Sierra Club Goes Anti-Green

Note:This was my second-ever blog post, written back during the 2000 election. The first one I’ve never been able to recover, which is a shame, as it was quite good, if I remember correctly.


As the 2000 election grows nearer, the Democrats have ramped up their attack on Ralph Nader and the Green Party. It seems that despite Nader’s irrelevance in terms of the bipartisan debate commission’s standards, he is now a serious threat to Gore’s campaign in several key states. As part of the heightened campaign, Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, published the following open letter to Nader via several channels–it was e-mailed to me be a friend who is a member of the Sierra Club, and I also came across it on the newsgroup alt.politics.greens. Since it was so widely distributed, I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing it here, believing that the piece can be assumed, by virtue of its wide distribution, to be in the public domain; if I’m wrong, I’m sure the Sierra Club lawyers will let me know.

Without knowing the text of the Nader letter referred to by Pope, it’s hard to interpret this response. I imagine the Greens are up against the wall, with the latest wave of Democratic anti-Green politicking and are starting to hit back hard. Speculation aside, Pope’s attack ponts at a fundamental difference between the Green Party’s outlook on environmental issues and that of the Sierra Club. Basically–and at the risk of simplifying both sides’ positions greatly–the Sierra Club and it’s kin are conservationists that want to see various endangered resources protected, while the Greens want to minimize human impact altogether. Now, Gore has said a few things that ring Sierra Club bells–considering breaching the dams in the Northwest, for instance, or protecting a stretch of land in Alaska from oil development. These acts are barely more than symbolic–they do nothing to address the core causes of environmental degradation which are embedded in the global corporate culture. This has two “arms”: 1) corporations want as little regulation as possible–that’s “free” trade–especially environmental reg’s. It’s not even a matter of cost–lots of companies make bigger and better profits by using “greenish” methods–but they do so voluntarily, they are able to get a big PR kick out of it, and no one can say anything if they “slip” a little (who makes sure your tuna is, in fact, “dolphin-safe”?). 2) After spending 200 years making sure that everyone in this country has the right to vote, our current government seems hell-bent on making sure that that vote doesn’t mean anything. Both Gore and Bush want “less government”, which means more power taken out of the hands of elected officials who are at least somewhat answerable to the public whose lives their choices impact, and given to corporations and other private bodies who are only answerable to their shareholders. For those who say that their profits will drop if we, the consumers, don’t agree with their policies, I say a) yes, but how long will that take?, and b) do you even KNOW what policies are held by the 10 companies you patronise most often? Or even what companies those ARE?

I do, in fact, worry greatly about a Bush presidency. But I worry more about the fact that democracy seems to have given away to wanting to back a winning horse. A Bush presidency is only going to last 4 years (if that)–time enough to do a lot of damage, sure, but not much more than has already been done. A Gore presidency might do a little less damage, but I still do not see Gore offering any means of dealing with the damage that has already been done. A candidate who does not mention a) legalizing and encouraging the production of industrial hemp, b) significantly stronger regulations of industrial pollution, c) mandatory nationwide recycling programs, especially for things like batteries that are not even considered under most local recycling laws today, d) labeling genetically modified foods (an aside: I thought we believed in a Free Market–why not let the market decide whether they want genetically modified foods?), and e) serious alternative energy development can hardly be called an “environmental” candidate.

A lot of criticism aimed at Nader has focussed on what some see as a tendency to privilege his “anti-corporate agenda” over strictly “environmental” issues. This criticism lises at the root of Pope’s open letter. But the idea that corporate power and environmental degradation can be divorced is a false one. What is at issue in this election is the matter of how we, the American people, are going to relate to our government in the future. Do we want to continue to allow control over fundamental issues in our lives–air, water, and food quality, privacy, abortion rights, sexual preference, religious belief, medical care, retirement income–be taken from us and given to corporations? I support Ralph Nader because he is willing to address this, the most important of issues–but my support is not important here. What is important is that whichever man is elected next week, we the American people pressure him to act in defense of these rights, and not turn them over to the highest bidder.

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