Founded in 1892 by John Muir to “make the mountains glad,” the Sierra Club is the oldest and arguably the most powerful environmental group in the nation. But its concerns are no longer limited to the happiness of the valleys. Once dedicated to conserving wilderness for future human enjoyment, the Sierra Club has become an anti-growth, anti-technology group that puts its utopian environmentalist vision before the well being of humans.
This is not your father’s Sierra Club. Some of its leadership positions are held by activists with radical ties and even violent criminals. The Club has done well preserving a “mainstream” image, despite its increasingly radical bent.
The Club’s new extremist priorities are best illustrated in the person of animal-rights extremist Paul Watson, elected to the Sierra Club’s board of directors in 2003. Watson founded the ultra-radical Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) in 1977 after being booted from Greenpeace (which he also co-founded) for espousing violence in the name of the environment. Watson and his Sea Shepherd pirates sail the high seas, terrorizing the fishing industry by sinking ships and endangering lives. “I got the impression that instead of going out to shoot birds, I should go out and shoot the kids who shoot birds,” says Watson (as quoted in Access to Energy, 1982).
In 2003 Watson announced that he was openly “advocating the takeover of the Sierra Club,” claiming to be just three votes shy of controlling a majority of the group’s 15-member board. During the Sierra Club’s 2004 election season, Watson allied himself with candidates endorsing strict limits to legal immigration. Promising to “use the resources of the $95-million-a-year budget” to address both immigration policy and animal-rights issues, Watson actively promoted his chosen slate of candidates — and lost big in a record turnout. Nevertheless, Watson will remain on the Sierra Club’s board until 2006.
Bashing Food Technology
Genetically modified food crops have been heralded for their environmental benefits, including the ability to grow more food on less land, and a decreased need for pesticides. Biotech crops are widely considered one solution for chronic food shortages and starvation throughout the world. Nobel laureates and green activists alike have praised agricultural biotechnology and encouraged its advancement.
Despite all the promise that these revolutionary crops hold for the future, the Sierra Club demands “a moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered crops and the release of all GEOs [genetically engineered organisms] into the environment, including those now approved.” This technophobic stance falls right in line with former Sierra Club executive director David Brower’s creed: “All technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent.” The natural conclusion of this flawed logic is the much-maligned “precautionary principle”; like many other green groups, the Sierra Club uses it to thwart technological progress in the biotech sector. The Club states its official policy on agricultural biotechnology on its website: “We call for acting in accordance with the precautionary principle … we call for a moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered crops.”
As international food policy expert Dr. Robert Paarlberg has noted in The Wall Street Journal, the “precautionary principle” has run amok, putting millions of lives at risk. “Greens and GM critics,” says Paarlberg, “argue that powerful new technologies should be kept under wraps until tested for unexpected or unknown risks as well. Never mind that testing for something unknown is logically impossible (the only way to avoid a completely unknown risk is never to do anything for the first time).” Anti-biotechnology zealot (and former Council for Responsible Genetics head) Martin Teitel candidly disclosed activists’ “precautionary” motivation in 2001: “Politically, it’s difficult for me,” Teitel told a scientific conference, “to go around saying that I want to shut this science down, so it’s safer for me to say something like, ‘It needs to be done safely before releasing it.’” Teitel added that implementing the precautionary principle really means: “They don’t get to do it. Period.”
The Sierra Club united with Greenpeace and organic-only food activist groups in 1999 to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over its approval of genetically modified crops. In the same year, the Club joined the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Defenders of Wildlife in petitioning the EPA for strict regulation of corn modified to produce the bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin. Bt is a naturally occurring insect poison that protects plants from devastating pests like the European corn borer.
The Sierra Club’s EPA petition was part of a coordinated campaign to convince the public that Bt corn posed a risk to the Monarch Butterfly. However, both the USDA and the EPA later concluded that Monarchs were never in any danger. This reinforced the findings of federal regulators who had performed a comprehensive safety review of Bt corn before it was allowed into the marketplace. Yet despite conclusive proof to the contrary, the Sierra Club continues to promote the false notion that biotech corn kills Monarchs.
