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Inner City Outings: Nature and Decency

January 29, 2013

This guest post by Shavar Thompson originally appeared in the Pennsylvania Chapter's newsletter The Sylvanian.

To say that I remember the exact dates of my active membership with the Harrisburg Inner City Outings program would be lying. To claim I remember every member on every trip would be exaggerating. A lot of time has passed and friendships have become distant to the point that telescopes may be needed to reclaim them, similar to astronomers making sense of familiar patterns in our universe. What I can claim with confidence is the feelings associated with the memories of humbling, motivating, informative, character- building, and spirit enriching trips with folks that I consider family to this day, no matter how far apart our walks of life take us.

Some of my fondest memories of the past are from the heart of Cumberland Courts. It is where I always enjoyed playing my favorite sport (football), where I first encountered lifelong friendships, love, and camaraderie; where wrestling matches and ring-up would last until after the twilight zone came on at night, and where truth or dare ruled the night. Anyone who grew up at Cumberland Courts with me would tell you that its heart is our hearts. And forever imprinted in our hearts will be Messiah Lutheran Church.


For me the church couldn't have become active in our lives in a timelier manner. I was a kid who felt like the world hated me and was desperately looking for direction. And it was delivered. We called the angels of Messiah Lutheran Church "THE CHURCH PEOPLE." Members of the church would come tell us Bible stories and bring enough refreshments to feed the whole complex.

Continue reading "Inner City Outings: Nature and Decency" »

Iowa Activists Push Country Beyond Big Coal Milestone

January 28, 2013

Iowa chapter executive committee

Last week, the Sierra Club and anybody who loves clean air celebrated a milestone after a landmark settlement in Iowa pushed the total amount of coal generation retired since 2010 in the U.S. to more than 50,000 megawatts -- that's like taking the emissions of nearly 40 million cars off the road each year.

There probably wasn't a more fitting place for this to happen than in Iowa, a state where more than a quarter of energy generation comes from renewable wind. The achievement happened after the Sierra Club and Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Energy Company agreed to a deal to phase out seven coal-fired boilers, modernize and clean two boilers, and build a large solar installation at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

"Clean air, clean water, and a booming clean-energy economy are part of an Iowa legacy that I want to leave for my children and grandchildren," says Pam Mackey Taylor, Chapter Energy Chair of the Sierra Club in Iowa. "Coal's days are numbered here in Iowa."

Iowa windMidAmerican's announcement comes after the Sierra Club last year notified the utility of Clean Air Act violations at three plants. The agreement resolved these violations and at the same time brought the total number of coal plants retired or announced to retire since 2010 to 130 plants and 50,717 megawatts, almost one sixth of the nation's entire coal fleet.

In Iowa, MidAmerican Energy is one of two major utilities that power the state. Pam says the company has made major shifts to renewables and this development has put a huge dent in Big Coal's grip in the state.

"MidAmerican is one of the main providers of wind energy in Iowa. We know that they have experience in renewables and they should be able to keep moving in that direction," she says.

The wind energy industry in Iowa accounts for more than 6,000 jobs, according to the Iowa Wind Energy Association.

"When you add turbines, you’re adding jobs. Manufacturing, transmission lines, maintenance work -- these things add jobs."

Congratulations to our Iowa activists for helping move the state, and the country, beyond coal! View our infographic (scroll down) to learn more about this remarkable achievement! 

The Real, Global March for Life

January 25, 2013

By Kim Lovell, Sierra Club Global Population and Environment Program Director


As we finish celebrating a week that brought the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and a renewed commitment from President Obama to tackle climate disruption and women's equality, protesters are gathering in Washington, D.C. for the 40th annual "March for Life."

The rally – which attracts religious leaders, school children bussed in from across the country, and anti-choice activists to voice opposition to abortion access and other reproductive rights – is ironically named. In fact, it’s a departure from the real "march for life" that women and girls all over the world must make to meet their basic needs. Every day, across the world, young girls walk miles to attend secondary school, adolescents risk stigma and violence to walk to a family planning clinic in a neighboring town, and mothers are forced to venture further and further from home to find clean water for their families. Livelihoods and health depend on those ‘marches for life’ -- and they demand immediate global attention.

Increasingly, domestic and international organizations like the Sierra Club are recognizing that these struggles for health and welfare are intricately connected – that a woman's level of access to affordable contraceptives is innately tied to her ability to adapt to a changing climate; that the opportunity to attend school and delay marriage impacts community resource management and economic vitality.

Last summer, at the Rio+20 Earth Summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed this link in her conference address by saying that "to reach our goals in sustainable development, we also have to ensure women's reproductive rights." In other words, healthy families are essential to thriving communities, and a sustainable planet depends on both.

