumbo video monitors were free to whoop and holler their approval and disapproval. They were especially happy when the candidates mentioned Denver, the University of Denver, or Colorado. The weather turned windy and cool as the debate began, making it a chilly evening for those who stayed to view the debate with friends.


As the volunteer chair of Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter's energy committee, I was listening for references to the environment and to energy. This debate had no direct references to the environment.

Here's an exchange that was probably revealing for many Sierra Club members who understand the relationship between fossil fuels, climate change, and environmental degradation.

Continue reading "Mile High Presidential Debate: Domestic Policy and Energy" »

Climbing for Unity on 9/11

October 01, 2012


On September 11, four groups of veterans made mountaineering summit attempts to commemorate 9/11, in Washington's North Cascades, Wyoming's Tetons, Colorado's San Juans, and New Hampshire's White Mountains.

Above, the Washington group near the summit of 9,131-foot Mt. Shuksan in the North Cascades. From left to right, Marine Corps vets Shenandoah Sanchez and Daniel Sidles, KAF Adventures guide Trevor Ellsworth, and Air Force Reserve vet Jason Wheeler. (Lead KAF guide Jason Wheeler took the photo.) The Semper Fi Fund is a non-profit organization that provides immediate financial support for injured or critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

Below, the Mt. Shuksan team ascending steep snow fields near the summit.


The four climbs were sponsored and guided by the Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors program in conjunction with Veteran's Expeditions, Paradox Sports, Big City Mountaineers, Sportainability, and Telluride Adaptive Sports.

Mission Outdoors Director Stacy Bare, a decorated veteran of the Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq conflicts, and fellow vet Nick Watson launched the first 9/11 commemorative climb up Longs Peak in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park in 2010 with eight other veterans. Last year, Bare helped train and lead eight more vets in a successful ascent of Wyoming's Grand Teton to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Tommy Carroll, who has a prosthetic left leg below the knee, was among the veterans who climbed New Hampshire's Mt. Washington this year. Below left, Carroll leads the way up Tuckerman Ravine on the mountain's eastern flank, with fellow vets Nick Watson and Steve Arsenault close behind; below right, Carroll atop the summit.


What follows is a first-person account by Shenandoah Sanchez (at far left in photo below) of his group's ascent of Mt. Shuksan. 

Continue reading "Climbing for Unity on 9/11" »

Oregon Gives the Stop Signal to Big Coal

September 28, 2012


Dead end.

That was the message the Portland City Council, the Metro, and the city of The Dalles sent Big Coal last week after they all approved resolutions opposing coal exports through the Pacific Northwest without a full area-wide environmental review conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Portland's council vote was just the latest example in a string of cities and municipalities demanding environmental reviews and putting the interests of communities and public health before Big Coal profits. Tens of thousands of residents, 400 business leaders, 570 healthcare professionals, 200 faith leaders, and more than 160 public officials, including Oregon Governor Kitzhaber, have written letters, submitted comments, and rallied for a full review.

"There are so many better sources of energy available," says Howard Shapiro, Beyond Coal campaign volunteer in Portland, who lives less than a mile from the train tracks that coal trains would use.


Continue reading "Oregon Gives the Stop Signal to Big Coal" »

Interview: Rafting with Inner City Outings

September 27, 2012

BillRogue2Sierra Club's Inner City Outings is made up of 52 groups across the country that connect 14,000 kids with outdoors experiences. Bill Weinberg, who has been an Inner City Outings rafting guide for 25 years, took some time to answer questions about his experience.

How did you first hear about ICO?

I had been a volunteer with Sierra Club Service Trips when we were invited to scout trips on the Klamath and Salmon rivers in Northern California. The river rangers took us on four days of rafting to scout work locations. I ended up leading these trips for three years in the early 1980s. After several folks I was working with got involved with ICO rafting I finally applied and made the switch from Service Trips.

Before ICO, did you have any experience with kids?

No, and it was the part of volunteering with ICO that scared me the most. However, I thought it would be good experience for when, or if, I became a father.

Sierra Club Inner City Outings

Continue reading "Interview: Rafting with Inner City Outings" »

North Star Chapter Bikes for a Cause

September 26, 2012

MN bike tour crowd
More than 120 people turned up for the Sierra Club North Star Chapter's recent 17th Annual Bike Tour. The group rode around St. Paul learning about green transportation issues from speakers at stops along the route.
MN bike tour stop
"We do this every year because there are always important bicycle, pedestrian, and transit issues to address with the public, decision-makers, and transportation engineers," said Joshua Houdek of the chapter (that's Joshua pictured below). "What better way to do it than a fun and unique outing?

MN bike tour Josh

Houdek says the route changes every year, but usually runs around 15 to 25 miles done at an easy pace and with many stops along the way for food, drink, and education. He added that the tour attracts all ages of riders, too, from eight to 80-years-old.
MN bike tour stop2

"Planning a tour event is a great way to engage volunteers and decision-makers about a variety of issues."

MN bike tour path
Photos courtesy of Jill Boogren. See many more photos of the ride in the chapter's Flickr gallery.

Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge Becomes a Reality

September 25, 2012

Photo by Dan Deters

Illinois and Wisconsin Sierra Club activists celebrated last month when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited Illinois to announce the establishment of the new 11,200-acre Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. Straddling the Illinois-Wisconsin border, Hackmatack is roughly equidistant from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison, Wisconsin.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Salazar, pictured above with Illinois Sierra Club activist Cindy Skrukrud, was joined at the August 15 announcement in the new refuge by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who was instrumental in getting Hackmatack established.

Durbin, a Democrat, thanked fellow Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican, for his support leading to the designation of the refuge. "When it comes to Hackmatack, it's bipartisan," Durbin said.