The Sierra Club is also a member of “Genetically Engineered Food Alert,” a PR campaign dedicated to demonizing genetically enhanced food products. In 2002 the Club co-hosted an event called “Reinventing the Meal: Ecological Food Choices for the 21st Century.” Attendees were urged to only “grow and buy organic food,” shun food from large, modern farms, and avoid foods produced through biotechnology.
According to Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, widely acknowledged as the “father of the green revolution,” the reckless actions of groups like the Sierra Club may hinder our ability to feed future populations: “I now say,” Borlaug told a De Montfort University crowd in 1997 “that the world has the technology — either available or well-advanced in the research pipeline — to feed a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology. Extremists in the environmental movement from the rich nations seem to be doing everything they can to stop scientific progress in its tracks.”
Bashing Modern Farming
Biotechnology is just one of the food production practices in the Sierra Club’s crosshairs. The group pushes an animal-rights agenda and maintains a coordinated campaign against what it calls “the growing menace” of modern livestock farms.
It’s clear that the Sierra Club is fond of putting its ideological cart before the scientific horse — if you can use that term without offending the growing animal-rights faction within the organization. Sierra Club activists in Florida endorse PETA’s mantra that eating meat is a form of animal abuse that contributes to world hunger. In 2002, the Broward Sierra News promoted “a vegetarian lifestyle as a way to counter the alleged abuse animals endure to feed a hungry and growing global population.” The newsletter plugged PETA and their message that meat-eating in general, and livestock operations in particular, are a cause of world hunger and animal abuse. Sierra Club chapters in New York and Michigan promote the “Vegetarian Starter Kit” distributed by the misnamed Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (a PETA front group), as a way to fight “corporate greed.”
These chapters also encourage people to sign EarthSave International’s “VegPledge” as a way to “save the Earth” by going vegetarian. The New York chapter of the Sierra Club cosponsored an event with People for Animal Rights in 2002 dubbed “Behind Closed Doors.” The purpose of the gathering was to vilify livestock operations, and appropriately featured Farm Sanctuary co-founder Gene Bauston.
And the Sierra Club embraces those with designs on combining environmental activism with animal-rights dogma. The Club’s board of directors chair Lisa Renstrom explained: “The [Sierra] Club could begin to include animal rights positions in decades to come as members and the American public acknowledge the impact of our high animal protein diet on sustainability.” The Club’s “sustainable consumption committee” issued a report in 2000 that listed “eating less meat” as a “Priority Action for American Consumers,” right alongside “buying a fuel-efficient car.” Joan Zacharias, one of this committee’s leaders, is scheduled to address the “Animal Rights 2004″ convention in Virginia. Her influence is seen in the committee’s stated goal of developing “stronger ties with vegetarian organizations.”
The Club’s “Rap Sheet on Animal Factories” lists farms that the Sierra Club has targeted for “action.” What type of action? In the May 2000 issue of Sierra, the Club announced its intention to sue large-scale livestock farms across the nation: “No one [court] case,” wrote Sierra’s editors, “will be a magic bullet … You have to fight on multiple legal fronts.”
On February 28, 2001 the Club announced an alliance with trial lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr.’s radical Waterkeeper Alliance as a “full partner in litigation” against pork companies. That same day, the Sierra Club declared that it had filed multiple lawsuits “across the United States” targeting Smithfield farms. One of the suits filed accused Smithfield of mafia-style racketeering — a charge that was ultimately laughed out of court.
The Sierra Club has sued time and again in its war against farmers. Between 1998 and 2002 it joined multiple lawsuits to prevent the construction of dairy farms in California. In 2003 it filed suit in Nebraska to stop a new hog farm from opening. Filing lawsuits is cheap, especially for Sierra’s well-funded team of lawyers.