Last week, a group of women diverse in age, race, and background gathered at the National Center for Science Education Conference to discuss the links between gender and climate, and the essential role women play in climate disruption and adaptation. The week before, a panel at the Woodrow Wilson Center highlighted the need to connect family planning with larger development goals on a policy and governance level, specifically enumerating the centrality of reproductive health and rights to sectors like agriculture, climate, and education. A great piece exploring themes from the event is available here.

As we reflect on a week characterized by a celebration of choice, a dedication to tackling climate disruption, and the attempt of some to "march for life," let us not forget the real marches for life made every day by women across the globe. We know the burden of these marches would be lessened by addressing health access, sustainable development, sexual rights, and the impacts of climate disruption in tandem. That would be something worth celebrating.

Club Activist Heading Up Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources

January 23, 2013


Earlier this month, coalition partner and Puerto Rico Sierra Club member Carmen Guerrero Pérez, above and at right below, was nominated and sworn in by newly-elected Governor Alejandro García Padilla as Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

Photo courtesy of Sin Comillas

Pictured above, left to right, Housing Commissioner Rubén Ríos Pagán; Infrastructure Financing Authority Executive Director Grace Santana Balado; Governor García Padilla;  Secretary of Agriculture Myrna Comas Pagán; and Guerrero Pérez. Below, Guerrero Pérez at her swearing-in.


The 39-year-old Guerrero Pérez was key in establishing the Sierra Club's newest—and first Spanish-speaking—chapter in 2005, and she has been a leader in the coalition to protect the island's Northeast Ecological Corridor, long the chapter's highest priority.

Below, one of the wild beaches fringing the Corridor, also known as the NEC. These beaches are critical nesting ground for the endangered leatherback sea turtle—the world's largest sea turtle. For the last eight years the Puerto Rico Sierra Club has hosted the Festival del Tinglar (leatherback festival).

Photo by Luis Villanueva-Cubero

"Carmen and Luis Jorge Rivera, a longtime Sierra Club activist and NEC expert, were the two people who really launched the fight to protect the Corridor," says Puerto Rico Chapter Director Camilla Feibelman.  "Carmen has worked closely with the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust and was a key player in getting the Sierra Club chapter established. I am just so amazingly proud of Carmen."

Carmen-Guerrero-PérezWith her appointment, Guerrero Pérez became just the second woman to head up the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

"Her appointment has been welcomed by people linked to the defense of the environment and the fight to protect the Northeast Ecological Corridor and stop developments like Costa Serena [a massive residential and tourist development that would threaten leatherback nesting grounds and Puerto Rico's largest mangrove forest]," reports the El Nueva Dia newspaper.

Guerrero Pérez said one of her first orders of business as Secretary will be to to develop a project to educate children and youth about responsible management of natural resources.

Among her stated goals are to integrate more communities into the management of protected areas, promote volunteerism of students and other citizens to work with those areas, strengthen the view that natural resources are one of the country's main attractions, and promote educational initiatives on the economic value of green infrastructure, including water resources. "Our mountain forests and aquifers are our water generation plant," she told El Nueva Dia. Guerrero aims to fully implement Puerto Rico's Water Plan and reforest watersheds to protect the island's water resources.

Below, another view of the Northeast Ecological Corridor.


"It's been a long road of building demand to protect the Corridor, building grassroots power and securing governmental support, and taking delivery," says Feibelman. "It feels like a mini-miracle. It's a new day in Puerto Rico: a new governor, new legislators in the Corridor district, a new mayor in Luquillo (the "gateway" town to the Corridor), and now Carmen in Natural Resources—all in favor of protecting the Corridor!"


Louisiana Passes Statewide Energy Efficiency Standard

January 11, 2013


Last month, thanks in large part to three years of hard work by the Sierra Club, Louisiana became the third state in the Southeast to adopt a statewide energy-efficiency standard. The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the new standard by a 3-2 vote.

That's New Orleans-based Sierra Club organizer Jordan Macha, at left above, with Casey DeMoss Roberts, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, celebrating the news.

"One of the greatest ways to save energy or make it cheaper is to conserve," said PSC commissioner Lambert Boissiere III, practically channeling the Sierra Club's energy-efficiency mantra.

"The Sierra Club and our allies, the Alliance for Affordable Energy and the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, really hustled in the days, weeks, and months before the vote to ensure that our commissioners knew Louisiana ratepayers badly wanted this standard," says Macha. "We demonstrated that its passage would save ratepayers money, help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and provide the next piece in the puzzle in creating a comprehensive clean energy policy for Louisiana."

Macha says they also emphasized that this would be a "legacy vote" for commissioner Jimmy Field, who had announced his plans to retire at the end of 2012.

