Building a Stronger Sierra Club
Core values, anchored in equity and justice, can expand the environmental movement
Ramón Cruz is the 51st president of the Sierra Club. | Photo by Carlos E. Rodriguez
For close to a decade, staff and volunteers have been working to transform the Sierra Club into an environmental organization with justice and equity at its core—a transformation that is key to saving the planet. But what does that mean in practice?
It means listening to, and acting on, the moral clarity of those who have been the main victims of environmental crises but don't have seats at the decision-making tables. It involves deepening our understanding of how racism and other systems of oppression fuel environmental harm and recognizing that because the Sierra Club is a well-resourced leader in the environmental movement, the onus is on us to work to dismantle those harms. Above all, a transformation requires that we be responsible allies to those most affected by environmental degradation.
Let me give an example from my own experience. Last year, I joined the Sierra Club's delegation at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland—a.k.a. COP26. We went to Glasgow to advocate for strong climate action to fulfill the Paris Agreement's ambitions and to elevate the voices of our partners in the formerly colonized countries that are most vulnerable in the climate crisis. While Global North countries like the United States and the United Kingdom are responsible for the lion's share of emissions, it's the Global South, such as poorer nations in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, that suffers the most.
The inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and the high cost of attendance at the conference created significant barriers to entry for the Global South. So the Sierra Club's International Program, led by Cherelle Blazer, held a Global Grassroots Leaders Climate Summit ahead of COP26, offering community leaders a platform to communicate directly with US decision-makers. At the conference itself, we leveraged the strength of the Sierra Club community to ensure that global grassroots leaders were represented. As a result of strong advocacy from the Sierra Club and other NGOs, the summit negotiators made meaningful progress toward addressing the climate crisis, though we still have a long way to go.
In 2022, the Sierra Club continues to strive to be a responsible ally in every space we are in. We're teaming up with racial-justice organizations to protect the freedom to vote in the face of nationwide attacks on our democracy. We're partnering with the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe and Latino communities on Texas's Gulf Coast to stop a massive buildout of fracked-gas pipelines and export terminals. These terminals at once threaten our climate and pose unacceptable dangers to the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe and the communities of color where the terminals are slated to be built. And every Sierra Club chapter is working to forge similar connections with local partners.
We will no longer be the influential and enduring environmental organization that we've been if we do not meet global environmental crises head-on and build a cohesive, diverse movement that can prevail over the injustices perpetrated by the fossil fuel industry. We cannot tackle a problem that big alone. We have to share leadership with those organizations based in the communities most exposed to the climate crisis and fossil fuel pollution, which are often low-income communities of color. And we must do it while living our values of collaboration, anti-racism, and justice.
Preparing the Sierra Club to face the challenges that lie ahead will take time, effort, and commitment—and it is imperative. If we transform the Sierra Club into a truly responsible ally, we'll be able to do so much more to slow the climate crisis, protect awe-inspiring public lands, and ensure a safe and healthy environment for all. That's the opportunity this moment presents. Let's seize it.
This article appeared in the Spring quarterly edition with the headline "Core Values."