by Marie Dolcini
If you haven't heard by now, you're either just returning
from a two-month Antarctic vacation or have completely given
up on the mainstream media. From the New York Times and all
major TV networks to National Public Radio and Wired
magazine's Web site, the press coverage of the Sierra Club's
youngest president as "hip" and "media-savvy" continues. But
beyond the novelty-focused headlines, what does the election
of this gregarious 23-year-old as the Sierra Club's 46th
president mean for members and activists? At a minimum, it
will boost outreach to a younger constituency.
"If the primary purpose of the Sierra Club is to be
concerned about the future, it seems natural that young
people take responsibility for it," says Adam Werbach. For
him that call came in the second grade when he began
collecting signatures on the Club's "dump James Watt"
campaign. By high school he had founded the now
Sierra Student Coalition. For the past two
years he has served on the Board of Directors while majoring
in political science and cultural studies at Brown
"Ever since the Watt petition, I've been trying to figure
out new ways to get young people involved in the
environmental movement," says Werbach. Today, that means
refuting the 'Generation X' classification of anyone under
30 as disengaged and apathetic.
"You begin by saying to young people, 'You are involved and
you're doing great - your successes have been monumental,'"
says Werbach. "From getting Flipper out of tuna, to calling
key legislators to pass the California Desert Protection Act
- those are things that kids really did."
Besides using new and emerging technology to spread the
Club's conservation message, Werbach wants to reach out "in
the way young people learn" - be it through music, film,
television, fashion or art. "It's not their job to come to
us, it's our job to go to them. If they don't read our books
then we need to go to MTV." And he has. Last month he met
with programmers at the popular music television station to
pitch some of his suggestions for environmental reporting,
including a news-oriented "green minute."
Werbach's goal is to reach out to as-yet untapped allies.
One way of achieving that is to put more Club resources into
environmental justice efforts focusing on the health and
safety of local communities. "The
Sierra Student Coalition
ran a national lead education program that showed inner city
residents how to avoid lead poisoning. We need to continue
to ask how we can be of service on such issues."
At the moment, he is focusing on helping mobilize the Club
for the November elections. "I'll be spending at least half
my time on the road with chapters and groups, working side-
by-side with our tremendous activists around the country,"
While the biggest change in his life since assuming the new
job remains a lack of sleep, Werbach says he looks forward
to meeting and getting to know every Club member and
activist that he can. "I want to hear their stories and
learn what their issues are and how we can work together to
really change the way politics in this country work," he
"And we should show our stories whenever possible," he says.
"If you're working on toxics, introduce reporters to
children with elevated asthma rates. If you're working on
air quality, show them dying trees. Simple stories
resonate. "We need to be a groundswell," Werbach adds. "It's
our job to help show people how their interests are being
subverted and to give them opportunities for change."
Up to Top