The Sierra Club’s Broken Moral Compass

January 27, 2013 at 12:05 pm

The Sierra Club took fossil fuel money. Lots of it. How dare it falsely accuse other people of doing this.

sierraclub_dirtyfuels

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Almost exactly a year ago, Time magazine revealed that the Sierra Club had secretly taken

over $25 million in donations from the gas industry, mostly from… Chesapeake Energy – one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S…. [backup link]

Time’s environmental activist reporter, Bryan Walsh, tried his best to spin the story. He portrayed America’s “oldest environmental group” as a passive victim to which embarrassing things just happen.

You see, the Sierra Club doesn’t make strategic decisions with its eyes wide open. Its well-paid executives didn’t calculate, assess, weigh the pros and cons, and then pursue a course of action for which that organization deserves to be held morally answerable.

According to Walsh’s account, the poor little Sierra Club merely sashays through life until one day, quite to its surprise, it “finds itself caught on the horns of [a] dilemma.”

Time magazine made it sound as though the big news was that the Sierra Club had turned its back on an additional $30 million of fossil fuel funding. But the salient issue, of course, is that America’s oldest green group pocketed $25 million from a company whose product it demonizes. $25 million. Between 2007 and 2010.

The Sierra Club’s website has a “Dirty Fuels’ page that portrays fossil fuels as an instrument of the devil. It contains fewer than 250 words of text, but no shortage of colourful language:

  • dangerous climate change
  • climate disaster
  • not an option that would allow our planet and its inhabitants to survive
  • catastrophic climate change [backup link]

That webpage, in turn, invites us to visit DirtyOilSands.org. When surveying the front page there, a pinched and proper Victorian matron comes to mind, voicing moral disgust:

  • Dirty oil
  • Dirty diplomacy
  • The Dirt
  • World’s dirtiest
  • five dirtiest [backup link]

But to return to the Time magazine article, it includes the following:

Though the group ended its relationship with Chesapeake in 2010…the news raises concerns about influence industry may have had on the Sierra Club’s independence…Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director since 2010, told me. “The first rule of advocacy is that you shouldn’t take money from industries and companies you’re trying to change.”

Here we have a case of a reporter equating the environmentalist perspective with the public’s perspective. If you are a loyal Sierra Club supporter yes, the independence of your organization is a concern. But to outsiders, the screamingly obvious problem is that the Sierra Club is morally bankrupt.

It took dirty money. Lots of it. And it has no plans to give that money back.

If you spend your life campaigning against alcohol, you cannot secretly cash cheques from a bourbon distillery. If you want the rest of the world to believe that nuclear power is dangerous, you cannot quietly accept bags of cash from a manufacturer of nuclear reactors.

Once these things come to light your credibility evaporates. The appropriate response from the rest of us is to strike you from the list of people who deserve to be taken the slightest bit seriously.

Four days ago, the Sierra Club’s broken moral compass was once again on prodigious display. CNN broadcast a three-and-a-half minute debate between Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, and Marc Morano, who runs the Climate Depot skeptic blog. A full transcript is available, but here are the essential points:

  • Brune says he doesn’t want to “waste any time on this” because “the science is settled.” He says that wildfires, drought, and Superstorm Sandy are evidence that “Our climate has begun to be destabilized”
  • Morano says that peer-reviewed scientific literature indicates no upward trend in droughts, floods, or hurricanes
  • in response to a question from CNN, Morano acknowledges that CO2 “is rising.” He says that the global temperature has stalled for 16 years and that “the bottom line is we have always had extreme weather”
  • Brune says: “I haven’t met Marc. I’m sure he’s a nice guy. He’s not a climate scientist. He runs a website that’s financed by Chevron and Exxon.” [bold added]
  • Morano interrupts, saying that this is “Absolutely not true.”

Let us stop right there. Morano says his website isn’t funded by Chevron or Exxon. If the Sierra Club has evidence to the contrary, there has been ample time since that CNN broadcast to produce it.

So where is it? If none is available that means the head of the Sierra Club said something patently untrue on national television. There was nothing accidental about this untruth. It was intended to smear Morano, to diminish his credibility with CNN viewers.

In other words, the head of the Sierra Club chose to falsely accuse Morano of behaviour that his organization is, itself, outrageously guilty of. That’s Michael Brune’s idea of debate.

These people have no shame.

Dear Sierra Club. Until you return every last cent of that dirty money, you lack the moral authority to criticize anyone. About anything.
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Entry filed under: big oil, ethical & philosophical, James Hansen, media, money & funding, NGOs. Tags: , , , , , , .

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