Not Just a Club, But a Law Firm
In 1971, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund was founded as a nonprofit law firm to serve as a legal arm to the Club’s grassroots operation. In 1998, its name was changed to the EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund. (It now operates simply as “EarthJustice.”) EarthJustice exists to use the courts as a weapon against businesses and public agencies, in the hope of forcing them to operate in a manner acceptable to the Sierra Club. EarthJustice’s aggressive legal posture regarding everything from livestock farms to mining doesn’t harm the Club’s reputation as much as it might, since few members of the public realize that the two groups work hand in glove. Earthjustice sued on behalf of the Sierra Club 38 times in 2003 alone.
Not even something as critical as military training can escape the Earthjustice legal machine. In early 2004, Earthjustice filed suit to stop Marine training exercises in the Makua Valley (Hawaii) citing concern for supposed endangered species habitat. The Army issued a terse statement in response to Earthjustice’s irresponsible legal maneuver: “To win the war against terrorism and get ready for future battles, the U.S. military must be prepared. The conduct of realistic live-fire training in Makua is part of that preparation.” In 2000, Earthjustice also sued to stop military training on the small, uninhabited island of Farallon de Medinilla, citing concern for migratory birds.
Just as the Sierra Club is no friend of farmers, it has also made enemies of ranchers. Sierra Club board member Lisa Force once served as regional coordinator of the Center for Biological Diversity, which brags of prying ranchers and their livestock from federal lands. In 2000 and 2003, the two groups sued the U.S. Department of the Interior to force ranching families out of the Mojave National Preserve. These ranchers actually owned grazing rights to the preserve; some families had been raising cattle there for over a century. No matter. Using the Endangered Species Act and citing the supposed loss of “endangered tortoise habitat,” the Club was able to force the ranchers out.
Not to be outdone by its former parent group, EarthJustice has sued the federal government to curb grazing on more than 13 million acres of public land in New Mexico and Arizona.
Suing for Profit
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology notes that one of Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope’s “major accomplishments” is his co-authorship of California’s infamous Proposition 65. “Prop 65″ requires any product containing one of several hundred “known carcinogens” to bear a warning label — even if the chemical appears in concentrations so low that adverse health effects are essentially impossible.
Prop 65 has a “bounty hunter” provision to encourage frivolous lawsuits by trial lawyers looking to cash in on any product containing a listed “carcinogen” and lacking a warning label. Prop 65 “violators” can be fined up to $2,500 per day, per violation, and plaintiffs can collect up to 25 percent of the total take. Between 2000 and 2002, one California group called As You Sow (AYS) reaped more than $1.5 million playing the Prop 65 lawsuit game.
Sierra Club president Larry Fahn is also AYS’s executive director. A self-described “leading enforcer of Proposition 65,” As You Sow functions as a litigation machine, conjuring up lawsuit after lawsuit. The group has sued everyone from scuba gear manufacturers and retailers to the makers of nail care products.
Under Fahn’s leadership, AYS routes its Prop 65 money to some of the most radical groups around, including the Rainforest Action Network and the Ruckus Society (both co-founded by Earth First! godfather Mike Roselle), as well as California affiliates of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Waterkeeper Alliance and David Brower’s Earth Island Institute.
Another group funded by AYS is called Environmentally Sound Promotions — it’s run by Earth First! organizer Darryl Cherney. On a 1990 CBS broadcast of “60 Minutes,” Cherney made it clear where his Earth First! sympathies lead him. “If I knew I had a fatal disease,” Cherney said, “I would definitely do something like strap dynamite to myself and take out Grand Canyon Dam, or maybe the Maxxam Building in Los Angeles after it’s closed up for the night.”
Despite this web of extremist connections, few seem aware that the Sierra Club has institutionally embraced the most radical side of the green movement.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a terrorist, as long as you win. Then you write history.” These chilling words may sound like an Al Qaeda credo, but they aren’t. They are the words of Sierra Club board member Paul Watson.
And there’s more. “Right now we’re in the early stages of World War III,” Watson wrote in the pages of the radical Earth First! Journal. “It’s the war to save the planet. This kind of action will be getting stronger. The environmental movement doesn’t have many deserters and has a high level of recruitment. Eventually there will be open war.”
