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For three years, the nation’s most prominent environmental organization has been ruminating about its past and future. Like many other American institutions, the Sierra Club was convulsed by the 2020 murder of George Floyd, beset by painful questions about its mission and history, including whether its founder, John Muir, was biased against people of color.
Now, the organization is trying to emerge from other side of that appraisal. It has named Ben Jealous, a civil rights activist, author, investor and nonprofit leader as its new executive director.
Mr. Jealous, 50, chief executive of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 2008 to 2013, is the first person of color to lead the Sierra Club.
With more than $149 million in annual contributions, hundreds of employees, more than a million members and supporters, and 64 chapters around the country, the Sierra Club is the giant sequoia of the conservation movement — impossible to ignore, and at the center of an expansive ecosystem of activists, nonprofit organizations and grass roots campaigns.
But the murder of Mr. Floyd and subsequent protests around the nation shook the foundation of the institution. Its executive director wrote that the Sierra Club had played a “substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy.” The blog post was an effort to acknowledge the group’s failings, but it drew a public rebuke from some board members and sparked a fierce internal fight.
That same summer, a Sierra Club employee claimed to have been raped by a former senior employee who was still volunteering for the organization, prompting investigations into other accusations of abuse as the #MeToo movement continued.
And, in 2021, an internal report documented a toxic culture where bad behavior was tolerated and accountability was lacking. Weeks later, the executive director resigned and a board member took over public leadership duties, leaving the Sierra Club rudderless during the first year of the Biden presidency, as climate change became a central political issue.
“There’s been a moment of reckoning that was important for the Sierra Club,” Mr. Jealous said. “Reckonings are hard, and I’ve never seen anybody really do it right. There’s a lot of pent-up emotion, and it all comes out.”
Mr. Jealous said he hoped to harness that energy, getting the Sierra Club more engaged with environmental issues affecting minority communities, and finding ways to bring more Black people, Hispanics and Asians into the environmental movement.
His appointment comes after a nearly yearlong search. He joined the Sierra Club after two years as president of People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy group.
“He outshined and out-sparkled all of the other people we interviewed,” said Rita Harris, a Sierra Club board member who was involved in the search. “He definitely appears to be the person we need right now.”
John Muir, the Sierra Club’s founder. Credit…Library of Congress
Mr. Jealous, a Rhodes scholar who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Maryland in 2018, said his qualifications for the job go well beyond being a civil-rights leader and that he has always been an environmentalist.
Growing up in Northern California, Mr. Jealous said that his “earliest memories include sleeping inside of redwood trees.” His parents took him hiking in Yosemite National Park twice a year, and the Sierra Club magazine was always lying around the house.
At nine years old, Mr. Jealous said he became the youngest-ever docent at his local natural history museum. And as a teenager, he served as a tour guide at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
He continued to work on environmental issues as a young professional. At the Public Interest Research Group, an organization founded by Ralph Nader, he helped launch Green Corps, a program that gave recent college graduates exposure to grass roots activism. And at the N.A.A.C.P., he launched a climate justice program, an effort focused on environmental issues affecting Black communities.
“I’m the first Sierra Club executive director in a while to grow up in a redwood forest in Northern California, to sleep under them,” he said.
But as Mr. Jealous prepares to embark on a listening tour during his first months on the job, he is likely to hear from staffers still working through a difficult few years for the organization.
The summer of 2020, with Covid raging and protests erupting in the streets of American cities, a national conversation about systemic racism was in full swing. A parade of high profile corporations, universities and nonprofit organizations were caught up in public squabbles as staff, consumers and critics piled on.
Yet even during that period of unrest, what unfolded at the Sierra Club stood out.
Michael Brune, the group’s longtime executive director, wrote a blog post titled “Pulling Down Our Monuments.” In it, he disavowed Mr. Muir, who founded the club in 1892 and is credited with preserving Yosemite as a national park and starting the American environmental movement. But in some of his writings, Mr. Muir characterized Black Americans and Native Americans as dirty and lazy. He also was friendly with some early club members who were white supremacists and who promoted eugenics.
The Sierra Club, Mr. Brune wrote, had caused “significant and immeasurable harm,” adding that “as defenders of Black life pull down Confederate monuments across the country, we must also take this moment to re-examine our past and our substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy.”
The post sparked a backlash from inside and outside the organization, with some board members publicly criticizing Mr. Brune and other prominent environmentalists and disputing his characterization of Mr. Muir. Mr. Brune left the organization in August 2021.
