Sierra Club Confronts Racist Views of Founder John Muir
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in post on the group's website that "it's time to take down some of our own monuments, starting with some truth-telling about the Sierra Club's early history," according to The Washington Post.
Muir "made derogatory comments about Black people and Indigenous peoples that drew on deeply harmful racist stereotypes, though his views evolved later in his life," Brune wrote, as The New York Times reported. "As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir's words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color who come into contact with the Sierra Club."
Brune tweeted a link to his post, writing "we understand that the struggles to protect people and our environment cannot be separated, and it is our responsibility to use our power to help abolish racism, which is destroying lives and the planet."
The Sierra Club said the recent protests triggered by the May 25 death of George Floyd sparked the reckoning with its founders.
In notes of a trek across a swath of America, Muir wrote down disparaging observations about Native Americans and Black Southerners, according to NPR. In one entry, he referred to a Cherokee dwelling as "the uncouth transitionist ... wigwams of savages," as NPR reported.
Other entries include derogatory comments about a Black child and a Black couple whom Muir encountered, according to the NPR. He also referred to Black people as lazy "Sambos," a particularly offensive slur, as The Associated Press reported.
Muir also held hostile sentiments toward Indigenous tribes in California, many of whom had been displaced by white settlers. He considered them dirty and lazy and a scar on the otherwise picturesque landscape of the Sierra Nevada area, as The New York Times reported.
"There is a dark underside here that will not be erased by just saying Muir was a racist," said Richard White, a Stanford history professor, to The Associated Press. "I would leave Muir's name on things but explain that, as hard as it may be to accept, it is not just Muir who was racist. The way we created the wilderness areas we now rightly prize was racist."
White noted that Muir's image of a pristine landscape could only exist if it was devoid of native people, as The Associated Press reported. Despite the fact that they had lived there for thousands of years, Muir wrote that they "seemed to have no right place in the landscape."
While the Sierra Club now has over 3.5 million members, it started as an exclusive club for white upper and middle class men. The applications of Black people were always turned down, as CNN reported. To right that wrong, Brune announced reforms within the organization. The organization will redesign its leadership structure so "Black, Indigenous, and other leaders of color at the Sierra Club make up the majority of the team making top-level organizational decisions."
Five million dollars of its budget will also be shifted to make investments in the organization's staff of color and on environmental and racial justice work, according to CNN.
"I know that the steps I've outlined above are only the beginnings of what will be a years-long process to reckon with our history, regain trust from the communities we have harmed, and create a diverse and equitable Sierra Club for the 21st century," Brune concluded, as CNN reported.
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For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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