The Sierra Club’s increasingly radical stances can be attributed to extremist influences within the organization. The Club shares two directors — Paul Watson and Ben Zuckerman — with the violent Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). Like it or not, Watson has engaged the Sierra Club in his own personal World War.
His stated goal is to take over the Sierra Club board of directors and remake the Club in his radical image. At the Animal Rights 2003 convention, Watson announced that he was only three directors shy of accomplishing this mission. However, his plan to stack the Club’s board with like-minded radicals has fallen short so far — Watson-backed candidates were defeated in the 2004 Club elections. But he endorsed a slate of candidates in 2005 that includes Christine Garcia, a fellow activist who has gone to great lengths to hide her animal-rights beliefs from Sierra Club voters.
A few weeks after announcing her candidacy, Garcia set up a personal website to tell Sierra Club members that she “work[s] full-time doing environmental and public interest free speech advocacy.” She neglected to mention her earlier self-description as a “vegan animal-rights attorney.” Also, Garcia’s Sierra Club campaign materials fail to mention her “Animal Law Office” or “Vegan Attorneys” websites — where you can read how she has “been doing 100% Animal Welfare related cases since August of 2001.” Garcia’s statement to potential Sierra Club voters says that she is an “environmental attorney.”
Garcia is a rising star in the animal rights movement. She lectured protesters about “coping with law enforcement” at the “Animal Rights 2004″ convention, and has herself defended the violent animal-rights group SHAC in court. At the 2005 Grassroots Animal Rights Conference in New York City, Garcia led a panel titled “Resisting State Repression: Knowing the Legal System and Importance of Prisoner Support.”
Paul Watson sails the globe — armed with AK-47s and a cement-filled bow — in search of fishing vessels to sink. Since 1979 his band of pirates has claimed credit for sinking ten boats, including half the Icelandic whaling fleet.
Watson has also mentored some of the nastiest animal-rights militants of our day. Former Sea Shepherd crewmember Rodney Coronado was convicted in the multimillion-dollar arson of a Michigan State University research lab. Watson protégé Josh Harper has been jailed for violent acts committed in the name of “animal liberation” (including assault on a police officer). An open advocate of “the complete collapse of industrial civilization,” Harper urges fellow animal rights terrorists to “go out and burn down” livestock farms.
The Sierra Club has flirted with Watson-style radicalism before. Ron Arnold writes in his book, Trashing the Economy: “Defectors from the environmental movement have told us that Earth First! founder Dave Foreman was approached by the Sierra Club and his employer, the Wilderness Society, in 1979 with an offer to fund a new extremist point group for the movement. It would serve the function of making their own demands look more reasonable … Defectors say that Foreman made the deal by himself in a comfortable Wilderness Society office, and accepted the offer on the condition that funding would be steady and adequate, and that his participation was a limited 10-year deal.”
Foreman served on the Sierra Club’s board of directors between 1995 and 1997. He hinted in the April 1990 issue of Smithsonian magazine that Earth First! may be “secretly controlled” by groups like the Sierra Club:
“We thought it would have been useful to have a group to take a tougher position than the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society,” Foreman remembers. “It could be sort of secretly controlled by the mainstream and trotted out at hearings to make the Sierra Club or Wilderness Society look moderate.
Longtime Sierra Club executive director David Brower once argued that Earth First! helped the Sierra Club accomplish its goals:
The Sierra Club made the Nature Conservancy look reasonable. I founded Friends of the Earth to make the Sierra Club look reasonable. Then I founded Earth Island Institute to make Friends of the Earth look reasonable. Earth First! now makes us look reasonable. We’re still waiting for someone else to come along and make Earth First! look reasonable.
The intermingling between the Sierra Club and Earth First! is common, according to Foreman. “The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club regional reps were at the Northeast Earth First! Rendezvous last year,” he said in 1991. “We all work very well together.” Dale Turner, assistant editor of the Earth First! Journal, was conservation chair of the Sierra Club in Arizona at the same time. “I’m a member of the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and the Nature Conservancy,” says Turner.