As reported in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the new standard gives electric utilities and natural gas providers about a year to develop programs that will provide incentives to residential and business customers to lower their electricity use, bringing big savings to ratepayers and small businesses statewide.

PSC members hope the state will follow the lead of New Orleans' Energy Smart program, in effect since 2011, which provides in-home energy audits to help find ways customers can make cost-effective energy-saving measures like installing insulation, sealing air leaks, upgrading appliances, and tuning up their air conditioners.

Delta Chapter volunteers, Beyond Coal organizers, and their allies delivered hundreds of petitions and made hundreds of phone calls to PSC commissioners, met one-on-one with each of them, submitted dozens of letters-to-the-editor to newspapers across the state, and earned media coverage that raised public awareness of the issue as the commission's vote approached.

Macha gives a shout-out to Louisiana Beyond Coal organizers Jill Mastrototaro and Andy Wilson, attorney Casey Roberts of the Club's Environmental Law Program, Beyond Coal regional organizer Nachy Kanfer, and Sierra Club associate press secretary Jenna Garland. "All of you are rock stars, and your support over the last three years played a critical role in this victory," Macha says.


Inner City Outings: An Outdoor Education

January 09, 2013


Inner City Outings isn't just an outdoors experience. It’s a learning experience. Just ask Elizabeth Neat, a retired teacher and acting chair of the Los Angeles Inner City Outings program. Inner City Outings gives her the chance to combine her love of kids' enthusiasm with education. So what can bringing a kid to the outdoors do that the classroom can't?

"Two things," she says. "Science books only talk about floodplains and tide pools and things like that. But seeing them in person and seeing the human impact on the environment in person is a completely different experience.

"Secondly, getting outside provides character development. They challenge themselves to go on long hikes away from home and take care of themselves, and that's so important for their development and qualities like determination and accepting other people. ICO has so much to offer along those lines."

The L.A. ICO program is one of 50 ICO groups nationwide that connect thousands of city kids with the beautiful outdoors. In many cases, participating kids are not even aware of the special natural places that are near them. ICO changes all of that and provides accessibility to parks and outdoors experiences.

Continue reading "Inner City Outings: An Outdoor Education" »

"If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look About You"

December 23, 2012

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

So says Michigan's state motto, which has appeared in Latin (Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice) on the Great Seal of the State of Michigan since 1835.

In our final blog post of 2012, we'd like to congratulate the Michigan Sierra Club—which has perhaps done more than any other entity to keep the peninsula pleasant—on its 45th anniversary as a chapter, and the 25th anniversary of the Michigan Wilderness Act, which permanently protected ten parcels totaling 90,000 acres of national forest lands in the state's Upper Peninsula.

Sylvania Wilderness

To commemorate its anniversary, throughout 2012 the chapter held wilderness outings, film screenings, talks, readings, panel discussions, BBQs, potlucks, and hoedowns to celebrate the chapter's accomplishments, share stories, bond over what it means to be part of the Michigan Sierra Club, and gird for the challenges that lie ahead.


The chapter's victories since its creation in 1967—protecting special places, fighting for clean air and water, cleaning up toxic pollution, stopping unnecessary oil and gas drilling, passing comprehensive water-use laws—are far too many to begin listing here. But perhaps none is more meaningful than passage of the Michigan Wilderness Act.

Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness

The Michigan Wilderness Heritage Act, as it is officially called, was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on December 8, 1987, following a bruising ten-year battle during which passage of the act was the top priority of the chapter—then known as the Mackinac (pronounced MAK-in-aw) Chapter. The Straits of Mackinac connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan and separate the state's upper and lower peninsulas.

Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness

This year, the chapter held commemorative celebrations in three areas protected by the act—in May at the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness on Lake Michigan, in July at the lake-studded Sylvania Wilderness near the Wisconsin border, and in August at the Horseshoe Bay Wilderness, just north of the Straits of Mackinac. Each event featured hikes, camping, canoeing, good food, and remembrances by key players in the political drama to protect the wilderness, including present and former Sierra Club leaders and elected officials.

Anne-WoiwodeMichigan Chapter Director Anne Woiwode, at left, who opened the festivities at the Nordhouse Dunes event, honed her organizing and activist chops as a young environmentalist in the decade-long fight to pass the Michigan Wilderness Act. She recalled a recent occasion when her son Pete came back from a camping trip with college friends.

"He was reveling in the beauty of a spectacular wild area between Ludington and Manistee on Lake Michigan," Woiwode said. "My ears pricked up a bit, and when he asked if I'd ever heard of the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness I broke into a big grin. We can ask for nothing better than to have our children enjoy the fruits of our labors without even knowing the fight that went on to protect such a place."

