The "Fair and Balanced" Sierra Summit

Captain Paul Watson's Report from the Sierra Summit expo (Sept. 8-11, 2005)

Click to here to read an exchange between Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope and Captain Paul Watson.

The 2nd day of the Sierra Summit at the Moscone Center in San Francisco began with an impassioned speech on global warming by former Vice President Al Gore.

Al Gore was an unscheduled speaker at the Summit. He had a previous engagement to speak to a convention of insurance commissioners on the topic of global warming and climate change with an emphasis on the impact of global warming on hurricanes. That event was cancelled because it was scheduled in New Orleans, thus Al came to San Francisco at the invitation of former Sierra Club president Larry Fahn.

The very day before I had urged the Sierra Club Board to make global warming and climate change a priority of the Sierra Club. My request was met with lukewarm enthusiasm at best.

But the medium is indeed the message, and when Al Gore advised the Club to make global warming "the" priority, he was given a standing ovation.

If this leads to making global warming and climate change a priority remains to be seen. Somehow I doubt that it will.

Now I certainly agree with the former vice president, but I am cynical of the fact that his passion comes years after he was in a position to actually do something about the problem.

I heard Al Gore speak at the Earth Summit in Brazil way back in 1992, just a few weeks before his nomination as Clinton's running mate. His speech in 1992 was as passionate as his speech on Friday but for some reason Al Gore's conscience and his passion went into limbo between 1992 and 2000. It looks like he is awakening from his Rip Van Winkle political slumber and has rejoined us all in the reality outside the beltway.

Al usually gives an informative and very well-constructed Power Point presentation on global warming, but unfortunately, he chose to give a political speech to the Sierra Summit peppered with biblical quotes.

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope writing about this, reported that one of the delegates upon hearing the story of how Gore's schedule had been freed up, commented, "this is a God thing."

My response is that this is a scary comment, something that an evangelist would say. The very idea that a god would send a hurricane just to change Al Gore's schedule and to illustrate his message on global warming and to allow him to attend the Sierra Summit is incredible.

The biblical vein to the summit continued on the third day with an address by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. who invoked the creator and said that the wilderness needed to be preserved because of its spiritual value, because Jesus went into the wilderness, because Mohammad and Moses and John the Baptist were inspired to do God's work by their experiences in the wilderness. And of course, Bobby Kennedy is not an advocate of restrictions on human populations and puts into practice the lesson from the Bible that says "go forth and multiply."

Much of the crowd loved the speech, however. If religion gets people fired up about defending the environment, it does not hurt, I suppose. For us deep ecology types however, we prefer our pep rallies in a less anthropocentric vein.

But Bill Maher made up for it all with his no-holds barred, irreverent, and hilarious presentation on Saturday evening.

On the exhibit floor there was a wide presentation of groups and corporate green-washing events. It was a little strange to see a booth sponsored by the United States Marine Corp with a banner proclaiming "Defending America's Resources." No mention anywhere in their exhibit of U.S. Naval LFA testing that kills whales and dolphins or the exemptions given to the military to allow them to ignore the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

There were some excellent exhibits of alternative ecologically-friendly consumer products and lots of emphasis on Honda, Toyota, and Ford hybrid products. For those not in the know, these are three companies with an unblemished record of ecological achievement - NOT!

It's not as if they are halting production of the mega-carbon producing internal combustion driven SUVs they produce. They are still part of the problem, and tossing a few greenie playthings to the eco-crowd appears to have absolved them from being a part of the problem and gives them the appearance of being a part of the solution.

I was especially annoyed with the Sierra Summit Bookstore. I found two books, written by grizzly bear hunters trashing the late grizzly champion Timothy Treadwell. I found Bjorn Lomborg's error-ridden assault on the environmental movement entitled The Cynical Environmentalist.

When my fellow Sierra Club director Doug LaFollette and I confronted the manager of the bookstore, she became defensive and said she had the right to sell whatever she wanted and that Lomborg's book was there to provide a balance and to "present both sides."

Interesting. None of my books were there. I did not see any Ed Abbey, David Suzuki, or Farley Mowat books there. Not a sign of a book by Sierra Club Canada's Executive Director Elizabeth May. Not even Bob Hunter's landmark book on global warming entitled Thermagedden. The Sierra Club's book selection was as "fair and balanced" as Fox News Network giving a forum to anti-environmentalists and completely ignoring and censoring environmental activists.

The presentations were little better. Dave Foreman did get the same time to speak - a half an hour - as the representative from the United States Marine Corp. I did not attend the Marine Corp officer's presentation because well, I guess I just can't handle the truth about the USMC "defending America's resources."

I was unable to attend Dave's presentation because I had to leave on Sunday morning and Dave was scheduled for Sunday. I'm sure he used his half hour as best he could and gave hell to all the usual suspects.

Sierra Club directors like Lisa Force, Doug LaFollette, and myself were denied the opportunity to speak or to moderate a panel discussion in the interests of the "fair and balanced" theme of the summit.

I ran into Alan Kuper on the exhibit floor. Alan is not popular with many Club staffers and old guard because he keeps annoying them by talking about population and immigration issues.

