What is the Sierra Club?
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 does the Sierra Club stand for?
Carl Pope: We stand for the principle that ordinary people don’t believe that they’re here to use up the earth and have the bank account exhausted when they die; that most people really see the planet as an ongoing enterprise. They’re inspired by nature. They wanna leave it behind and they feel responsible for it. And the third quality that we know brings people to the Sierra Club is the sense that individuals can make a difference. We’ve done some research, and it turned out there are an awful lot of people who love nature as much as we do. And there are an awful lot of people who felt responsible for it. But the thing that actually was the biggest predictor of whether somebody became one of the 750,000 people I work for was whether or not they thought they could make a difference. And we’d like to have a lot more people who think they can make a difference.
Question: How are the chapters different?
Carl Pope: We have a broad definition of where we’re trying to go, and our local entities need to stick with that. There’s only one Sierra Club. And if you ask a Sierra Club entity in Kansas, and a Sierra Club chapter in Florida what they think about global warming; what they think about nuclear power; what they think about water pollution, you ought to get the same answer. But what they’re doing about it is going to be very different because the actual circumstances of Florida and what works culturally in Kansas is very different. So the way we do our work varies tremendously. And we give our local chapters tremendous freedom to figure out what’s going to work now here in Idaho. Who are the people we need to partner with? If you’re in Ohio, it can be tremendously important to partner with the steel workers. There are very few steel workers in Florida. You’re not gonna partner with the steel workers in Florida. On the other hand there are retired Coast Guard officers, and they may be important as they were in St. Petersburg when we were trying to save a very important bayou . . . _________ Bayou. And there were a bunch of retired Coast Guard officers who used this wild place right in the heart of the city of St. Petersburg. They were a very important part of our campaign to save that place.
Question: How do you build those coalitions?
Carl Pope: I’m not fond of the word “coalition” because that kind of implies a bunch of people who have looked around and tried to find something they could agree on. What I like to do is to find people who really have something important in common with me and then help ‘em. So we prefer the term “partnerships”. Partnerships can be difficult. We’ve never had one that we regretted having tried. We had some that didn’t work. Sometimes there isn’t as much commonality as you think. And sometimes when that happens you end up saying at the end of four to six months, you know something . . . We actually don’t . . . We thought we had a common vision. We thought we could help you, but actually we don’t think we can be useful to you here. But our vision is about providing services to other people and having them, in turn, provide services in helping us. And I don’t think . . . I don’t think it can be counterproductive to try to help somebody do something you think is good.
Recorded on: September 27, 2007.
The Sierra Club's members share the core values of taking responsibility over the environment and making a difference.
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