Lisa Force, a current Sierra Club board member, began her activist career with the Center for Biological Diversity — another group started by Earth First! radicals. Force was a regional coordinator for the Center, which brags on its website of instances where it has pried ranchers and their livestock from federal lands.
It seems just about every Sierra Club-Earth First! base is covered — even on the lawyer front. When Boise attorney Bernie Zaleha was featured in the Club’s magazine, The Planet, in 1999, the article noted: “In an early case he defended Earth First! activists sued by a logging-road builder and learned about the movement to end commercial logging on federal lands.”
The Sierra Club-Earth First! ties are especially strong in Oregon. Mick Garvin, a self-described “long-time Earth First!er,” has chaired a local Sierra Club chapter in Oregon and currently serves as Oregon Chapter Executive Committee Delegate. Garvin was also an inaugural board member of The Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment. The Alliance was co-founded by former Sierra Club executive director David Brower, and has received funding from the Club. Garvin was a leader and spokesman at Earth First!’s nearly year-long blockade and protest of timber harvests at Warner Creek in Oregon. He is also a principal in the protest group Cascadia Forest Defenders, whose website boasts: “We participate in direct action campaigns [sic], including tree-sits.” On April 12, 2002, a 22-year-old woman protesting for Cascadia Forest Defenders plummeted to her death while tree-sitting.
Another integral cog in the Sierra Club-Earth First! machine is Jim Flynn, who happens to serve on the board of the Cascadia Wildlands Project alongside Mick Garvin. Flynn serves as editor of the Oregon Sierra Club’s Conifer newsletter. He is also the sole officer of Daily Planet Publishing, the corporation that produces the Earth First Journal.
In 2001, the FBI-classified “terrorist” Earth Liberation Front torched the offices of an Oregon timber company, causing $400,000 in damage. The Medford, Oregon Mail Tribune interviewed area environmental leaders to gauge their views about eco-terrorism. Jim Flynn was described by the Tribune as “an Earth First! activist for 12 years.” The editor of the Sierra Club’s state magazine told the paper: “We neither condemn nor condone what ELF is doing … There is [sic]definitely some younger people growing up today who feel Earth First! doesn’t go far enough … I hope they aren’t caught. I applaud them for standing up and taking action.”
The Sierra Club’s immediate past-president, Jennifer Ferenstein, has long been active with radical groups in Missoula, Montana. There she’s worked as a campaign coordinator for the Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads and the Mike Roselle-founded Ecology Center, Inc. Roselle also co-founded Earth First!, where convicted eco-terrorist Rodney Coronado recently served as editor of the Earth First! Journal. Roselle’s Ecology Center also supported the legal defenses of Coronado. In 1997, Ferenstein and Roselle spent a month trekking through the Montana backwoods looking for grizzly bears.
There was a time when the Sierra Club was almost entirely concerned with straight-ahead conservation of natural resources. But that time has come and gone. Today’s Club is more concerned with thwarting industry and obstructing technological progress than improving the environment.
A clear indication of this can be found in former Sierra Club president Jennifer Ferenstein’s account of her weeklong trip to Cuba in 2002. Ferenstein returned from Cuba very impressed with the country’s “sustainable” way of life:
Faced with challenges, Cubans have proven to be survivors. With a meat shortage in the city, they’ve turned to raising guinea pigs in cramped urban backyards. When rural farms couldn’t provide enough food to Havana due to the lack of refrigerated transport as much as production problems, the government encouraged the cultivation of fruit and vegetable gardens in Havana’s abandoned lots. When pesticides became unavailable following the collapse of the USSR, worm bins and organic gardening were celebrated. I will never forget my trip to Cuba, the beauty of the landscape, the passion of the people for baseball, and above all, the fragility of an island country struggling to improve its quality of life in a sustainable manner.
Being forced to grow your own food and raise your own meat in order to feed your family probably seems archaic and depressing to most Americans, but not to Ferenstein. She told Range magazine in 2003: “I’m a big proponent of bio-regionalism. The closer you can live off the land and the products you can use, the better off we all are … Fact is, I think people in Montana can get along without strawberries in December.” She might be surprised, of course, to find out that the “sustainable” life of squalor and hardship hasn’t translated into ecological bliss for Cuba. Even the activist World Resources Institute has observed Cuba’s “enormous environmental pollution problems.” Deforestation, threats to biodiversity, air and water pollution all abound on the island.
