Editor's Note By Bob Sipchen
"HOW MANY ENVIRONMENTALISTS does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"
Environmentalist: "With disciplined use, a CFL shouldn't need to be replaced in your lifetime—which, to minimize ecological impact, had best be ascetic and brief."
This (very) little joke pokes fun at the stereotype of environmentalists as humorless scolds. Is the image accurate?
Well, I wrap up my first full issue as editor in chief of Sierra a bit surprised at the eco-puritanical e-mails inflicted on writers who strayed from the One True Path to Planetary Salvation—by, say, building (Bill McKibben) what some see as too large an otherwise very green house.
I'm reassured, however, by the battered Vasque boots left by my predecessor, Joan Hamilton. For 12 award-winning years as editor in chief, Joan made sure this magazine reflected readers' joie de vivre. Then she cheerfully hiked off to freelance and smell the wild roses.
I arrived at Sierra in June from the Los Angeles Times, where, among other things, I'd edited the paper's "Outdoors" section and then its "Sunday Opinion" section. Sierra spans both those worlds. Sometimes it's an awkward balance. The Sierra Club's motto is "explore, enjoy, and protect the planet." In each issue we ask readers to wrestle with sobering—some would say depressing—developments while encouraging them to snowshoe to a Vermont B & B or raft Chile's Bio Bio. But even those adventures leave carbon footprints. So ... have things become so grim that self-preservation now precludes pleasure?
A good answer was hinted at by the hundreds of mostly young people who recently stood atop a Salt Lake City parking garage, drinking beer, slopping down BBQ, and raucously cheering as competitors scrambled up a bouldering wall beneath a dazzling desert sky.
That scene unfolded at this summer's Outdoor Retailer conference, an event that crackles with tension between the need to protect and the urge to enjoy and explore.
I wandered this sprawling orgy of product marketing (imagine 100 back-to-back REIs), torn between lust for the newest backpacks, kayaks, bikes, and, yes, hiking boots and vague guilt that such desire implicates me in a thousand eco-sins.
Blessedly, the industry's zealous environmentalism offers some absolution.
In 2003, the Outdoor Industry Association threatened to move its economy-boosting trade show to another state, forcing Utah to do more to safeguard its wilderness. The industry's Conservation Alliance pumps tons of money into campaigns to keep oil rigs off public lands and dismantle bad dams. And long before such group efforts took hold, companies like Patagonia had made planet protection part of their business plan.
This year every bigwig at the trade show wanted to brag about his or her company's ecologically enlightened self-interest. At bars and restaurants, manufacturers— including some of those garage-top revelers—chattered excitedly about ways to reduce packaging and produce products using wind power. And it's hard to witness so much innovation—sleeping pads made from tough bamboo fabric, solar-powered gadget rechargers—without gaining hope that a matured pleasure principle will help humanity reverse the destructive trends this magazine reports.
"We have a hard job," a Conservation Alliance leader told a large group that had gathered over breakfast to discuss environmental initiatives. "I've never seen anything in the rules that says we can't have fun doing it."