The future of life on earth is not a business decision . . .

While the Sierra Club has a long history of environmental education and activism, with respect to climate it is firmly in the delusional crowd of 80% emissions reductions by 2050 (see our September 25th post, The 80% Follies).

Sierra Magazine reports on a “climate brain trust” (1) that the Club convened on December 14, 2006. Why are we to trust the brains of these important people to guide us through the climate crisis? Well, because they are “prominent experts,” whom we might also call . . .

The Deciders

The Culture Savers

The overwhelming majority of “thought leaders” on climate are of the 80%/2050 variety. Why is that, even though the scientific research points more in the direction of emergency every day? As stated in previous posts, I suggest that it’s because all efforts are directed towards “preserving our way of life,” no matter that it’s impossible to maintain life on endless growth (just ask a cancer patient).

As a self-designated thought leader, the Sierra Club glibly and cheerily supports the for-profit cure for climate, notwithstanding that there is no evidence whatsoever that profit-making works for the public good unless it’s good for profit-makers (2). Examples are legion, from childhood obesity to wars for oil to carcinogenic pollution to slavery, genocide and expropriation of the commons of indigenous peoples worldwide, to list a very few from a universe of officially sanctioned horrors. When the consequences of profit, unintended or otherwise, are bad for most of us as they so often are – well, let government pay for it (i.e., taxpayers), or NGOs, or someone other than the corporate perps and their public officials.

The Brain Trust Bust

For the Sierra Club’s “Prominent Experts Day” there was a morning session closed to the public and an afternoon session open to the rest of us (3).

Closed Door

Here are a few of the people who were there, and what they said. I admit to re-casting the context of their comments; I encourage you to read the original article for yourself to savor it fully. If you find it convincing, consider the possibility that you may have fallen under the spell of the siren songs of commerce!

The author of “Cool Heads Tackle Our Hottest Issue,” Marilyn Berlin Snell, notes that “Wall Street is finally moving to address global warming because the issue is showing up in the short time frames that make sense to business.” Wall Street addressing this problem is akin to the arrival of the cavalry in the Wild West to make the world safe for empire. Except that safety and cavalry (and empire) don’t mix.

Stephen Schneider, the token climate scientist on board, was elated by “[t]he fact that you could have a panel with this much diversity, and that our biggest radical is a power company executive, shows real progress.” Diversity? There were no farmers or tomato pickers, small businessmen, teachers, housewives, machinists or Wal-Mart workers. There were no Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans or Oriental Americans.

Closed Door

These diverse grassroots folks weren’t there because they’re not “prominent experts.” And why aren’t they experts? In no small part because our media, including Sierra Magazine, does not deign to tell the truth about the drastic changes that are taking place in our world. This is a culturally self-fulfilled lack of diversity paradoxically dubbed “diversity” by a scientist who should know better, straight out of 1984.

And who is the “biggest radical”? Duke Energy’s then Chair, Paul Anderson, whose “radical” suggestion is a carbon tax. Certainly not restructuring our relationships with the natural world, ending exponential resource consumption, or creating local sustainable economies. Just add a price to carbon and let the market work its magic.

Vinod Khosla is a venture capitalist, a founder of Sun Microsystems and the only non-white person in attendance, duly representing the non-white-multimillionaire-venture-capitalist “community.” Quoth he: “I’d like to put a question on the table right away. How do we get the average person to adopt within five years what we agree on today?” Mr. Khosla, with his market-won wisdom, has, along with his expert peers, the right to decide what should be done and the average rest of us have the privilege of agreeing with him once we have endured enough propaganda from the “expert community.” Never mind that it’s this sort of expertise that’s driven us to the brink of global disaster.

Dan Reicher, from the Clinton era Department of Energy and recently the president of a venture capital firm, stated: “If we continue to advance the technologies and change cultural attitudes, capital will be driven into the market.” The market, the market.

And one last sample from this fascinating conversation – from Bettina Poirier, staff director for Senator Barbara Boxer and chief counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: “One of the things we can do in the Senate is to bring the spectrum of voices to the table [including a subcommittee] chaired by Senator Joe Leiberman; its goal is to include the business and consumer perspective and provide private solutions to global warming.” Note that we aren’t including people’s perspectives, people with hopes and relationships and children and dreams; only business and consumer perspectives, where the only meaningful relationships are sales and purchases.


Which is why the marketplace is a detracting distraction and the wrong place to address global warming. As succinctly stated by E.F. Schumacher (4), there are two players in any market transaction, a buyer and a seller. The buyer is looking for the highest price, the seller is looking for the best deal. All else is externality, of no concern in the transaction. Rationally addressing climate is just another externality in the marketplace, of no concern to the parties, and best left to some environmental organization somewhere (ooops, maybe not).

We have to do much, much better than that.

Delusions, Inc.

To sum up the Sierra Club’s stated or implied version of a web-free web of life:

  1. Bottom line drivers and for-profit will work for the public good (“public-private partnerships”)
  2. We can live pretty much as usual, no significant sacrifice necessary
  3. We’re not running out of resources, there are no limits to growth
  4. There are no unintended consequences
  5. We have faith in technology, and technology will save us.

Next time: Climate, the Casual Emergency Then, With Friends Like These: The Nation Magazine Cruises Off the Edge of the Iceberg (which is a pretty good trick, considering the increasing rarity of icebergs).

Copyright 2007 by Adam D. Sacks, all rights reserved.

1. Marilyn Berlin Snell, “Cool heads tackle our hottest issue,” Sierra Magazine, May/June 2007,

2. A recent UN report addresses this (and many other things). See HervĂ© Kempf, “According to the United Nations, Market Privatizations Would Be the Worst Scenario for the Environment,” Le Monde, October 27, 2007, The original 572-page report, “Global Environmental Outlook 4,” is available at

3. Closed meetings on public matters are an alarming though traditional element of American process:

  • The U.S. Constitution was written in 1787 behind closed doors, and proceedings were not published until fifty-three years later.
  • All manner of secret corporate plotting against the public interest is protected by the Fourth Amendment, prohibiting “unreasonable” search and seizure, a right that was originally intended for people, not non-human legal entities.
  • In Massachusetts the legislature passed an open-meeting law requiring municipalities to conduct all meetings in public, but in an irony utterly devoid of subtlety the legislature exempted itself from the same rules. It uses this loophole for maximum benefit of vested interests and to the detriment of the voting public.

The Sierra Club has a legal “right” to privacy, but demonstrates a level of disdain for its public by excluding us from conversations with its “brain trust.”

4. E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, Harper & Row, NYC, 1973. “In a sense, the market is the institutionalisation of individualism and non-responsibility. Neither the buyer nor the seller is responsible for anything but himself.” (p. 42)