First Sierra Summit

By Garen Yegparian

Last weekend was quite an experience as I attended the first ever convention-expo organized by the Sierra Club.

The first of its four components was organizational. The Sierra Club priority setting was conducted by consulting with some 700 delegates gathered from around the country. Ultimately–energy issues became the top priority with liveable communities (enviro-speak for rational–well planned–non-sprawl-based cities and towns) coming in second. Of course–saving wildlands–water issues–pollution and others rounded out the list. Subsequently–how these might best be tackled was addressed by querying the delegates as to the perceived strengths of the Club. This was a first effort–and procedurally lacking–and will undoubtedly improve in the future.

The exposition was–simply–an environmental "trade show." Not only were various products- from hybrid cars to snack food bars- displayed–but adventure tourism outfitters–publishers of outdoors and environmental books–and Google were on hand. You could even have your body’s mercury levels checked- think coal burning power plants spewing that poison into the air–thence through the food chain into YOU. Supporting all this were the exhibits of accomplishmen’s prepared by dozens of Sierra Club entities from local groups to countrywide campaigns.

Fifty-six panels addressed classes of issues ranging from living well to environmental expression through art–from engaging youth to outdoor adventure and more. Speakers came from a dizzying variety of backgrounds–including a Starbuck’s representative–Sierra Club activists and staff–people earning their living by engaging in environmentally positive activities–government officials–hunters–and professors. In the last of these categories was the most interesting–George Lakoff–whose book "Don’t Think of An Elephan"t I’d long wanted–purchased–and got his autograph on. It’s a fascinating–informative–and guiding analysis of frames- ideas that shape perceptions and use the power of language. The best example is that every time the Turks say "there was no genocide," they’re using the word genocide and shooting themselves in the foot! Every activist of conscience should read this book–written as a "field guide" based on a more detailed Lakoff study of underlying principles driving Americans’ political understandings–leanings–and actions.

Finally–the inspirational component of this gathering was truly potent and moving: Al Gore–Bobby Kennedy Jr.–Bill Maher–and Arianna Huffington–in order of appearance. If Gore had spoken during his presidential campaign the way he did to the Sierra Club–the world would not be burdened with the murderous–incompetent–profiteering–and immoral cabal that now holds the reins of power in Washington–DC. Bill Maher slew the audience with his scathing critique of the current US regime–remarking that the only person to lose his/her job as a result of the September 11 attacks was? himself. Arianna was–as usual–right on point and biting with her wry presentation of our political plight. However–Kennedy stole the show–despite his late arrival while Liisa Margossian led 2000+ people in a yoga session. He had people in tears. The amalgamation of facts–first-principles–patriotism–humanity–and the gift of oratory (Kennedy clan’s built-in legacy?) made for an incredibly powerful speech that had people riveted for over an hour (no ADD there?)

Hurricane Katrina’s human exacerbated havoc became a natural focus of discussion since our destructive doings- reckless disregard for the ramifications of increased CO2 in the atmosphere (global warming) and destruction of coastal wetlands – made the hurricane stronger and the coast less able to withstand its onslaught–respectively. These and other warnings of the dangers of treading too heavily on our planet have been written off as alarmist. Perhaps now enough of a global consensus will arise since people are asking how and why this could have happened. This of course is the Sierra Club’s bread and butter–"To Explore–Enjoy–and Protect" our planet.

With regard to government incompetence–Carl Pope–the Sierra Club’s executive director–told an interesting story; he happened to be in India shortly before the Sierra Summit–when Bombay was hit with torrential rains–in excess of three feet in about half a day. In less than a day–everyone had food and water. Those needing evacuation were out in a handful of hours–through the use of every bus in the city being conscripted to this life-saving use. The US of A has not the ability to do the same for a much smaller city?

As a nation that’s lived through a similar human exacerbated tragedy- the Sbeedag earthquake- we would do well and wisely to heed the warnings of climate and other scientists. We should join our fellow humans to save the planet–Armenia- liberated and occupied- and all that lives thereon from ‘civilization’s’ century-long–callous abuse of the natural world.

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