The Sierra Club at Your Door
Knock knock. Who's there? Larry Fahn, president for the board of directors for the Sierra Club. Larry Fahn, president of the board of directors for the Sierra Club who? Larry Fahn, president of the board of directors for the Sierra Club who wants you to vote for John Kerry in November.
OK, so that's not very funny. But then, Fahn's not exactly joking either. The Sierra Club has been increasingly involved with presidential campaigns since the '80s, and this time they're more engaged then ever before, participating in "retail politics" like phone banking and knocking on doors, Fahn says.
He visited Columbus last Saturday to deliver a speech at Goodale Park and join volunteers going door-to-door in the Short North/Victorian Village area to let voters know that George W. Bush is anything but a conservative (compassionate or otherwise) when it comes to the environment, while Kerry received a 92-percent lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters.
I spoke with Fahn on the phone about the Sierra Club's view of the race.
OK, so say you just knocked on my door. What's your pitch?
We're just making sure people are registered to vote, then we're telling them about the various environmental policies impacting their communities, making sure they know, for example, that Ohio has seen a 10-percent increase in emissions at a time when we have the technology to reduce emissions.
And we're going to be talking to them about energy. You have a situation where we could triple the gas mileage of all our cars and trucks if we wanted. We have the technology to do that. But the Bush administration's chief of staff [Andrew Card] is the former [CEO of] the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, and that administration has been fighting every effort to improve fuel efficiency. Instead they're trying to open up public lands, fragile areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling, instead of conserving by using technology to build more hybrid vehicles.
Why has the Sierra Club become so involved in this election?
Primarily because we have an administration in Washington that is the most environmentally destructive since our country was founded. There's no question. Every president going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt has helped protect the environment by setting aside public lands, parks, wilderness areas, national landmarks, antiquities. Every single president, Republican and Democrat.
And this president has not only not protected any new public lands, but he has removed from protection hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands, like the Rocky Mountain Front in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and New Mexico, and just all over the country, with loosening of drilling restrictions and increasing public forestry timber cutting on public lands and so forth. The contrast between that record and the record of Senator Kerry is just so dramatic – it's more dramatic than any election in history.
What's been this administration's worst move on the environment in the past four years?
Oh, there are so many. It's hard to choose – the rollback of the road-less policy, which will be increasing the building of roads into national forests, and then increasing timber harvesting and calling it the "Healthy Forest" initiative and making it sound like they're doing it in order to protect communities from fire.
The air rollback is probably the other worst one. They rolled back a whole host of new rules that would clean up the air. And they call it a "Clear Skies Initiative." They use nice-sounding words to mask the fact that it's very, very environmentally destructive.
I've heard it said that administrations are most dangerous in their second terms, when they don't have to worry about re-election.
Oh, absolutely, if they've done all this in the first term...
Do you think there's any chance that maybe Bush will win in November and say, "OK, the last election's behind me now so I don't have to answer to lobbyists anymore. Now I can start doing the right thing and protecting the environment?
Frankly, I think the lobbyists that have been controlling him are his friends. He and his vice president both came out of the oil industry, and that's their mindset, explore and exploit. They say, "Let's explore for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Let's explore for more oil and gas in the Rocky Mountain Front. In our coastline areas. In the Otero Mesa of New Mexico. Let's explore or exploit everywhere we can."
We're trying to say, "No, let's explore tripling the gas mileage of our cars and trucks so we don't need to drill in these areas. Let's explore using more wind energy and solar energy." We could do so much on energy if we exploited solar and wind energies, which are renewable, and they've done nothing, nothing on that.
And Kerry's record is very much in favor of alternative energy and he's always been talking about using technology to increase efficiency, increase conservation and reduce our dependence on Saudi oil.
I know a lot of people who want Bush out but question whether Kerry's really that different from him. When it comes to the environment, if you take Bush off the table as someone to compare him to, do you think Kerry still looks good?
Oh, he was the best of all the Democrats. He has an outstanding record on energy, on pollution, on environmental justice, regulatory reform, a whole host of issues.
The environment is consistently cited as a major concern among voters, but politicians don't seem to talk about it as much as other issues. Why is there this sort of disconnect?
Well, it depends on where you're from. I think we're hearing about it more and more. Obviously the war, and the war on terrorism and 9/11 and all of that is much more dramatic. The environment is more of a long-term, esoteric concept that people care about, but it's not immediate, generally. These emission levels get worse over many years until it's too late and your kids are getting asthma.
But we've heard Kerry talk about it; we've heard John Edwards talk about it. They're talking about many of these issues like global warming, about hybrid technologies. They're talking about reducing our dependence on foreign oil by conservation and renewable energy.
And there's also, of course, the big issue of trade, and how this Bush administration has been pushing a so-called "free trade" agenda which is exporting jobs overseas and reducing environmental standards both here and around the world.
John Kerry also supports free trade.
Well yes, but he's calling for all trade agreements to include very tough labor and environmental standards that the Bush administration has walked away from.
With the foreign policy issues you mentioned dominating people's attention, it seems like it's been harder for advocacy groups to grab the public's or media's attention. What have you been doing to break through?
No doubt about it, after 9/11 we were off everyone's radar screen for close to two years. But we started using the analogy that if you care for America, you need to care for America. And that is, go to a public place, go to a national park, go to a stream, do something with your family. Bush called for going shopping, if you remember.
The great conservationists – many of them were Republicans in the early days, like Teddy Roosevelt, who saved more land than anyone else. We would like to see the word "conserve" be back in the Republicans' conservative message.
That's why I'm also going to the Republican [National] Convention. We are non-partisan. We have endorsed some Republicans. We love the Republicans who embrace environmental ethics and environmental protection as a policy. There are fewer of them all the time, which is kind of a sad commentary.