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The Planet
The Planet Turns Ten

Planet Turns Ten 1 2 3 4 5

The names change. The tactics change. The plot stays the same.

By John Byrne Barry

I was worried that it might seem too indulgent to devote four of our eight pages to a retrospective of the first ten years of The Planet. But as I looked over the stories we published in our first year—when a brash Newt Gingrich took over Congress and launched what we called "the war on the environment"—I was reminded that sometimes history repeats itself.

And that Gingrich flew too close to the sun and got burned.

Gingrich may be gone, but many of his accomplices are still haunting the halls of Congress as legislators and lobbyists. And Bush administration officials may be using different tactics and spouting different Orwellian phrases, but the story line hasn’t much changed. It’s the same old sludge in fancy new bottles—giving private industry more power to squeeze profit however they can with minimal regard for our air, water, wildlands, and health.

The Sierra Club’s role then, as now, was to expose the reality behind the rhetoric, and to help mobilize an American public that supports environmental values, but isn’t necessarily following the daily doings of the EPA or the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality.

In the summer of 1994, when The Planet published its first issue, George W. Bush, a failed oil company executive and managing partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, was running for governor of Texas. Major league baseball players prepared for a strike that would end the season. OJ pled not guilty to murder charges.

The Sierra Club was just launching its first Web site. We had e-mail, but most of our activists and members didn’t. The Club was struggling financially.

The Planet came into being for several reasons. One was to rein in the myriad publications put out by various issue committees and campaigns; we were drowning in newsletters. We wanted to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of the Club, but also integrate and unify our many tentacles so that we were working in unison, not tangling each other up. We also wanted to save money. But the primary reason was to help re-energize the grassroots activism of the Club.

Ten years later, the Sierra Club has become more grassroots based, working in hundreds of communities, organizing neighbors. Sure, we’re still stalking the halls of Congress, but public education has become a more important part of our mission than lobbying. Of course, The Planet didn’t make this happen, but we did help nudge along the process of change and served as both storyteller and cheerleader along the way.

Following is a series of snapshots, through the lens of The Planet, of Sierra Club stories, and how we’ve shaped, and been shaped by, the environmental politics of the past decade.

More from the Planet's Ten Years...

(Editor’s note: This is far from an objective account. I was among the small crowd of people who developed and brainstormed this new publication; I served as designer from the beginning, and became managing editor in 1995.)

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