Below, Woiwode with Senator Carl Levin at the Horseshoe Bay Wilderness celebration. (Read Woiwode's account of the fight to pass the Michigan Wilderness Heritage Act.)


Continue reading ""If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look About You"" »

Big Coal's Stocking Is Full of Coal

December 20, 2012


Big Coal is on Santa's naughty list and faces massive opposition in the Pacific Northwest after trying to force through its coal export plan up and down the Washington and Oregon coast. The holiday season has wrapped up what has been a memorable year for the snowballing grassroots opposition that is determined to stop Big Coal in its tracks.

A series of public hearings this past year united people from all walks of life -- doctors, business owners, faith leaders, farmers, conservationists, elected officials, Native American representatives, and even kids -- in opposition to a plan that would allow millions of tons of coal to be hauled through communities along Pacific Northwest rail lines each year en route to the coast. Peabody Coal alone wants to ship 48 million tons of coal each year to East Asia. That would mean a huge surge in coal trains that would clog the railways and leave coal dust on surrounding communities and farms.

Coal .5

The most recent hearing in Seattle last week drew 2,300 people, with nearly everyone in attendance wearing red t-shirts in solidarity against coal trains. The hearing, which concerned a proposed export facility in Cherry Point, took place at the Washington State Convention Center after it was determined that the nearby community college would be too small.

Continue reading "Big Coal's Stocking Is Full of Coal" »

Florida Sierra Club's New 'Net Zero Energy' Digs

December 18, 2012


Florida Sierra Club volunteers and staff joined with elected officials and members of the business community in celebrating the opening of St. Petersburg's first commercial building that produces more energy than it uses. The "net zero energy" office building, located in the historic Grand Central District near downtown St. Pete, is now home to the Florida Sierra Club's new offices.


Florida Chapter Director Frank Jackalone, below, who emceed the day's activities, was joined by Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Club's Beyond Coal campaign, and Lawson LeGate, the Club's eastern regional director, at the December 3 grand opening, which attracted over 100 people and numerous media outlets.


"The ribbon-cutting ceremony was a remarkable event," Hitt said, "bringing the Sierra Club together with three local Chambers of Commerce, St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster, senior executives from manufacturing and engineering giant Bosch, and local business owners." Below, Mayor Foster with Hitt and Jackalone.


Speakers praised the new building as a model for Florida and the nation, describing it as a great boost that will help St. Petersburg distinguish itself as a center for innovation and clean energy. In addition to the Sierra Club's offices, the building will also house two design firms.


Continue reading "Florida Sierra Club's New 'Net Zero Energy' Digs" »

Farewell to a Friend of the Forest

December 17, 2012


Sierra Club leader and passionate forest advocate Jay Halcomb died on December 1 at his home in Guerneville, California, after a long battle with cancer. He was 66. A trained mathematician, linguist, logician, philosopher, and computer scientist, Halcomb was also a forestry expert who sat on the executive committees of the Sierra Club's Sonoma Group and Redwood Chapter and chaired the chapter's Forest Protection Committee. From 2009 until his death he served as chair of the 10,000-member Redwood Chapter.

Halcomb appeared in the Scrapbook blog earlier this year in connection with the pivotal role he and the chapter played in dramatically scaling back logging of old-growth coast redwoods and Douglas fir in the Bohemian Grove, a 2,500-acre property in Sonoma County owned by the elite San Francisco-based Bohemian Club. Halcomb described the Bohemian Grove as "one of the most remarkable remnant stands of old-growth redwood and fir forest within Sonoma County."


We are deeply saddened at Jay's death, but rejoice in knowing that he lived to see a successful conclusion to the fight he waged for the last six years of his life to save the majestic trees from which he drew so much inspiration.

Jay is survived by his wife of 12 years, Francoise Fleuriau-Halcomb, and a cousin, Kimberly Halcomb. A tribute is planned at the Redwood Chapter's Environmental Awards dinner to be held in March in Santa Rosa, Ca.


Jay Robert Halcomb was born in Santa Monica, California, on September 25, 1946. He received a B.A. from Sonoma State University in 1978 and an M.A. from Arizona State University in 1987, both in philosophy. His major areas of study included mathematical logic, theoretical linguistics, philosophy of language, computer science, and the philosophy and foundations of mathematics. He taught logic at the university level and contributed technical articles to journals and symposia on subjects related to formal logic, linguistics, and the interface of these subjects with computer science. From 2002 until his death he was a partner in H&S Information Systems.

Jay's ashes were buried in the middle of a circle of redwood trees in Sebastapol, in Sonoma County not far from Jay and Francoise's home. A Hopi prayer was read at the ceremony:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow;
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Continue reading "Farewell to a Friend of the Forest" »

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