Dear Carl

Published July 1, 2000

To: Carl Pope
Executive Director
Sierra Club

Dear Carl:

Sorry to bother you. I know how hard you work raising $50 million a year from the government and others to pay all those lobbyists, lawyers, and PR people who are unselfishly trying to save the world . . . but I have a question.

I’m poised to make a big contribution to the Club for letting us know that Armageddon is at hand because of global warming. I want you to know there is no doubt in my mind about everything you say being true–but before I write the check, I need some help understanding how some other Club policies mesh with this granddaddy of environmental crises.

As I understand it, we humans are turning the planet into a giant microwave by using nasty fossil fuels to heat our homes, fuel our cars, manufacture products, and generally support our lavish, wasteful lifestyles. I’ve read that man-made greenhouse gases account for nearly 3 percent of those gases in the atmosphere.

This huge percentage must be lowered, as any fool can plainly see!

So help me out with this nuclear energy thing.

I know Clubbers oppose nuclear power and must do everything they can to shut this industry down. But the other day some guy told me that nuclear power doesn’t produce any of the greenhouse gas that is killing us all. He claimed one of the main reasons carbon emissions are increasing in the U.S. is because so many nuclear plants are being retired because of political opposition and, of course, no new ones are being built. Do you have any insights for me on this, Carl?

Along those same lines, I was wondering about Club policy favoring tearing down dams. I recognize those dams have destroyed a lot of scenic viewscapes, not to mention what they have done to make life difficult for some fish. Just like you, I would do anything for salmon.

But dams, Carl! Don’t they produce hydroelectric power, which is carbon emission-free energy? Consistency-wise, just so your donors don’t get confused, isn’t hydroelectric power part of the solution to this apocalyptic global warming problem? Or am I missing something?

Then there are those darn forests, God bless them. I know you are on record as opposing any more timber cutting on the vast public forest reserves. And we all that those old-growth forests, chock full of cute little spotted owls, are absolutely critical to the whole ecosystem thing. We can’t mess with anything that sacred! We’ve got to let nature take its course, even if it means a lot of wildfires. It’s simply too important.

But I was reading the other day that when trees burn, they release all kinds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Just how does Club policy with regard to forests integrate with our shared overriding concern about global warming, which is going to melt the icecaps and drown us all?

Please, give me the spin on this one, Carl! I never was sure how much those spotted owls, who damn-near financed the whole movement for a few years, liked your let-the-forest-burn policy anyway.

I guess there must be good smoke and bad smoke. I guess forest fire smoke is natural and therefore good, but the smoke that comes from tailpipes and power plants causes stuff like visibility impairment, regional haze, asthma, and global warming, and thus is really bad.

And speaking of smoke, some people are real curious about why the Club pushed President Clinton to lock up the largest low-sulfur coal deposit in the country in Utah, and why you campaign against looking for new supplies of clean-burning natural gas almost everywhere.

Carl, I really appreciate your taking the time to enlighten a poor, ignorant fossil fuel addict like me. I’ve got my checkbook and pen ready as soon as you straighten me out on these small, annoying details.

I really am eager to support the Club’s work. Why, who would have thought that mere humans could halt species extinction–after all, it’s been going on for about a billion years–and then make climate change illegal to boot?

I hope your boys down in R&D are working on the next big threat to the planet. I’ve been seeing a lot of movies about volcanoes, earthquakes, and asteroids, and let me tell you, they scare the hell out of me. I’m sure we humans must somehow be the cause of these things, and we ought to stop doing it!

If your guys can get a handle on this, I’m sure it will put the Club over the top funding-wise.

Jeffrey P. Harris is executive director of People for the USA.