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Nancy Smith

Sierra Club and Other Eco-Hypocrites: Credibility Lost

February 5, 2012 - 6:00pm

In its sleeping-with-the-enemy story last Thursday, Time magazine captured perfectly the eco-pretensions of a rich and powerful organization like Sierra Club.

And, sadly, the stupefying gullibility with which they are received.

The Sierra story's lesson: Believe those who profess they worship conservation and environmental protection at your own risk.

Sierra Club, the nation's oldest and largest "green" organization, was busted last week for taking more than $25 million in donations from gas driller Chesapeake Energy over a period of three years, between 2007 and 2010.

What's so wrong with that, you ask? Mainstream environmental groups say plenty. The practice of fracking, environmentally speaking, is destructive to land and wildlife and results in a horrific waste of water. Most gas drillers -- and Chesapeake in particular -- engage heavily in the practice, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into it.

Sierra had stated loudly and widely that it opposed fracking.

Michael Brune, current Sierra executive director, claims he stopped accepting donations from Chesapeake and its CEO, Aubrey McClendon, as soon as he was installed in 2010. He told Time, "It's time to stop thinking of natural gas as a kinder, gentler energy source ... The first rule of advocacy is that you shouldn't take money from industries and companies you're trying to change."

You think?

When contacted, none of Sierra's Florida field offices would comment, nor did the club's Washington, D.C., headquarters return phone calls late last week. (See Kenric Ward's weekend story on Sierra.)

What continues to disturb me is that so many wealthy, self-described environmentalists and environmental organizations -- high-profile every one -- are ultimately exposed as hypocrites. They lead a secret life. It's a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do life, and like Sierra Club, we never find their sins out until somebody out here in Everymanland trips over them.

Less than a month ago, I wrote a column about the hypocrisy of billionaire Everglades Foundation benefactor Paul Tudor Jones and 1000 Friends of Florida founder Nathaniel Reed. And now we know about Sierra Club. But there are many more closet flimflammers out there.

Allow me to mention just a few:

Al Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore's personal inconvenient truth, his hushed-up hypocrisy, is that behind closed doors, in hearth and home -- while he was winning an Academy Award and the Nobel Peace prize for urging a solution to global warming -- he was lapping up electricity like an addict on crack.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research said that the gas and electric bills for Gore's 20-room home and pool house devoured nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours in 2006, more than 20 times the national average of 10,656 kilowatt-hours.

What's more, Nashville Electric Services records show the Gores in 2006 averaged a monthly electricity bill of $1,359 for using 18,414 kilowatt-hours, and $1,461 per month for using 16,200 kilowatt-hours in 2005. During that time, Nashville Gas Company billed the family an average of $536 a month for the main house and $544 for the pool house in 2006, and $640 for the main house and $525 for the pool house in 2005. That averages out to be $29,268 in gas and electric bills for the Gores in 2006; $31,512 in 2005.

If Gore really wants to save the planet, and I'm sure he does, he can start by turning off the lights and filling in the pool.

Robert Redford

Environmentalist and actor Robert Redford is one of the main opponents of a plan by Pacific Union College to build an eco-village on its own land in Angwin, Calif. The college says it's fallen on hard times itself and needs the money. But the proposed village is close to Redfords vineyard in Napa Valley. And Redford is seen to be an environmental pureheart, revered for his stands against development and Big Oil.

But, even though he publicly opposes Pacific Union's development for, he said, its potential to destroy the rural character of the area, Redford has been quietly selling building lots in the Sundance Preserve for $2 million each. These lots are intended for vacation homes close to Redfords Sundance Ski Resort.

The double standard is revealed in a short film, "Robert Redford, Hypocrite," which was released last year.

Film director Ann McElhinney said the film is not criticising Redford for selling his property.

It's great that in a recession Mr. Redford can find so many buyers. I am delighted that those houses will be built, creating jobs and vitality in a remote area. But it is shocking that he would deny others similar opportunities to make a profit and create jobs.

Development is good if Redford, a certified eco-preener, profits; an environmental outrage if it profits anyone else.

Sergey Brin

Sergey Brin, self-proclaimed environmentalist and zillionaire founder of Google, brags to the world that he buys carbon credits to offset the ghastly amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Google's private Boeing 767.

Buying carbon credits?

Yes, he draws on hundreds of millions of dollars, which to Brin is the equivalent of lunch money, allowing him to pollute conscience-free.

What is wrong with this scam? First, purchasing carbon credits is an incentive to burn even more fossil fuels, because now it is done under the illusion that it's actually cost-free to the atmosphere.

It is also a way for the rich to export the real costs and sacrifices of pollution control to the Third World. For example, GreenSeat, a Dutch carbon-trading outfit, buys offsets from a foundation that plants trees in Uganda's Mount Elgon National Park to soak up the carbon emissions of its rich Western patrons.

Small problem, though: Expanding the park encroaches on land traditionally used by local farmers. As a result, reports the New York Times, "Villagers living along the boundary of the park have been beaten and shot at, and their livestock has been confiscated by armed park rangers."

But Brin calls himself an environmentalist and openly condemns industries he believes are destroying the environment.

So, here it is:

Environmental giants like the Sierra Club and environmental giant egos like Brin, Gore and Paul Tudor Jones -- with such high profiles and squeaky clean reputations -- exert colossal pressure on government to keep American business and industry compliant with environmental protection regulations. That wouldn't be such a bad thing if they would follow their own rules and apply the same principles and morality to themselves.

These organizations for the most part are not the selfless granola crunchers they're perceived to be. They are as agenda- and power-driven as any corporation in this country. Within them are the same opportunities to cut corners, play favorites, bend the rules as a chemical plant or a logging company or a Wall Street investment firm.

Why, I wonder, are we so surprised each time another one is outed?

Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.

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