Mr. Jealous said he hoped to move beyond the controversy, but saw Mr. Muir as a conservationist first.
“When I look at John Muir, I see a man in the late 19th century, who talked a lot like men in the late 19th century,” he said. “The way that I grew up was really valuing him as somebody who helped preserve the most beautiful places that were the landscape of my childhood.”
Mr. Jealous during a voting rights rally outside the White House in 2021. Credit…Alex Wong/Getty Images
Mr. Jealous will also have to contend with an organization that, according to an internal report prepared by Ramona Strategies, a consulting group, tolerated bullying behavior by senior employees and lacked a strong culture of accountability.
“We have to deal with all of the equity issues inside the Sierra Club,” Mr. Jealous said. “Those include, absolutely, issues of gender, as well as racial equity and also pay equity. We have people who are ‘chapter staff’ who are making less than people who are ‘national staff’ for the same organization, doing the same job.”
But while Mr. Jealous and the organization hope to put the recent tumult behind them, the times have changed. No longer is the Sierra Club simply focused on conserving pristine nature. Instead, it is embracing voting rights and other progressive causes that aren’t overtly about the fight to protect the environment and combat climate change.
“While before,a hundred years ago we were interested in preserving the Sierra Nevadas, now we know that, in order to preserve that, we also need to have livelihoods that can ensure that can be preserved for future generations, good wages, all of that,” said Ramón Cruz, the Sierra Club board’s president, who had effectively been serving as its leader since Mr. Brune’s resignation. “It’s impossible to divorce these things from each other.”
Mr. Jealous, who expanded the range of issues the N.A.A.C.P. tackled while he was chief executive — and in doing so expanded its membership and fund-raising, as well — is eager to try and accomplish the same feat at the Sierra Club.
“The Sierra Club, more than any other environmentalist group, has become rapidly more inclusive,” he said. “We don’t we don’t get to save the planet and not take on the ravages of poverty.”
What this means in practice remains to be seen. Mr. Jealous said he hoped to get the organization more involved in local campaigns on everything from industrial pollution to the electrical grid. He added that the Sierra Club had a role to play making sure that the $370 billion in climate change funding included in the Inflation Reduction Act was not wasted.
“The only way that that is something other than political pork is if movements are built in every single state in this country to make sure that those dollars are spent impactfully,” he said.
And still, efforts to expand wind and solar energy are facing growing local resistance around the country, at times pitting Indigenous groups against the developers of renewable energy projects.
“Those are real conversations that we’re going to be prepared to have,” Mr. Jealous said. “And the only organization that can really lead that effectively would be an organization that both is on fire to protect the planet and is on fire for social justice. Ultimately, the best solutions are going to require us to figure out how to hold both of those in our minds at the same time.”
Other That Was Who With
Why did John Muir found the Sierra Club? ›
The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 by a group of Californians who wished to sponsor wilderness outings in “the mountain regions of the Pacific Coast.” The naturalist John Muir was its first president (1892–1914) and very soon involved the club in political action to further nature conservation.Who is the new head of the Sierra Club? ›
Ben Jealous was recently chosen to be the group's executive director. He starts the job in two weeks, and the former head of the NAACP is the first person of color to lead the Sierra Club.Who was John Muir Sierra Club? ›
John Muir (1838-1914) was America's most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist, and a founder of the Sierra Club. This website, started in 1994, known as the "John Muir Exhibit" features his life and contributions.What did the Sierra Club do? ›
From securing protection for 439 parks and monuments, to winning passage of the Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts, to putting over 281 coal plants on the path to replacement with clean energy, to securing the right of every kid in America to visit a national park, we have an unmatched record of success and impact.What group are the Sierra Club trying to represent? ›
Sierra Club California is based in Sacramento. It has a staff of advocates and organizers who defend and advance environmental policies that fight climate disrupting pollution, protect air and water quality, advance clean energy, support parks, and preserve natural resources, wildlife and wildlife habitat.What is the Sierra Club against? ›
The Sierra Club opposes all sport hunting in national parks, which are set aside for the preservation of natural landscapes and wildlife. Monthly giving provides the resources to sustain long-term campaigns that permanently protect our most precious resources.How powerful is the Sierra Club? ›
The Sierra Club is one of the nation's oldest and most powerful environmental activist organizations, with a war chest of over $79 million. Examples of the Sierra Club's radical positions include: Crusading to eliminate the sources of 95 percent of our current energy usage.How much does the head of Sierra Club make? ›
$184,105. The estimated total pay for a Director at Sierra Club is $184,105 per year.Who does the Sierra Club Lobby? ›
The Sierra Club organizes lobbying efforts of local governments and state and Federal regulatory agencies to push their anti-oil agenda. They also use online petitions and form emails to target public officials.What are the allegations against John Muir? ›
The law firm Hagens Berman has filed a lawsuit against Concord, Calif. -based John Muir Health accusing the health system of "unconscionable" billing practices.