That's Durbin, below at left, with Salazar and Ed Collins, natural resource manager for the McHenry County, Illinois, Conservation District. Collins was part of the core group that sought national wildlife refuge designation for Hackmatack.


"The Midwest doesn't have mountains and it doesn't have geysers and it doesn't have giant redwoods," Collins told the Elgin Courier-News. "It's a very, very slow magic and it sometimes takes a lifetime to appreciate it. But some of the rarest living things on the planet, they live in Northeastern Illinois and Southeastern Wisconsin."

Photo by Ray Mathis

Collins, who grew up in Chicago, got hooked on the outdoors during boyhood summers canoeing on the Fox River, which rises just west of Milwaukee and flows south into Illinois, where it empties into the Illinois River about 75 miles southwest of Chicago.

"The native communities [in Hackmatack] have a national significance," he said, "and the national wildlife refuge is a designation that means something outside of the region."

Photo courtesy of Ray Mathis

The Sierra Club was a key player in the Friends of Hackmatack partnership, which has been working since 2004 to make the new wildlife refuge a reality. "The Hackmatack Refuge is a testament to the power of ordinary citizens to protect the landscapes they love," said Jack Darin, Illinois Chapter Director.

Continue reading "Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge Becomes a Reality" »

University of Kentucky Students Fight Back Against Coal

September 20, 2012


The Wildcats are on the prowl.

More than 60 University of Kentucky students, faculty, and supporters rallied earlier this month to demand that the school change its cozy relationship with Big Coal.

At the rally, UK Beyond Coal activists shouted, "Ho, ho, hey, hey, Wildcat Coal Lodge needs a new name!" The rally garnered media attention and raised a campus-wide debate over the school's energy choice: a clean-energy strategy that invests in the state and creates jobs, or the status quo that sickens people.

"The coal industry has had a profoundly negative impact on the lives of countless Kentucky citizens, and it is embarrassing that the flagship university of this great state continues to stand so closely aligned with such companies," UK Beyond Coal Co-Coordinator Sam Beavin wrote in the Kentucky Kernal, the student newspaper.

A few years ago school officials willingly let UK become entangled with the coal industry's tentacles after the Board of Trustees approved the construction of a basketball dorm funded with coal-backed donations. As a result, the multi-million-dollar facility was named Wildcat Coal Lodge, now home of the school's celebrated basketball team. Big Coal has also paid thousands of dollars to sponsor sports games and has "spearheaded the donation for the Wildcat Coal Lodge, stipulating the building hold a tribute to coal in the lobby," reported the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Continue reading "University of Kentucky Students Fight Back Against Coal" »

Adventures with West Palm Beach Inner City Outings

September 19, 2012

Ico 4

Sheila Calderon vividly remembers the reaction of a kid who witnessed a sea turtle laying eggs: "Awesome!"

"And that's what it is," Sheila says. "What is better than nature?"

Sheila is the chair of Inner City Outings' in West Palm Beach, Florida, one of 52 ICO groups across the country that connect 14,000 kids with outdoors experiences, such as witnessing a sea turtle laying eggs -- something not very many people get to see. Many ICO kids get the chance to visit places they never knew existed. Seeing nature sparks their imaginations. And for many kids, ICO is a respite from urban areas beset with gangs and drugs.

Continue reading "Adventures with West Palm Beach Inner City Outings" »

DC Crowd Protests Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

September 17, 2012

"We've been holding these signs too long!" Those are words from Harlan County, Kentucky, resident and amazing activist Teri Blanton at a "Stop Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining" rally on September 13 in Washington, DC.(That's Teri with her arm out while standing on-stage in the background of the photo below.)

Teri and many others took to the stage to call upon the Obama Administration to stop this destructive practice that destroys communities and entire ecosystems in Applachia. For Teri and so many others, it's been a long battle, hence her comment on the protest signs.

Goldman Environmental Prize Winner Maria Gunnoe (of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition) also gave a powerful speech to the crowd - part of which is captured in this video.


The day's events were organized by EarthJustice but attended by members of many groups - from the Sierra Club to Interfaith Power & Light, to the Waterkeepers Alliance, and more.

Continue reading "DC Crowd Protests Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining" »

Years of Work Pays Off for Chicago Clean Air

September 12, 2012

IL Clean Power Mike Brune and Tony Fuller
Tony Fuller (right) with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

Years of work and thousands of flyers and petition signatures later, the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago recently flipped the switch and ceased burning coal, marking yet another major victory for Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign and the community groups and allies fed up with Big Coal's toxic pollution.

For Tony Fuller, a Sierra Club lead volunteer who has been working to replace Chicago coal plants with clean energy for five years, the victory is as good as it gets.

"We worked on long time on this. Chicago has a number of community groups that had organized specifically around local environmental issues," he says. "They were talking with the community directly. The problem was getting the attention of City Hall. When we all came together and created a coalition and fought the power plants in unison, that's when we were gaining momentum."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel with activists.

The Fisk plant began operating during the Roosevelt administration ... the Theodore Roosevelt administration -- that's how old and dirty it was. The Crawford plant began operating in the 1920s. Over the years the plants provided little protection for residents as Chicago grew. With many Latino and African American families nearby, it became a question of environment justice.

"There would be high ozone days where you could feel it. And especially for those with their children, mothers would talk about the asthma effects that their children would have," Tony says. "We had members who weren't even from the community affected after moving to Chicago. They'd say they could feel the difference in the air quality and their general ability to go outside."

Traditionally Big Coal had the blessings of Chicago politicians. But Tony noticed the tables turning early last year when Councilman Danny Solis, who was running for reelection, threw his support behind the city's proposed Clean Power Ordinance, which was designed to reduce harmful emissions.

Continue reading "Years of Work Pays Off for Chicago Clean Air" »

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