Why is the Sierra Club Involved in Politics?

By Al Sattler

Alternate Chapter Rep

Recently, I was asked why the Sierra Club is involved in politics. Many people mainly think of the Sierra Club as doing hikes and other outings. However, it is important to remember that the Sierra Club Mission Statement begins with “To Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the wild places of the earth”. Note the word “Protect”. From its very beginnings, the Sierra Club was set up, implicitly, to do some politics. John Muir and like-minded people founded the Sierra Club “to do good things for Mountains”. John Muir believed in taking people out into nature so they would appreciate it, so they would want to keep it from being destroyed. After all, he took President Teddy Roosevelt camping in Yosemite, to show it off to him and

persuade him that it needed to saved as a park. The Sierra Club has been doing this ever since it was founded in 1892. With our outings, we explore and enjoy the wild places of the Earth. Having knowledge and appreciation of these wild places, people will be motivated to protect them, to work to keep them wild. Very few of the national parks and wilderness areas that we appreciate would have been established without the Sierra Club and many other organizations practicing politics to persuade decision makers. Without political action, the areas of natural beauty where we enjoy hiking and camping, would be bulldozed for mining and oil extraction, or tacky tourist attractions, or high-end vacation second homes.

Since about the 1960s, the Sierra Club has also become involved in issues of air pollution, water pollution, and toxics, and, more recently, global warming.

In addition to work by our volunteer members to persuade, to lobby public officials, it has become helpful, in fact necessary, to also have paid staff to lobby full-time in the halls of our state legislatures and Congress.

Some elected officials repeatedly vote against environmental issues. In order to have more sympathetic elected officials, environmentalists began to run campaigns to defeat the most anti-environmental officeholders and help elect people who care about our environment. In 1970 a group called Environmental Action labeled 12 of the most anti-environmental Congressmen the “Dirty Dozen” and shocked political observers by getting seven voted out of office. After that, many politicians paid more attention to environmental issues. In 1980, the Sierra Club began endorsing some candidates running for public office who were good on environmental issues, and that program has continued and expanded. Current candidates endorsed by the Sierra Club within the Angeles Chapter can be found within the category

To see the voting record of California legislators on Sierra Club priority environmental issues, go to https://www.sierraclub.org/california/report-cards . The California League of Conservation Voters produces a similar environmental scorecard  https://scorecard.ecovote.org/ .https://angeles.sierraclub.org/political_action .

Find many of the issues we are working on in the Angeles Chapter, at https://angeles.sierraclub.org/conservationPick your issue, contact the campaign leader, and help save our planet.

The full Mission Statement of the Sierra Club is:

To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.

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