The Sierra Club’s mission statement reads as followed:
To explore, enjoy and protect the planet. To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; 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 those objectives.
As an environmental organization, the Sierra Club has done great things since John Muir founded it in 1892 and has been an integral force in guiding policy and environmental stewardship. Unfortunately, over the course of this presidential election cycle, the club has reduced itself to an arm of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and by doing so has neutered itself from holding their preferred candidate accountable.
The convenient argument for the Sierra Club’s boosting is that Donald Trump would be infinitely worse for the environment than Clinton. Ben Cushing, a Digital Organizer for the Sierra Club, in fact illustrated this point to me on Twitter.
The problem with this argument, and the basis to his response, is that if their role were to simply promote the best political option for the environment, they would have endorsed Bernie Sanders during the primary or even Jill Stein in the general. They instead waited until the conclusion of the primary to endorse the weaker candidate.
According to the League of Conservation Voters, who also endorsed Clinton (though it was the Board of Directors who did so, not the league as a whole) ranks Clinton’s environmental voting record at 82%, a B-. Bernie Sanders lifetime score is 95% and 100% in 2015.
For the Sierra Club to posit that Clinton is the best candidate for the environment simply because Donald Trump is a disastrous one who claims climate change is a hoax is a ridiculous notion and use of their influence. No one could claim the Sierra Club would prefer Trump to Clinton.
Using their platform to herald Clinton over Trump disarms the club from scrutinizing Clinton’s own record and platform. By reducing their platform to opine on a binary decision between two politicians, they are unable to call for a carbon tax (which Clinton doesn’t support), demand she condemn the Dakota Access Pipeline (which she hasn’t), urge her to ban fracking, which along with coal, she promoted widely across the world as secretary of State as a geopolitical strategy to challenge Russian influence or ask her to account for why she’s hauled in more cash from the fossil fuel industry than Trump.
Instead, Sierra Club’s Twitter account sycophantically parrots Clinton talking point in a series of retweets and favorable links.
A recent Princeton and Northwest University study discovered that the US government overwhelmingly represents the rich and powerful over the broader majority of society. Nowhere is this more evident at this very moment than the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where thousands of indigenous people are protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Not only is a corporation able to claim imminent domain and bulldoze sacred sites for their oil pipeline, they’ve attacked the protectors with pepper spray and dogs while the government observed idly. President Obama feigned ignorance when asked by a young Malaysian woman in Laos about the pipeline and protests. On Friday the DOJ took a positive step after weeks of activism and risk on the part of the protectors and ordered a temporary halt on construction.
As environmentalist Naomi Klein pointed out earlier this year, Hillary Clinton’s worldview is shaped by the rich and powerful, exemplified by her paid speeches, her foundation receiving millions from nefarious corporations and governments and her summer schedule comprised almost exclusively of lavish donor gatherings. It is also why she can tweet something like the last one referenced here and yet safely avoid addressing the Dakota Access Pipeline which places significant risk on Standing Rock’s water supply.
It is the Sierra Club’s responsibility to make plain that corporations are destroying our environment. It is their role, as an apolitical organization to push our leaders for the best possible policies for our environment. It’s their job to demand better, regardless of partisanship or political feasibility. It is their duty to hold the powerful accountable, for nothing is wrestled from the hands of the elite without a fight. Instead they’ve said, “Good enough.” And in this election, good enough is better than Donald Trump, an embarrassingly low bar.
Instead it’s organizations like Bill McKibben’s 350.org which has been a constant force this election, on the rope lines holding candidates accountable and demanding they take further and further steps to be climate champions, not corporate ones. This is the action we need to demand representation in a government, which courts the powerful, the destructive and the rich. This is the action we need to save some semblance of our natural world.