Sierra Club

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A buncha tree-huggers
Save the rainforests!
Watch that carbon footprint!

The Sierra Club is an environmentalist organization founded by conservationist John Muir in 1892. It is the largest and most influential grassroots organization of its kind with 1.4 million members.[1] Its motto is "explore, enjoy, and protect the planet."

The Sierra Club promotes many environmentalist goals. These include working towards the use of clean, renewable energy instead of coal and oil, battling the effects of climate change, creating resilient habitats for wildlife, and encouraging diversity. The club works to reform current environmental policies to be more friendly to the environment. It encourages and organizes outdoor activities such as hiking that bring people closer to nature.


The Sierra Club was mainly a hiking and outdoor club for much of its history. They still sponsor outings which are major part of the club's activities. John Muir had waged an ultimately unsuccessful fight against Hetch Hetchy Dam being constructed in California's Sierra Nevadas. Muir's vision for a wilderness oriented public lands policy lost out to Gifford Pinchot's and Theodore Roosevelt's multiple-use vision, which ultimately guided U.S. federal lands policy for decades, especially in the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

The Sierra Club's transformation into an environmental activist organization occurred during the 1960s when David Brower was executive director. During the Brower era, the club successfully fought off efforts to build dams in Dinosaur National Monument and the Grand Canyon, but at the expense of a compromise in which they agreed not to oppose a dam in Glen Canyon at the Arizona-Utah border, which Brower and many others in the environmental movement would soon come to regret. The Glen Canyon debacle continued to affect the environmental movement and it, along with the late 1970s RARE II wilderness inventory by the Forest Service (during which the Sierra Club and the other "Big 10" environmental groups requested a modest amount be set aside as protected wilderness, only to see the Forest Service ignore even their modest request) eventually led to the formation of harder-line groups like Friends of the Earth and Earth First!. David Brower himself was removed as executive director in 1969 by the board of directors who felt Brower was guiding the club into too much of an activist role, and soon founded Friends of the Earth. The Sierra Club however has continued to assume an activist role, focusing on influencing legislation, and began endorsing political candidates, starting with Walter Mondale in 1984.

During the 1990s, Brower and others aligned with him returned to club leadership by winning seats on the club's board under the banner of the erstwhile John Muir Sierrans in an attempt to influence club policy toward more no-compromise positions on issues such as endorsing a zero-cut timber policy on federal public lands, endorsing the removal of Glen Canyon Dam, and addressing overpopulation. They were partly successful, but eventually several contentious issues came to a head in the early 2000s, such as whether immigration restriction should be part of the club's population policy, whether the club should endorse animal rights and veganism, and whether they should endorse Ralph Nader or possibly both Nader and Al Gore in a joint endorsement instead of endorsing Al Gore alone in the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign. The club's then-president Carl Pope was opposed on all three, while a faction led by then-board member Paul Watson supported all three. Watson's views lost out after a particularly nasty board election in 2004.

Environmental standing precedent[edit]

The Sierra Club is famous for helping set the precedent in the United States Supreme Court on environmental standing. Sierra Club v. Morton established that in a natural resources case an environmental group just needs to find one of their members who had a particular outdoorsy interest ruined by a defendant in order to have standing.

External links[edit]