Carl Pope is Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Since Pope’s appointment in 1992, Sierra Club has added 150,000 new members, bringing the total membership to 700,000. Pope has a distinguished record of environmental activism and leadership.
Prior to his work with the Sierra Club, Pope served on the Boards of the California League of Conservation Voters, Public Voice, National Clean Air Coalition, California Common Cause and Public Interest Economics, Inc. He is the co-author of Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress, and other books including Hazardous Waste in America and Sahib, an American Misadventure in India. Pope was educated at Harvard University and spent two years in the Peace Corps in India on graduation.
Question: Are we at a tipping point?
Carl Pope: Well it’s pretty clear, I think, that the big one we’ve all gotta wrestle with right away, really quickly is global warming, climate, fossil fuels, our energy economy. That simply has to be job number one because we’re close to a tipping point. I was just in Greenland and you can see the ice sheets collapsing. That’s scary. So that’s job number one. The second thing that we need to do almost as quickly is we have to learn to live more lightly, because there are six billion of us. One of the things that we’re dealing with now – never been true before in human history – not only are there 6.5 billion people on the planet. More than half of them live in societies that have mastered the trick of sustained economic growth. Now in one way that’s a very good thing. We actually have the opportunity. We now have the social . . . the social knowledge to solve human problems. But we don’t have the natural resource base to solve human poverty with 20th century technologies. We’ve got to develop a lighter set of technologies that allow natural systems to function around and with us. We can’t just say oh, nature’s something that’s out there. We have to be in the middle of nature. To give you an example, in California we’re about to have the long water war. All during the 20th century Californians had a series of battles about how to allocate water. And these battles were premised on three things. There’s a certain amount of water that falls on the mountains in the winter. It sits there as snow and melts in the spring. And then farmers, environmentalists and cities fights about who gets it. That’s a California water war. We’re about to have another one. There’s only one problem. There may . . . There may be a certain amount of water that still falls on mountains in the winter, but it’s not gonna get stored as snow. It’s all gonna run off. We can’t store it in reservoirs. There’s not nearly enough reservoir space or even potential . . . There aren’t enough big valleys left to store all the snow that currently sits on the Sierra Nevada all winter. Totally impossible. So if we wanna have that water when we need it in the summer, we have to store it somewhere else. There’s only one place to store it – underground in soils. And right now Californians don’t think of their soils as the place where they store their water. We don’t think about it right. We’re gonna have to learn how to reengineer Los Angeles so that it becomes, in effect, a sponge. Instead of being a roof which water runs off of, it needs to be a sponge which water soaks into. And we’re gonna have to learn to live, and drive our cars, and have our buildings in the middle of actually a wetland. That’s a different kind of challenge ___________.
Recorded on: September 27, 2007.