“Anger is what got me involved with the Sierra Club,” says Loyd Cortez, whose easygoing nature makes a decidedly un-angry first impression. “The city of San Antonio wanted to cut down a lot of trees on undeveloped land and build a golf course on top of our local aquifer. Most citizens were against it, but the only way to legally fight the re-zoning was to get 70,000 petitions and put it on the ballot.”
Cortez at first expected only to sign the petition. But when no one in his part of town volunteered to collect signatures, he stepped up. “I set up a table at the P.O. and gathered signatures for 3-4 hours a day. All told, we got 100,000. But the city council exploited a legal loophole—a technicality on the wording of the ballot initiative—and approved the golf course. That really ticked me off. That’s when I joined the Sierra Club.”
A retired mainframe computer programmer, Cortez soon found himself speaking in public on water quality and zoning issues. When the Alamo Group chair heard him speak, he asked Cortez to run for the Alamo Group excom, which he did—successfully. He now serves as group vice chair, membership chair, and webmaster.
“My goal is to raise awareness,” Cortez says. “I tell people if they want to make a difference they should join the Sierra Club and sign up for action alerts. One person standing in front of his city council won’t have much impact. But if 1,000 people sign on, elected officials will listen.”
Cortez enjoys traveling to Austin for the restaurants, cafes, and the nightlife. In San Antonio, he hops on his motorcycle to get around. “It gets 45 mpg,” he winks. “It’s hard to beat for fuel economy.”
When avid birder Christine Williamson returned to her hometown of Chicago in 1988 after several years in England, she was struck by how many dead and injured birds she found as she walked around the Loop. Turns out the main culprit was the Windy City’s famous thicket of high-rises. A financial reporter by trade, Williamson devotes much of her volunteer energy to ameliorating the problem.
“One thing we can do is make glass in high-rises less reflective by etching it with patterns,” she explains. “Another is to get the lights turned out. Songbirds travel at night and they’re attracted to light, especially on cloudy nights. Even if they don’t slam into the glass they’ll flutter against it all night and fall to the ground dead or exhausted. The city has been very responsive, and for the last three years they’ve done a good job of turning lights out during spring and fall migrations.”
Williamson applauds Mayor Richard Daley for converting an old airport terminal to a bird hospital, where a triage center has been set up. “Janitors are often the ones who find the injured birds,” she says. “They put them in their shirt pockets and then gently pull them out for us. There’s one janitor I know whose shirt pocket is always moving because there’s a little bird inside.”
Williamson, who met her husband at a bird club, says nearly every vacation or business trip they take involves birding. “We go to Duluth in January and Arizona in August,” she laughs. “We were in Peru this summer, and the highlight was spotting a Peruvian flicker atop an ancient Incan storehouse at Machu Picchu. Our Indian guide almost danced for joy when we showed him a Peruvian white-throated hawk through our binoculars. He was so proud for his country.”
This summer, An Inconvenient Truth did surprisingly well in red states. Some credit for that should go to Erica Langenbahn, who urged her younger brother to see the film, and he liked it. So did her mother, her sister, her sister’s boyfriend, and a friend of her brother.
Langenbahn works hard to engage people in environmental issues. To keep members involved and attract new ones, she helps organize Sierra Club & Beer get-togethers and has started a Sierra Club & Bowling program. “I wish more people would get involved,” she says. “Either enjoying outings or contributing whatever special talents they have to help the Club and the environment.” She joined the Club about a year ago; six months later, she was on the group excom. Now she’s group membership chair, outings chair, newsletter editor, and the chapter’s vice-chair for membership.
Langenbahn works as a field chemist with hazardous chemical waste, and wants to get a master’s in environmental science and a juris doctorate in environmental law; her goal is to reduce what goes into landfills and promote better chemical recovery and recycling. She’s even gotten her office to recycle, pointing out, “We take care of chemical waste, why don’t we recycle?”
She believes the Club can educate people in many ways, such as taking them on hikes into forests that might be sold off for development. “Open their eyes,” she says, “If you can get that education out there, then hopefully we have a better chance.” Langenbahn is still working on her father. While they are both Republicans, she says her father is “hard-core” and likes Rush Limbaugh. “I try to say little tiny things to make him think.” For years, when changing the oil in their cars, her father dumped the oil right onto the ground. But after some convincing, he now takes the oil to a recycling center.
—Tom Valtin and Timothy Lesle
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