A rafting trip through the Arctic Refuge (which is on the verge of being opened for drilling). Photo credit Kiliii Yuyan.
President of environmental organization Sierra Club, Loren Blackford, urges us all to get involved in our planet’s future sooner than later.
Interview by Guru Ramanathan.
I’m a mom, wife, tree-hugger, animal lover, vegetarian, who cares about communities. I am board president of the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental group with more than 3.5 million members and supporters in every community in the country. I’m also active with Rachel’s Network, a group of women environmental donors named for Rachel Carson and Ceres, a non-profit that’s moving investors and businesses toward a sustainable economy.
What you do, in your own terms?
Use my time, charitable dollars, investments, political donations, advocacy and networks to help bring about an equitable clean energy transition before it’s too late; try to help save our democracy along the way.
How has your life influenced your activism?
My hippie parents started taking me camping as a baby, so I was hooked from the get go. When I was 10, we became the client family for a college project to build a solar house. While their construction skills weren’t perfect, the students’ passion for the environment and clean energy inspired my life’s path. My husband has asthma so I know the consequences of dirty air.
What is the most dire environmental cause that not enough people are paying attention to?
The climate crisis is the most dire threat to the health and safety of our families, our communities, and our ecosystems. Too few of our elected leaders are paying attention. In the past few months, three major reports have come out detailing the urgency in which we need to act on climate. From superstorms to wildfires, the consequences of climate disruption are here and now and they will only get worse if we do not act to reduce global carbon pollution by transitioning off of fossil fuels. The good news is the clean energy solutions are affordable and accessible right now. That’s why the public, the market, and local governments all over the country are going all in on 100% clean energy.
What are some easy ways to get involved with Sierra Club
Visit addup.org to find an issue you care about whether it be protecting the arctic from drilling, or stopping the keystone XL pipeline, or transitioning your city to 100% clean energy. Go to Sierraclub.org to join a local chapter and work on the most pressing issues in your community or find a trek, paddle or other outdoor adventure locally or abroad. Join TeamSierra.org to have fun and raise funds to protect the planet.
What are some major strategies you have implemented in the past few years that have proven successful in bringing environmental awareness and causing change?
Our volunteer leaders and staff work locally to organize their own communities to come together to bring about change, whether that be shutting down a dangerous pipeline or dirty coal plant, protecting endangered wildlife or public lands, pushing a legislator to support the Green New Deal, or setting our cities on the path to 100% clean, renewable energy. The Sierra Club was built to organize communities, ever since we first mobilized to help develop the National Park system. And it works – when decision makers and elected officials have their friends, neighbors, and constituents in the Sierra Club urging them to do the right thing, it’s much harder to turn their backs.
Blackford at Paris Climate Summit. Photo credit Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Spectral Q
What are names you have paired with to spread environmental awareness and the major results of your partnership?
We work with a handful of companies like Seventh Generation and Patagonia that share our values and goals of protecting wild places and broadening access to them as well as transitioning to 100% clean, renewable energy. And, we work with partners in the entertainment industry like Darren Aronofsky, Shailene Woodley, Yvonne Strahovski, Thomas Middleditch, Olivia Munn and sports stars like Mike Richter who use their social platforms to speak out about protecting our public lands, our clean air and water, and our climate. These partnerships help us reach new audiences and bring more people into our community to help keep up the fight.
Currently watching/reading/listening to:
Beyond the Messy Truth by Van Jones, Journey of the Universe by Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, and Saturday Night Live.
When you’re not working to save the environment, we can find you:
Enjoying nature with friends and family, at the farmers’ market or in my pollinator garden.
What is a simple thing people can do in their lives to make a big difference in saving the environment?
Talk to your elected officials about why you care. Let them know you want clean air and water, a safe climate, and our public lands protected. A quick phone call or email lets them know that their constituents care about the environment and will urge them to vote to keep our families and our communities healthy and safe.
Can you talk about the importance of being able to bring about social impact regardless of the field you are working in?
Every change in this world started when one person decided to take action and then built a movement around them. We know that every voice matters and the Sierra Club is proof that by working together, we can turn one person’s effort into major change. Signing up with an organization that shares your values and your goals amplifies your own power and connects you with those in your community who are also working to make a difference. It all adds up.
Loren Blackford, president of Sierra Club. Photo courtesy of Blackford.
How has the depiction of environmental issues changed in the past decade?
Sadly, the constant barrage of extreme weather, droughts, and wildfires has ensured that the climate crisis is no longer seen as something in the distant future — it’s hurting people, communities and ecosystems right now.
Do you think awareness of environmental issues has increased over the years? And why?
Absolutely. With the consequences of the climate crisis becoming increasingly more visible, people are more aware of the need for action and are more willing to take action themselves. Hybrid and electric cars are becoming increasingly popular, people are putting solar panels on their roofs, and the public is broadly supportive of clean energy and climate action. At the same time, the fossil fuel industry is going all in to create a campaign of deception and misinformation to distract the public – but, together, we can stop that from happening and tackle the challenges to creating a safer, more equitable world.
What does the word “sustainable” mean to you?
Safe, renewing rather than depleting, clean and hopeful.
What message do you have for people who want to become activists?
Do it now! Don’t wait. Find great people to do it with. Have fun. Do it for the long haul, not just the quick fix.
Who is an eco warrior in your life (a person who inspires you, who you look up to)?
I was going to say Jane Goodall or Rachel Carson, but in MY life… I’d have to say my teenage daughter. She cares about marine conservation to the point where she dives with sharks and advocates for their protection… and participates in Dive Against Debris clean-ups. She heads her high school outdoors club and is part of the generation that gives me hope that we can address the climate crisis in time.
How are you an Eco Warrior?
I’m an Eco Warrior when I stand with local indigenous, faith, youth and environmental leaders to block a dirty pipeline in Minnesota or protest the border wall cutting through a butterfly sanctuary, a birding paradise and local communities in South Texas; when I meet with an investment bank’s sustainability director, corporate secretary and general counsel to discuss why Arctic drilling is a bad and risky investment; when I knock on doors for a climate champion and then hold that newly elected politician accountable… and when I talk with Sierra Club activists, the people at my dad’s retirement home or my daughter’s school about about how they are Eco Warriors too.
My mission is…A fair and just transition to a clean energy economy. Access to clean air, water, nature, and politics; good jobs and safe communities for all.