Is Sierra Club worth it? ›
This charity's score is 96%, earning it a Four-Star rating.Did John Muir find the Sierra Club? ›
The Sierra Club was founded by John Muir, in California in 1892.Can anyone join the Sierra Club? ›
One of the easiest ways to become an environmental activist is to join the Sierra Club ... or make a donation. You can get a Sierra Club membership online - or - buy gift memberships online right now!What does the Sierra Club want from the government? ›
Federal Government: The national Sierra Club leads on lobbying the president, Congress and federal agencies to promote sound environmental policies. The Chapter participates when federal activities affect our state's air, land and water.What are the Sierra Club tactics? ›
For decades, the Sierra Club has represented the essence of moderate, establishment environmentalism. Traditionally, its tactics stopped at strictly legal methods of winning support for its causes, such as writing letters to elected representatives, petitioning, and holding permitted rallies.How does the Sierra Club achieve its goals? ›
To achieve its mission, the Sierra Club has organized persons of shared environmental concerns into a powerful and effective force for protecting the natural environment.What is the Sierra Club motto? ›
Below this is the Latin phrase Altiora Peto, meaning "I seek high places." Around and above the tree, motto, and letters are a circle with the words "Seal of the Sierra Club." Two five-pointed stars separate these words from "Incorporated 1892."Is Sierra Club against nuclear power? ›
The Sierra Club opposes the licensing, construction and operation of new nuclear reactors utilizing the fission process, pending: Resolution of the significant safety problems inherent in reactor operation, disposal of spent fuels, and possible diversion of nuclear materials capable of use in weapons manufacture.What percentage of Sierra Club donations go to charity? ›
Program Percentage: 86%
The percentage of Sierra Club Foundation's cash budget it spends on programs relative to overhead (fundraising, management, and general expenses).
“The Sierra Club has opposed nuclear energy for decades, as it poses a catastrophic risk to our lands, ecosystems, and public health. Sierra Club activists were leaders in the initial effort to stop the construction of Diablo Canyon, and we continue to oppose its dangerous and environmentally harmful operation today.
Is the Sierra Club liberal moderate or conservative? ›
The club is known for its political endorsements generally supporting liberal and progressive candidates in elections.What does the Sierra Club believe? ›
Sierra Club Mission Statement
To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; To educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.
The new legislation includes oil well setbacks, carbon neutrality by 2045, a clean energy ramp-up, carbon sequestration through tree planting, and carbon capture through regulation—all of which, together, is cementing California's position as a leader on climate action.Does Sierra Club pay well? ›
How much does SIERRA CLUB in the United States pay? The average SIERRA CLUB salary ranges from approximately $31,552 per year for Technologist to $179,545 per year for Senior Attorney. Average SIERRA CLUB hourly pay ranges from approximately $7.29 per hour for Architect to $90.00 per hour for Deputy Director.How much does a vice president at ESPN make? ›
How much does a Senior Vice President make at ESPN in the United States? The estimated average pay for Senior Vice President at this company in the United States is $90,372 per year, which is 50% below the national average.How many employees does Sierra Club have? ›
Sierra Club has over 800 staff members across the country and a network of local chapters that support our grassroots engagement.What is the difference between Sierra Club and Sierra Club Foundation? ›
The Sierra Club Foundation (SCF) is an independent 501(c)(3) public charity that supports a variety of environmental programs and organizations. SCF is the fiscal sponsor of the Sierra Club's charitable environmental programs. The Sierra Club is the principal, though not exclusive, recipient of SCF's charitable grants.Where does Sierra Club money go? ›
We're proud of our reputation for responsibly stewarding charitable contributions and assets. We've earned a rare twelfth consecutive four-star rating from Charity Navigator (only one percent of US charities have achieved this) and we spend nearly 85 cents of every dollar directly on our environmental programs.Where does the Sierra Club get their money? ›
The Sierra Club Foundation uses tax-deductible contributions to make grants to the Sierra Club and other organizations for scientific, educational, literary, non-partisan research, organizing, advocacy, litigation, and communications programs that further our goals.What is John Muir's most famous quote? ›
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
What did John Muir think of Native Americans? ›
But he rarely mentioned so much as a conversation with a Native person and often invoked his dislike of “Indians,” describing them as “dirty,” “deadly,” and “lazy.”Nor does Muir commonly describe Native peoples as key actors in nature; they have “no right place in the landscape” of wild California.In Wakefield's words, ...How did John Muir lose his sight? ›
In March of 1867 he had a serious accident: an awl pierced his right eye and both eyes went blind. Not sure if he would ever see again, Muir decided that if he did recover his sight, he would not return to work in industry, but rather would travel the world to see God's beautiful creation.How much is a life membership in the Sierra Club? ›
$350 first annual installment is enclosed.What is the most effective environmental charity? ›
- Clean Air Task Force.
