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: What impact does your work have on the world?
Carl Pope: We could be having much more impact. It’s absolutely urgent that we and everybody else have much more impact. The collective impact we’ve all been having for the last 20 years has obviously been insufficient. So the very short answer is it is absolutely essential that we all figure out how to be more effective; more results driven; better listening and learning; because when the world changes quickly, that’s the big risk. The big risk is that you keep acting on things you think you know, and maybe you once did know but they’re no longer true, and you keep acting on the basis of that old information because you’re not listening and you’re not learning. So absolutely we’ve got a huge . . . As I said I’m starting all over again. I’m starting all over again.What have we contributed? My organization’s 117 years old. We have 117 years of experience at stopping bad things from happening, and we’re actually very good at that. We have relatively ___________. We set our eyes on something and said, “We really don’t want that to happen,” it almost never happened. And people who wanted it to happen almost invariably thought we were destroying them. One of the first battles I was involved in was the Boeing Aircraft Corporation was trying to rebuild an SST. And this is back in the 1970s. Supersonic Transport like the Concord. Huge government . . . huge taxpayer subsidies. We thought it was a terrible idea to have lots of sonic booms all over the United States. We fought it. We stopped it. We saved the Boeing Company from bankruptcy. Now Boeing is building a dreamliner which is gonna save 25 percent of the fossil fuel that we use to fly from here to London. So it’s a very different Boeing Company, and we got to be very good at stopping the SST. There aren’t 250 nuclear power plants in this country. That’s because of organizations like the Sierra Club. So we got very good at stopping bad things. What we didn’t get so good at was speeding up good things. There aren’t enough solar cells. There aren’t enough wind __________. There aren’t enough organic farms. There’s a whole bunch of good stuff that we didn’t really figure out how to take to scale; how to make happen quickly, and that’s the challenge for this century. How do we make the good stuff happen? How do we take the place in the world’s economy of the old bad stuff?
Recorded on: September 27, 2007.