Sierra Club looks with hope to new century

Statement of Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope

provided by Sierra Club


ne of the most profound changes that has occurred in the 20th century has been the inception and blossoming of the environmental movement. Protecting clean air, clean water and the beautiful places that inspire us has grown from an idea in the minds of pioneers like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt to become a guiding ethic for our society.

During the past 100 years, Americans have made much progress protecting our environment, but nature has also been destroyed on an astonishing scale. Fortunately, although much has been lost, the coming century presents us with many more opportunities to protect our world. And if we take responsibility and seize those opportunities, we can remedy some of the destruction that's been wrought, and we can protect some of the wonders God created.

We live in a world of marvelous beauty. As Sierra Club founder John Muir wrote at the beginning of this century, "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike." All Americans can take pride that our nation has protected many of our beautiful, inspiring landscapes. And because they are protected as National Parks and Wilderness Areas, all Americans can explore and enjoy those lands. By working together, we Americans can save the remaining wild places that are threatened by logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, off-road vehicles and other destructive activities. And by strengthening environmental standards, we can reduce pollution so children at the end of the 21st century will breathe clean air and drink from clear streams.

A look at environmental champions and milestones from the 20th century:


Twelve top environmental champions of the 20th century



  • John Muir, Sierra Club founder
  • Theodore Roosevelt, US President
  • Aldo Leopold, author, Sand County Almanac, advocate of conserving our wild lands
  • Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author, The Everglades: River of Grass, Everglades conservationist
  • Rachel Carson, author, Slent Spring, advocate for addressing the threat of pollution
  • Margaret Sanger, family planning pioneer
  • David Brower, American environmental defender
  • Mardy Murie, Wilderness conservationist
  • Jacques Cousteau, Oceanographer and filmmaker
  • Lois Gibbs, Love Canal housewife and activist
  • Chico Mendes, Brazilian environmental defender
  • Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nigerian environmental defender


Ten most important environmental images of the 20th century



  • Apollo picture of Earth
  • Crying Indian public service announcement against litter
  • Cuyahoga River on fire
  • Chernobyl meltdown
  • Exxon Valdez oil spill and oil-soaked otters and seabirds
  • Sierra Club founder John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt standing in Yosemite
  • Greenpeace's Save the Whales banner
  • Satellite photo of Brazilian rainforest burning
  • Three-arrow recycling symbol
  • Ansel Adams' photo of Yosemite Valley in winter


Twelve top environmental victories of the 20th century



  • Protecting over 100 million acres of federal Wilderness; over 100 million acres of Alaska in 1980 as new parks, wilderness areas and refuges; and over 80 million acres as National Parks.
  • Banning DDT, lead in gasoline, and other harmful toxic pollution.
  • Adopting national and international programs to protect and recover endangered species.
  • Starting the process of dismantling environmentally destructive dams.
  • Requiring all federal actions to be considered for their environmental consequences.
  • Cleaning up America's air, which, for example, has reduced the number of days Los Angeles residents breathe dirty air by 75 percent.
  • Cleaning up two-thirds of America's rivers and lakes.
  • Placing Antarctica off-limits to commercial exploitation.
  • Adopting an international ban on commercial whaling.
  • Passing the Montreal Protocol to ban chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
  • Halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  • Exporting the National Park idea to every continent and major nation.


Eight inventions that make American life worse (published in January/February Sierra Magazine, page 48):



  • Genetically Modified Crops -- Genetically altered foods already rear their heads in all-American staples such as Coca-Cola and breakfast cereals. The health consequences to humans are unknown, but genetically modified crops are already having the unintentional effect of killing monarch butterfly larvae.
  • Styrofoam -- Non-biodegradable packaging adds bulk to our bulging landfills, and will languish for centuries.
  • Jet Skis -- The engines on these noisy polluters pump up to a quarter of their fuel directly into our water.
  • Remote Control -- The remote sent attention spans into free-fall, and created a nation of "couch potatoes."
  • Leaf Blowers -- Why burn fossil fuels when a rake gives you exercise and brings neighbors together to talk?
  • Sport-utility Vehicles -- Guzzling gas more than three times as fast than many cars, huge SUVs spew tons of global warming pollution.
  • Factory Farms -- Factory farms generate massive amounts of pollution, which too often flows untreated into nearby streams. Livestock manure has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states, and groundwater in 17 states.
  • ft Money -- The "soft money" loophole in election laws allow rporations to donate unlimited sums to political parties, wielding undue influence that tilts the balance of power toward polluters.


Five bold ideas for the next century (detailed in January/February Sierra Magazine, page 54)


  • Protect 100 million acres of additional American wilderness.
  • End commercial logging in our National Forests.
  • Remove dams to restore free-flowing rivers and aid fish recovery efforts.
  • Phase out poisons such as mercury, dioxin and PCBs.
  • Halt sprawl by aiding urban areas.