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 forces have shaped humanity most?
Carl Pope: I think what happened to this country, and it’s very understandable, is we walked into this artificially empty continent. I mean the continent was largely empty because most of the people who lived here before we arrived had been wiped out by smallpox epidemics. So we arrived into what seemed to be an empty continent. And we were a frontier society, and frontier societies are wasteful. Frontier societies are violent, and we’re a violent culture. Frontier societies are also very innovative, and we’re a very innovative society. If you contrast the American experience on the frontier with the way that the Inuit lived in the Arctic or the Kung lived in the Kalahari, they didn’t have a big, open commons. They were fully exploiting a narrow ecosystem. And what they got to be was incredibly resourceful. We’re not that resourceful. They got to be incredibly deft. They knew how to fit in with the rhythms, and we’re not that good at that either. So we don’t have those big commons anymore. We’ve occupied it. The frontier’s gone. It’s been gone for 100 years, and we haven’t made the adjustment yet to realize we don’t live on a frontier anymore. We live at home. You treat the frontier as if you didn’t live there. But we now live here, and we should start acting like we live here.
Recorded on: September 27, 2007.