Tag Archives: Sierra Club

Big Environmental Groups Play Transactional Politics with Climate Change

thischangesNew Orleans    I’ve read Toronto-based author, researcher, and activist Naomi Klein’s books No Logo and Shock Doctrine with interest. Unquestionably, Klein has established herself as one of the premier corporate critics among the progressive forces, and that’s a good thing. Wading into her latest book, This Changes Everything, in which she addresses climate change, I was finding it boring and pretty much of a slog in the first few chapters, and was debating putting it aside until I got a second wind when I hit the parts where she starts peeling off the clothes of the big environmental emperors like The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and others for being in bed with the oil, gas, coal, and other extraction industries and corporations that are causing much of the climate change catastrophe.

These are the really scary parts in this horror story, when our defenders turn out to be a fifth column for our enemies. Yikes!

The $3 billion Nature Conservancy turns out to have played a shell game with land given it by an oil company near Galveston, Texas for the protection of an endangered bird species. Darned if they didn’t allow drilling of new wells even more threatening to the breeding area of the birds they were sworn to protect and profit from the royalties of the wells while doing so. Furthermore Klein stumbled onto this just checking to make sure that their oft repeated promises to stop doing so had been met to then surprisingly find out that they had just head faked and kept profiting from the drilling they were allowing.

One story after another follows this pattern. The Environmental Defense Fund loudly embraces corporate partnerships and seems to be producing studies for some of the oil companies, while both accepting their million dollar donations, and claiming to be fighting for climate change the entire time. The Sierra Club ends up with a change of leadership when it comes out that they had made a deal with a big energy company.

It’s not just energy companies either. Klein repeats the well-known stories with less painful details than those of us who still bear the scars of how the big environmental groups have cozied up to Walmart, often the global poster child for an environmentally destructive, supply chain business model, claiming not to take their money while feeding hugely at the trough of its foundation and putting family members on their boards.

Without Klein saying so explicitly, this is what happens when transactional politics supplants transformational politics. Though a similar notion of “consensus” organizing as opposed to what they claimed was the conflict organizing practiced by ACORN and other in community organizing has largely fallen off the public radar, as authors connected with Virginia Organizing argued in Social Policy in an lead article called, “Leadership Development is Not a Deliverable,” this “transaction” virus is also infecting a lot of the resource development challenges in community organizing as well.

I can’t say yet how Klein’s book will end, but these couple of chapters where she exposes the contradictions that are hobbling our self-proclaimed protectors in the environmental movement and her equally effective evisceration of the conflicts crippling the notion that billionaires from Richard Branson to Michael Bloomberg to Bill Gates and Tom Steyer will save us as well, is already worth the price of the book on my Kindle reader.


Please enjoy The Decemberists’ Make You Better

and Home Again by the Working Class Band

Thanks to KABF.


Marching for a Climate Change Turning Point

2014-09-21t181449z_242980738_gm1ea9m064l01_rtrmadp_3_usa-climatechange-march.jpg_1718483346New Orleans    The march in New York demanding action on climate change was hard to get a handle on from a distance.  The Associated Press called the number 100,000.  The New York Times studiously avoided ever giving a number in the aftermath of the march, simply saying there were tens of thousands.  Finally, a week later the Times’ editorial page tagged the number at 300,000.  Between police, press, promoters, and regular people, it’s very difficult to get a handle on facts when it comes to organizing, and when we are looking for the heartbeat of a movement, it’s actually not just a question of engineering, but a way to measure passion, so it is actually very important.  So many mainstream institutions and media are so punctilious about not seeming to support protest that it is virtually impossible to benchmark the truth as opposed to the promotion.

            Talking to Dean Hubbard, national director of the Labor Project for the Sierra Club, on Wade’s World on KABF recently, opened up a different perspective.  Dean said they were astounded by the numbers.   They had expected 100,000 in New York City, but instead they thought the numbers had topped 400,000.  We’ll never know.  He argued, perhaps more interestingly, that the wider footprint of the march could be found in the hundreds of cities throughout the USA that did something on that date and the thousands of cities, large and small, that stepped up to the mark globally.

            President Obama seemed to have used some of this energy to argue more aggressively for action, not only in the USA, which as the worst of the worst, has to be a leader here, but also to challenge China to join the fight as the largest bulk polluter even though we are the greatest per capita polluter.  India, the next in line, seems still unwilling to join the fray.

            It’s Dean’s job to argue that the fight between jobs and the environment is finally reaching détente, and he made the case as best he could, and there’s merit to his argument.  His weakest point might have been the fact that there were 10,000 marchers under union banners in New York City, led by some predictable unions like the Service Employees, but also importantly the giant Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electricians, a critical chink in the armor of the construction trades which have been stubbornly resistant to many environmental arguments with a “jobs are everything” and the devil take the hindmost attitude.  Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement that he supported retrofitting all of the buildings in New York City before he personally joined the march, was a key piece of leadership moving the NYC trades.

            Where Dean and the Sierra Club’s case improved was as he recited the increasing amount of alternative energy development that is replacing standard generation methods, and the number of jobs that are, and will be, produced by such construction, energy creation, and distribution.  It seems impossible to argue whether on the threat of climate change or the ticking time bomb of contemporary resource depletion that no matter the math now or the facts on the ground, that the tide of history is now flowing in the direction of Dean’s argument with the opponents cries simply being the gurgles of dinosaurs on their way to extinction, hopefully not bringing the rest of us with them.