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The Planet
January/February 1999 Volume 6, Number 1

International Programs

Around the World With Hand-Lettered Signs


Alaskan forests, Atlanta-area sprawl, Yellowstone grizzlies . . . but the work of Club volunteers and staff is not strictly domestic. Forests are shrinking, sprawl is blooming and species diversity is plummeting across the globe. So, like our campaigns on the home front, the Club's international programs - trade, human rights and population stabilization - have had a busy and productive year.

Don't Trade Away Our Environment

Where trade is concerned, the Multilateral Agreement on Investments is public enemy No. 1. If it takes effect, foreign investors could sue for any new environmental law that might hurt their profits. Already, Canada has essentially been forced to roll back its ban on the toxic gasoline additive MMT because of similar provisions in NAFTA.

Fortunately, Club activists across the country have jumped into the fray. Marion Harding of Oswego, Ill., has helped generate letters against the MAI from chapter members and the Kendall County Board. Barb McKasson of Makanda, Ill., fired up activists to send over a hundred letters to President Clinton opposing the proposed investment pact. Joan Brasaemle of Akron, Ohio, organized an activist-training workshop to build a statewide campaign opposing the MAI.

The Sierra Club also rallied the environmental community - and campaigned alongside organized labor - in October 1998 to help defeat Fast Track trade legislation. Fast Track is used to speed trade deals, such as NAFTA expansion and the MAI, through Congress without amendment.

The National Pork Producers Council and other agribusiness interests had pushed vigorously for Fast Track - pleading the need to boost exports. Volunteer Hank Graddy refuted their argument in a letter-to-the editor in the Lexington Herald-Leader: "[Factory hog farms] that ship our pork abroad leave a mess behind . . . . If the environmental record of these hog farms is any indicator, Kentucky is literally, well . . . knee-deep in NAFTA." "Next year, the Sierra Club will fight for a new 'right-track' trade policy that protects working families and the environment," said Dan Seligman, Responsible Trade campaign director. "We'll also provide new action kits on a variety of hot trade issues, including a recent attack on our sea turtle protections by the World Trade Organization, the declining safety of our food supply as imports rise and a new wave of invasive forest-pest threats caused by log imports."

Struggle for Freedom

September saw the release of the "Ogoni 20," the Nigerian environmentalists who were arrested with the late Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1994 and have languished in jail for the past four years. The Ogoni had been working to protect their homeland in the Niger Delta from further environmental havoc at the hands of Royal Dutch/Shell."We have a network of over 400 volunteer activists on our Nigeria list," said Stephen Mills, director of the International Program. "Their work organizing rallies, postcard campaigns and pickets has kept the Ogoni issue alive." In another step forward, the United Nations has called for an independent environmental survey of the Nigerian Delta to solve the dispute between the Ogoni and Shell about the destruction there.

Bob Mazelow reported from the Lakeside School in Washington that his class of seniors uses the Ogoni case to learn about conflict resolution. They study the crisis for two weeks, then role play, acting out the parts of Sierra Club members, the Ogoni elders, Shell Oil and the United Nations. "By the end of the class," Mazelow said, "they realize that as consumers they're responsible, because they fuel the demand for oil."

And in October, Alexander Nikitin, who'd been charged with treason and espionage for exposing the environmental hazards of a decrepit fleet of Russian nuclear submarines, got his day in court. A St. Petersburg judge threw out the evidence the prosecutors had collected and sent them back to create their case anew. Nikitin is still under city arrest, however, and may face these charges again.

The Goldman Foundation has given $900,000 each to the Club and Amnesty International. The two organizations will work together over the next three years to protect the human rights of environmentalists worldwide.

Stabilization Gets a Boost

The Club's Population Stabilization Program has made real strides toward raising awareness and passing good legislation.

"But we had to compromise," said Jennifer Kurz, program assistant of the Global Population Stabilization Program. "For example, we wanted all health plans to cover prescription contraceptives, not just plans for federal workers."

(Federal health plans covering prescription medications must now also cover prescription contraceptives.)

The "Mexico City Global Gag Rule," which would have denied funds to facilities in other countries that discuss or perform abortions, was booted out of the final appropriations bill. However, funding for the United Nations Population Fund was eliminated. Domestically, there were some good gains: Title X, which provides family-planning services to low-income women and teens, increased by $12 million. And, in a major victory, a controversial "parental-consent-notification" amendment was kept out of the bill by strong opposition from the Senate, the administration and grassroots family-planning advocates. Virginia Schilz, Population Committee chair for the Austin Group, pointed out that people don't think population is an immediate problem. "We need to show people how population is impacting them here and now."

So the fact sheet she created for the table at Ecology Action's Earth Day event focused on how burgeoning population affects Austin. Rising rents, sprawl, pollution and water quality all make the list as the unhappy results of population growth. "We compared population growth in the world, in the United States, in Texas and in Austin. That really brought it home for people."


Go on to the next article, "The Road Not Funded."


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