Greenwash Of The Week: Sierra Club & The Natural Gas Industry.


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An energy company CEO has been touring the country w/ Sierra Club’s Carl Pope pushing the benefits of natural gas – does that sound like something that the head of an environmental organization should be doing? Not to me. I have written before about why I no longer support the Sierra Club, but after reading this article at Common Dreams about how they are now touting natural gas with an energy company, well…seems the entire industry is now greenwashing with the help of environmentalists.

More recently, according to the Wall Street Journal, Chesapeake’s chief executive, Aubrey McClendon, has been touring the country alongside the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope trumpeting the benefits of natural gas. Its biggest selling point is that it burns cleaner than coal and oil, though the impact of extracting it from deep shale formations is highly controversial. It also requires the use of large amounts of diesel fuel to keep compressors and other machinery operating 24/7. Responding to criticism from local affiliates, particularly in New York and Pennsylvania, Pope asked, “Will the 20% of the membership that happens to live in places where drilling is happening be unhappy? I’m sure that’s true.” So much for grassroots organizing.

However, some people (myself included, of course) would beg to differ with Mr. Pope that only 20% would care:

Dr. Theo Coburn of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) has compiled what is probably the most comprehensive list of both drilling and fracturing chemicals based in part on samples from a well in Park County, Wyoming where a breach in surface casing released drilling fluids in 2006. They have uncovered 435 fracturing products that contain 344 chemicals including ammonium nitrate, ethanol, methane, and diesel. According to the TEDX Web site, “As natural gas production rapidly increases across the U.S., its associated pollution has reached the stage where it is contaminating essential life support systems – water, air, and soil – and causing harm to the health of humans, wildlife, domestic animals, and vegetation.”

Yep, seems like a safe thing for an environmentalist to be pushing for. What’s next – The Sierra Club sponsors mountain top removal hiking day trips? Come on, we can do better than actually doing the greenwashing for these polluting companies!

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  1. I’ve been a Sierra Club member for almost 30 years. I joined because of John Muir’s inspiring exhortation to get people into the wilderness, have them fall in love with it so that they would fight to save it. I’ve led over 26 backpacking and hiking trips (as a volunteer) in the Sierra Nevada, Hawaii, Ireland and England in order to make people more aware of specific environmental issues and to encourage them to join the fight. It never occurred to me that I would be battling the president of the Club, who was supposed to be leading us all into the fray. I remain a member IN SPITE OF Carl Pope and his pimping of the Sierra Club name and reputation. Every time I see a bottle of Clorox “green” with a Sierra Club endorsement I am sick to my stomach. Pope’s behavior is unethical AND antithetical to the very heart of this environmental organization. Sigh.

  2. I totally agree Michael – it often seems like there isn’t anywhere we can escape the “big guys”. But we can, if we look hard enough. Just a shame to see a once great enviro-org go down the tubes like this. I won’t support them as I don’t want my money going to the stuff they are involved in now!

  3. I suspect this is an example of an organization that is suffering from the economic downturn. They have two choices, downsize and survive – or – take on a benefactor and continue to try to do more good than harm.

    The trouble of course is that by taking door number 2, as the Sierra Club has done, and sucking up to big business, you come out on the other end with compromised values and a tarnished reputation.

    The real question for all of us is… are we all doing something similar when we shop big box stores and feed the giant corporate machines?

    I think this is the underlying problem of our civilization. Do we feed the big guys or each other? If we don’t downsize everything aren’t we essentially voting with our wallets for the big guys to continue to dominate. Doesn’t that tarnish our reputation and compromise our values?

    So… back the The Sierra Club… The Sierra Club is probably a lost cause (sob), for now. But there are many other small local businesses and non-profits still out there that could use our support.

  4. Its sick and wrong. period.
    The Sierra Club took a serious wrong turn when they decided to join forces with the PIRGS (who I used to work with) in the late 90’s. After that, its all been politics and partisanship.
    Fuck them.
    They do not carry John Muir’s pristine sensibilities any longer.
    And will not ever get one cent from my hard-earned cash.

  5. I agree with all the commenters that lament the loss of what the the Sierra Club used to be. It has been a long time since it was the grassroots environmental organization inspried by John Muir and wilderness, but sad all the same.

  6. I left the Sierra Club long ago when their focus and mine changed. In a nutshell, I wanted my donations spent on protecting the wilderness and they had other priorities. Oh well. Not long ago, I made the mistake of giving them a few bucks. BIG mistake. They will get your phone number somewhere and give it to a telemarketing group who will call you several times a day and never take “no, I don’t want to renew my membership – go away” for an answer. It’s sad what they have become. Guess I should have known better when their donations were no longer tax deductible.

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