- Union of Concerned Scientists.
- Earth Justice.
- Rainforest Alliance.
- Practical Action.
- Earth Island.
- Clean Energy.
- Clean Water.
- Smart Growth.
- Zero Waste.
|Saddle Ridge Hoard|
|Present location||Tiburon, California|
In reality, the story goes back to a group of women who were determined to save the forest. The movement was led by the Forestry chapter of the California Club, a women's civic organization started by Laura Lyon White.What are some benefits of being a member of the Sierra Club? ›
- You'll Be Helping the Planet. You'll have the satisfaction of helping preserve irreplaceable wildlands and wildlife. ...
- Sierra Magazine. ...
- Discounts. ...
- Worldwide Outings Program. ...
- Local Chapter Membership.
Most of your Sierra Club membership dues goes toward national projects. When you donate directly to Sierra Sage or the Angeles Chapter, every dollar stays here in southern California. These contributions go a long way to support our local political actions and programs to keep our environment clean.Why did John Muir establish the Sierra Club quizlet? ›
progressive conservationist who started the Sierra Club. Environmental orginization created by John Muir to preserve the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
What did John Muir discover? ›
He came to the San Francisco area in 1868 and there he discovered the Sierra Mountains. Muir fell in love with the immense beauty of the mountain landscape.What is the origin of the Sierra Club? ›
1890s The Sierra Club is founded on May 28, 1892, with John Muir as its first president (read more about John Muir's complex legacy here). It quickly mobilizes to defeat a proposal to reduce the boundaries of Yosemite National Park.What is Sierra Club main goal? ›
We fight for environmental and social justice. We work to protect and restore nature and endangered species. We believe in getting people outside to explore and enjoy the outdoors. We promote the conservation of resources.What was the issue in the Sierra Club case quizlet? ›
-The Sierra Club filed up a lawsuit against the EPA. They argued that they were lovers of the environment and that they want to protect the environment that would be harmed by the action of the Disney company and the authorisation of Morton.What is the purpose of the Sierra Club to fight for the preservation of wetlands and wilderness areas? ›
The Sierra Club advocates a consistent public policy to preserve and restore the hydrologic, biologic, and aesthetic values of wetlands as public assets. We place highest priority on the protection of existing natural wetlands.What is John Muir best known for? ›
Muir is credited with both the creation of the National Park System and the establishment of the Sierra Club. He educated Americans about the value of the country's wilderness, inspiring generations of wilderness advocates.How is Muir remembered today? ›
His introduction to Yosemite Valley, California, resulted in his campaign to preserve wilderness for wilderness' sake. This led to the establishment of the world's first national park system. Today he is remembered as a pioneer of the modern conservation movement.What did John Muir fight for? ›
Muir shared his love of nature through writing and inspired people to protect our country's wild places, fueling the formation of the National Park Service and the modern conservation movement. Muir's passion for nature brought him to every continent except Antarctica.What tactics does the Sierra Club use? ›
For decades, the Sierra Club has represented the essence of moderate, establishment environmentalism. Traditionally, its tactics stopped at strictly legal methods of winning support for its causes, such as writing letters to elected representatives, petitioning, and holding permitted rallies.What does the Sierra Club do with its money? ›
Climate and Clean Energy; Lands, Water, Wildlife Protection; Movement Building. Finding equitable clean energy solutions to the climate crisis; continuing our legacy of protecting lands, water, and wildlife; and acting for justice are intertwined, and they are all critical to achieving our mission.
What companies support the Sierra Club? ›
- WakaWaka. The portable solar light company, WakaWaka, and the Sierra Club Puerto Rico chapter worked together to send a shipment of 2,000 solar lights to those impacted by Hurricane Maria. ...
- Patagonia. ...
- Google Project Sunroof. ...
- The North Face. ...