Friday, February 1, 2013

I recently read a popular novel about a dog's purpose. This light reading has made me think a lot about purpose, especially Sierra Club California's purpose.

Our responsibility is clear. We work to make sure the Sierra Club—from local chapters to the national organization—speaks with one clear voice about environmental issues before the California legislature, the administration and state agencies.

How we carry out that responsibility grows from our purpose. 

In the last several weeks, Sierra Club staff and volunteers have grappled with a number of critical environmental issues in California that have put us in a different place than some of our colleagues and allies. It isn't easy to differ with people with whom we generally share ideology.  It can be uncomfortable in the way family disagreements at Thanksgiving are uncomfortable.

A recent case in point: Sierra Club has spoken out forcefully against the Regional Plan Update for Lake Tahoe, adopted in December. We believe the plan deviates too far from the bi-state compact between Nevada and California designed to save Lake Tahoe's famous clarity and water quality. Our local activists, including people who have for decades delved deep into the science and policy affecting the lake, have been frustrated by the planning agency's lack of attention to the plan’s environmental impacts on the lake.

Pressed by a legal deadline to act or live with the troubling plan, Sierra Club filed a suit challenging the plan in early February. Some of our friends asked us not to. They worried that a lawsuit would drive conservative lawmakers in Nevada to force that state out of the compact. But we decided that we had no alternative.

Without the suit, we risked watching what was once the bluest lake in America become increasingly clouded by pollution, including silt and other runoff from development, old and new. We took a principled stand, but it was a stand with purpose: We are determined to protect Lake Tahoe. We are determined to give future generations a shot at experiencing the unique clarity of what Sierra Club founder John Muir called "the queen of lakes."

Lake Tahoe in 1873 was a place Muir described viewing as he walked the woods surrounding it, "pausing countless times to absorb the blue glimpses of the lake, all so heavenly clean, so terrestrial yet so openly spiritual."  It is our expectation that a hiker in 2073 will also be moved to be reminded by Lake Tahoe "of all the mountain lakes I ever knew, as if this were a kind of water heaven to which they all had come."

When we file a suit or challenge a piece of legislation, it isn't just for our current members and supporters. It is for the future, the hikers who will walk the trail later.  We are here to ensure the state has an environment they can explore and enjoy. That is why we do what we do. It is our purpose.



Kathryn Phillips               

Kathryn Phillips, Director                             
Sierra Club California                                  

Sierra Club California is the Sacramento-based legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the 13 California chapters of the Sierra Club.