And Ferenstein’s compulsion toward an “organic” and “sustainable” food supply mirrors the Sierra Club’s policy on agricultural biotechnology: “We call for acting in accordance with the precautionary principle … we call for a moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered crops.”
The precautionary principle is consistently trotted out by environmentalists in their effort to paralyze progress when science isn’t on their side. It demands proof that there are no harms, or potential harms, whatsoever from a given product or action. In the words of former FDA official Dr. Henry Miller: “For fear that something harmful may possibly arise, do nothing.”
Since it’s impossible to prove a negative — in the case of biotechnology, to prove that genetically enhanced crops pose zero consequences to human health or the environment — the Sierra Club is advocating that this potentially life-saving technology be put on hold forever. The fact that genetically modified crops have been safely produced in America for over a decade is of no concern to the Sierra Club. Nor do they care that the European Union has called genetically improved foods “even safer than conventional plants and foods.”
In its seemingly endless quest to pry man from huge swaths of land, the Sierra Club also insists upon the application of the precautionary principle in as many policy arenas as possible — even regarding wildlife. In 1995, the Club’s legal arm wrote to elected officials: “We encourage Congress to keep this policy preference for the precautionary principle inherent in any Endangered Species Act [ESA] legislation it considers.” The Club uses the ESA in an ideological fashion to lock away as much land as possible from human use.
In 2004, the Sierra Club petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the “greater sage grouse” as an endangered species. According to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, such a listing could impede “millions of dollars of development plans, from ranching and farming to housing, mining and oil and gas production.” Listing the grouse as endangered would essentially put its “habitat” (a reported 110 million acres covering 11 states) off-limits.
One example the Sierra Club’s blatant disregard for humanity en route to crippling industry occurred in 2001. The Sierra Club sued the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) claiming that they had illegally harmed young salmon during a severe drought that year. BPA has an enormous responsibility to distribute electricity to roughly half of the entire Northwest population. The emergency dry conditions forced BPA to halt the spilling of water over two of its power-generating dams — a function performed to help young salmon migrate to sea. But BPA didn’t turn its back on the little fish. Instead, the company used barges to transport the young salmon downstream. Incredibly, the Sierra Club sued BPA, claiming its decision didn’t properly balance power production with fish and wildlife conservation. Would the Sierra Club rather BPA shut off electricity to millions of homes? Thankfully, a federal judge sided with BPA and rejected the Sierra Club’s absurd claim. Though this wasn’t the first time the Club sought to deprive Westerners of vital resources.
In 1995, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund sought to block a water diversion project for the Animas River in Colorado. The project was to bring water to the town of Durango, Colorado and a Ute Indian Reservation. Out West, dams and irrigation are literally matters of life and death in certain areas, and the Sierra Club knows this. After successfully getting the project slashed by more than 70 percent, and therefore depriving inhabitants of much-needed water, the Sierra Club lawyers moved the goalposts and demanded the project be cut by another 55 percent. This bad-faith dealing prompted an angry response from Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO): “The enviros have never been interested in a compromise. They just simply want to stop development and growth. And the way you do that in the West is to stop water.” And the chairwoman of the Ute Indian tribe lamented: “The environmentalists don’t seem to care how we live.”
Board member and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society head “Captain” Paul Watson told the animal rights magazine SATYA his “ten commandments,” including Number One: “Don’t bring any more humans into being. There are enough of us.”
Club founder David Brower was no more generous to the human species. He advocated a form of eugenics: “Childbearing [should be] a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license… All potential parents [should be] required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing.”
How people live doesn’t figure in to the Sierra Club’s agenda — unless it’s preventing them from living in the first place. Their goal is to cripple business and impede technological progress at every turn — regardless of how their actions affect people and the environment. Dues-paying members of the Sierra Club who don’t want to support this sort of radicalism should start shopping for a new club.