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 is the biggest misconception about environmentalism?
Carl Pope: Well, hmm. Since I’m an environmentalist I probably don’t know the biggest misconception. That’s actually kind of a hard one. I think there are a couple of things that I run into that are frustrating. One is the belief that somehow what’s important is the label you wear. I don’t . . . I think that the work we’ve done shows there are an awful lot of people who would say, “Well, do you think we should cut down all the trees in the National Forest?” And they’d say, “No, no, no.” You say to them, “Do you guess in the next 20 years we’re gonna get most of our electricity from the sun and the wind? Or would you like to drill more oil wells?” And they say, “No, no, no. Forget those oil wells.” You say, “How important is it that we really make space in North America for wild places, and for grizzly bears and wolves.” And they say, “_________.” And then I say, “Are you an environmentalist?” And they say, “No! I’m not an environmentalist.” And I say, “Well why not?” And they say, “Because those are people who only care about whales. They’re not like me.” So I think the biggest challenge we face as a movement is we have an enormous number of Americans who share our values and our vision, but they don’t like us very much.
Recorded on: September 27, 2007.