It was only because of Alan that there was a discussion group on population at all and it was slotted into a very inconvenient time slot that attracted only forty people. If Alan had a message from God perhaps there would have been more attendees, but despite the small show, Carl Pope was on hand to police the Club rule that immigration could not be mentioned in the discussion and that only references to fertility would be allowed. Apparently, increases from the womb are a bad thing; increases from immigration are a good thing. Apparently increases from the wombs of immigrants are also a good thing and pregnancy from citizens is a bad thing to be dismissed as nativism.

Which brings me to the peppering of the crowd with purple-shirted environmental justice advocates whose slogan called for environmental justice as the priority of the club. Environmental justice means helping people first, especially people of color and poor people.

This is all very admirable, but the problem that I have with this is simple. Of every charity dollar in the United States, 99 cents goes to "people causes" ranging from curing cancer to feeding the homeless to financing education for illegal immigrants.

The so called "environmental justice" movement is not satisfied with this. They want a chunk of that remaining 1% to be taken away from environmental and conservation causes and given to people who already get the other 99%.

I'm not on the Sierra Club board to help people. There are plenty of people helping people. I'm on the Board to help save wetlands, estuaries, wilderness, endangered species, and to battle global warming, pollution, and human stupidity. All of these pursuits, by the way, benefit people in general enormously.

But the "environmental justice" people don't see it that way. They want funds diverted to helping the homeless displaced by environmental problems and to support the championing of health benefits for workers. I always thought that was what churches and unions were for, and both churches and unions have the money to work on these issues far more effectively than environmental organizations.

I say, "Hey humans, leave us the measly charitable penny to help the non-humans, you greedy bastards."

If the Sierra Club adopts environmental justice as a priority and not global warming, the organization may as well resign from the conservation movement and set up soup kitchens.

At the Sierra Club dinner on Saturday night, my wife and I had the honor of sharing the table along Sierra Club directors Joni Bosh, Barbara Frank, Lisa Force, Jim Doughtery and his wife Gwyn, and Vice President Bernie Zaleha and his wife Veronica. It was a pleasant meal and with much thanks to former director Marcia Hanscom, vegan entries were served and I'm happy to report that four of six directors chose vegan meals.

The main meal of the dinner was salmon and the catering staff were unable to answer the question as to weather the salmon was farm raised or caught from the wild - a choice between poison and diminishment really.

What was remarkable was that back in April, the Board had voted unanimously to request that seafood not be served at the Sierra Club meeting in Nova Scotia.

Yes, do as we do and not as we say, but there were lots of Sierra Foundation people present, and well, they like their meat and fish.

I was alarmed when former Sierra Club President Phil Berry approached me and said that he was happy that I was behaving myself. I have to say that man knows how to deliver a stinging insult. I was crushed. Just kidding. It just meant that I've been overly busy of late with field ocean conservation work and not spending enough time being the in-house critic for the Sierra Club.

This is not to say I don't like the Sierra Club. The truth is that I do. All of my life I have respected and honored both John Muir and David Brower. If not for David Brower, I would never have joined the Club and I would certainly never have run for the board of directors. I like to think of myself as a wee echo of the consciousness of Brower although most Sierra Club staff can't wait until that echo dies away completely into the silence of the mediocre.

And I still see the flames flickering brightly with the grassroots in all the chapters across America, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The Sierra Club's strength has always been at the chapter level and has always been with the chapter activists. For the most part the National office just gets in the way.

But Carl Pope is as wise a strategist as Karl Rove and just as ruthless. From fabricating fake takeovers by non-existent hordes of "boogey-veggie-nativists" to passive aggressively subverting the Sierra Summit, Carl has once again demonstrated that he is the master of bureaucratic survival and the champion of anthropocentric values against the threat of biocentric rebels.

I have only another six months on the Board before the Groundswell Conspiracy sweeps me and a couple of others off the Board to make way for Carl's Stepford Board. Although to be perfectly fair and honest, I do have faith in my fellow Board members to rebel against the papacy and realize that diversity is just as important on the Board as in an eco-system. (Groundswell is the well-funded anti-democratic movement in the Sierra Club to control who gets elected to the Board of Directors).

Lisa Renstrom is a damn good president and the Club should be rightfully proud to have her representing us all as our green commander-in-chief. Vice President Bernie Zaleha is an independent thinker and no one's fool, and I'm confident he is sincere in helping to direct the Club to what should be our priority priorities.

Lisa Force who will join me as we ride into the sunset in April, because we have no hope of being re-elected without being anointed by Groundswell or nominated by the Nominating Committee. The days of petition candidates are over - gone along with the Regional Conservation Committees. We have no place in the brave new Sierra Club where people come first and the rest of nature comes second; where issues like population and immigration impact are banned from discussion; and where conserving the status quo, the bureaucracy, and the executive director's job is the primary conservation ethic.

I'm sorry Phil, I just can't live with the reputation of "behaving myself."

