(Published April 22, 2001)
Fat of the land
Movement's prosperity comes at a high price (First of five parts)
By Tom Knudson
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
As a grass-roots conservationist from Oregon, Jack Shipley looked forward to his visit to Washington, D.C., to promote a community-based forest management plan. But when he stepped into the national headquarters of The Wilderness Society, his excitement turned to unease.
"It was like a giant corporation," Shipley said. "Floor after floor after floor, just like Exxon or AT&T."
In San Francisco, Sierra Club board member Chad Hanson experienced a similar letdown when he showed up for a soiree at one of the city's finest hotels in 1997.
"Here I had just been elected to the largest grass-roots environmental group in the world and I am having martinis in the penthouse of the Westin St. Francis," said Hanson, an environmental activist from Pasadena. "What's wrong with this picture? It was surreal."
Soon, Hanson was calling the Sierra Club by a new name: Club Sierra.
Extravagance is not a trait normally linked with environmental groups. The movement's tradition leans toward simplicity, economy and living light on the land. But today, as record sums of money flow to environmental causes, prosperity is pushing tradition aside, and the millions of Americans who support environmental groups are footing the bill.
High-rise offices, ritzy hotels and martinis are but one sign of wider change. Rising executive salaries and fat Wall Street portfolios are another. So, too, is a costly reliance on fund-raising consultants for financial success.
Put the pieces together and you find a movement estranged from its past, one that has come to resemble the corporate world it often seeks to reform.
Although environmental organizations have accomplished many stirring and important victories over the years, today groups prosper while the land does not. Competition for money and members is keen. Litigation is a blood sport. Crisis, real or not, is a commodity. And slogans and sound bites masquerade as scientific fact.
"National environmental organizations, I fear, have grown away from the grass roots to mirror the foxes they had been chasing,"... Read the rest: Fat of the land