But one thing you must admit, Phil, is that before me, the board elections were so damn boring, no one bothered to vote. During the last two years, the voter turnout has been the biggest in the modern history of the Club, although Groundswell was forced to spend the big bucks to get them out and anoint the chosen candidates. If nothing else, Lisa  Force, Doug LaFollette, Ben Zuckerman, Marcia Hanscom and I helped to kick a little life into the Club. Put a little Muir,  Brower, and Foreman back in the Siesta side of the Club so as to try and reawaken some of that good old-time Sierra spirit when the Club was not afraid to take stands on issues of controversy.

Consider it our contribution. We raised a little hell, had some fun, did a little subverting, made some progress at least in making banquet meals less barbaric, and put you on notice that there are some Sierra Club members who would really, really like to spend some funds on real conservation priorities.

Hey, it's been a hoot.

As for the Sierra Summit: Lisa Renstrom had a great idea and despite the obstacles, a great deal of good came from it, but for the most part the Summit was hijacked by the Pope and his cardinal officers who turned potential into blasé and who controlled the agenda to stifle imagination and controversy.

Oh and by the way - those buses, how much were they? It was only Van Ness, this is the Sierra Club. I mean, we're talking a couple of blocks - we could have walked.

A Positive Declaration from the Pope

In response to this posting (Report from the Sierra Summit) Carl Pope replied with the following:


I'm a little confused by one series of points you raised in your posting on our Summit.

First you suggested that you agreed with the notion of making global warming and energy a top Club priority, and had even raised it at the Board meeting. Then you expressed doubt whether either your suggestion or the results of the Summit would actually make global warming into a Club priority. Then, after describing me as being right up there with Karl Rove in both strategic wisdom and ruthlessness, you assert that I subverted the Summit.

Now it seems to me that any one, or perhaps any two, of these statements might be true. But I'm having trouble swallowing all three at once.

If I manipulated the Summit so ruthlessly, that suggests that I constructed the overwhelming support for global warming by inviting people like Gore and Kennedy, or perhaps in some other way.

But if the outcome of the Summit is going to be ignored by the Club anyway, and I am Karl Rove, that suggests that I must be unhappy with the idea that global warming is going to be a Club priority, and am therefore preparing to thwart the will of the Summit. But if so, why would I have gone to the trouble of manipulating the Summit to get a result I am unhappy with, so that I could then thwart its implementation? (This would require a level of Machiavellianism beyond even Brother Rove.)

Or, if you think I actually wanted Global Warming to be a Club priority, did I manipulate you into suggesting it the day before? And if you were not manipulated, why should we assume the delegates were? Or the Chapters and Groups who came to the same decision earlier in the summer? Or those Directors who were not being persecuted by the Mounties and were thus able to come to Nova Scotia? And if alternatively I, as the master manipulator, wanted Global Warming to be our priority, why would I then thwart its actual implementation, once I got the result I desired?

I'm just having trouble figuring this out, Paul. In fact, my head is spinning.

I replied to Carl with the following:

Dear Carl,

I could explain but before I do let me know one thing. Will Global warming be a Sierra Club priority? If you say yes or at least you are in 100% agreement that it will be, I will apologize profusely to you and retract anything that I said. If you say no, I will elaborate on what I meant concerning the statements you cited.

Paul Watson

Carl Pope then sent me the following reply to the above:

It is my personal view that global warming and energy policy should not only be A Sierra Club priority, they should be THE central Sierra Club policy. I make that statement based on the stunning intersection of two realities: a) objective, external scientific evidence b) the overwhelming consensus among our grass roots stakeholders that this is what they want us to work on.

I personally cannot imagine an argument or a set of considerations that would cause me to say that we should discard these two realities. I don't vote -- the Board does. But when the Board voted in Nova Scotia, they also favored this as our central priority, and now as one of the two Directors who were not able to be in Novia Scotia, you have added your voice. So I think Global Warming and energy will emerge as the new central priority for the Club,a nd I certainly agree 100% it should be.

To which I replied:

Dear Carl,

Thank-you for your answer and I do hereby apologise for suggesting you are opposed to global warming being a priority. I will update and change my report

We really need to have better communications because this is not the message that I was receiving at the summit. I really did get zero feedback on my suggestion to make global warming a priority. I left the meeting with the impression that few were interested. So although I was pleasantly surprised to see the reaction to Gore's speech, I was a little puzzled. As for making it a priority, I do hope we do so soon and it does not take a year of committee meetings and approval processes for it to become a priority.

I don't apologise for comparing you to Karl Rove however. That business of creating an alliance of anti-immigrant and animal rights activists led by me in a hostile takeover of the Club was classic Rove.

I do believe you subverted the Summit. There are many others who agree with me on this. It was watered down considerably - but hey if the majority of directors are happy then that is great.

Politics is politics. You do what you do and I do what I do and I admit the power is with you inside the Club and although I understand and respect this, it is my job to question the bureacracy whenever and wherever I can. I know you understand this Paul Watson

In Summation:

It appears that Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope and the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club are in agreement that Global Warming should be one, if not THE priority of the Sierra Club. The question now is when this will happen? I have nothing personal against Carl Pope. We just have very different views. I am glad that we agree on global warming and I am looking forward to some progress on this issue and some leadership from the Sierra Club.