ESSAY: What Would John Muir Say… About the Sierra Club?

What would Muir say about the Sierra Club being led by Michael Brune, Accountant-in-Chief and old-growth forest logging apologist? On the occasion of Muir’s 175th birthday, we are certain he would not be pleased and would say so strongly. As we celebrate Earth Day, will Madison Progressives see through Brune’s greenwash of logging ancient, sacred wildlands for toilet paper and books?
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir

“Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed — chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got…” – John Muir

“The battle we have fought, and are still fighting for the forests is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it.” – John Muir

“By choosing to sell FSC-certified wood, The Home Depot is walking its talk.” – Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club
By Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet

Old-growth forests make Earth habitable for all life
John Muir was one of the greatest protectors of forests and nature who ever lived. He was connected to my hometown Madison, Wisconsin, where he attended college. He later went on to drive the creation of the National Park system and to found the Sierra Club.
Most important, Muir took an uncompromising position that old-growth forest wildernesses must be protected for their intrinsic values. He was bold and brash, and he waged verbal and written warfare with the likes of Gifford Pinchot, the founder of the U.S. Forest Service, over the fate of old-growth forest wildernesses. Their battle over the relative merits of preservation versus conservation of natural wildlands continues to rage today as Earth’s last remaining naturally evolved primary forests are industrially cleared and diminished.
Given Muir’s absolute commitment to not logging primary forests, I am certain he would be deeply troubled over the ascendency of old-growth logging greenwasher extraordinaire Michael Brune as the head of the Sierra Club. Mr. Brune spoke Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin, and was not expected to mention his years promoting old-growth forest logging.
Mr. Brune is an accountant who has built a record of success, first with Rainforest Action Network and now with the Sierra Club, of raising money from celebrities and foundations, without much ecological policy substance. His record is also one of unequivocally supporting “sustainable” industrial old-growth forest logging around the world for throwaway consumption.
Much has been made of the myth that Mr. Brune in the late 1990s forced Home Depot into using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-;certified old-growth products (try to find any sold there now; not available in many stores). But as John Muir knew nearly 100 years ago – and as is even more true today as old-growth forests dwindle globally to such a point that biodiversity, climate and the biosphere are collapsing – there is no such thing as ecologically sustainable old-growth forest logging [1].
Industrial desecration of primary forests through even selective logging irretrievably diminishes ecological function, form, structure, composition, and dynamics. You might as well cut out little squares from the Mona Lisa and sell them, claiming the whole has not been damaged. Choosing to work for better old-growth forest logging rather than outright protection is a bit like working to treat slaves better, rather than freeing them. Both slavery and industrial old-growth forest ecocide are irredeemable and must end.
As practiced, selective logging almost always means selecting all the large, high-quality trees, and logging them. Such high-grading leaves behind trees but not an old-growth forest with all its soil organisms, wildlife, carbon, and naturally evolved genetic diversity. Such forests are on their way after two or three harvests to being a tree plantation, with much reduced or even vanished ecosystem services that make life possible.
Under Mr. Brune’s leadership, Rainforest Action Network pursued a failed secret deal – along with pals Sierra Club of Canada, Greenpeace, and ForestEthics – which legitimized first-time industrial logging of two-thirds of Canada’s Great Bear temperate old-growth rainforest – the largest in the world – for vague promises of protection for the other third, which have since been broken.
Mr. Brune has been a staunch supporter of “certified” old-growth forest logging by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). I and others have estimated that some 200 million hectares of old-growth forests are threatened by the greenwash behind the FSC label – a massive area twice the size of Texas. The RAN market campaigns of Mr. Brune and his successors in support of FSC herald certified old-growth logging for books, furniture, and even toilet paper as being sustainable [2]. Such environmental NGO greenwash is critical to FSC’s business model of dressing up business-as-usual old-growth plunder as being green.
Perhaps the saddest part of Mr. Brune’s ascendency within the forest conservation community has been his unwillingness to dialogue with ecological scientists and others who question whether logging old-growth forests provides protection. Some five years ago my organization, EcoInternet, approached Mr. Brune to discuss how RAN, under his leadership, was greenwashing old-growth logging and consumption. Mr. Brune didn’t even know basic facts about RAN’s forest positions – not knowing that they falsely claimed FSC old-growth logging was “sustainable” or that their Great Bear “victory” did not even achieve FSC standards, instead settling for meaningless promises of “ecosystem management”.
Since then, tens of thousands of global forest conservationists have written to Mr. Brune [3] asking for RAN to reconsider its position and resign from FSC to focus upon protecting and restoring old-growth forests. New York activists disrupted his book signing campaigns and RAN fund-raisers with protests. We simply asked for policies based far more solidly on ecological science: that Mr. Brune and RAN stop greenwashing old-growth forest logging, insist that FSC limit itself to certifying secondary and non-monoculture plantations, and instead together the forest movement work for old-growth protection and small-scale community eco-forestry.
Mr. Brune and associates appeared outraged that their “Great Rainforest Heist” should be questioned [4]. RAN first promised to review their FSC membership, then broke their promise, choosing instead to stonewall and vilify their critics – even to the RAN staff publicly calling me mentally ill. This after I had worked closely with RAN for 15 years, doing many action alerts together, and being granted a rainforest protection award by them. Apparently Mr. Brune is above reproach, and does not have to answer basic questions or account for his organization’s public policies.
Mr. Brune spoke Saturday, April 20, in Madison for Earth Day. I don’t think John Muir would appreciate a bean counter running the organization he founded, his past reckless and clueless support for logging Earth’s last remaining naturally evolved forest wildernesses, or his keeping silent on old-growth forest logging since taking over Sierra Club. I would go and protest his presence if I felt he had any moral bearing or ecological prowess on the matter of old-growth forest protection. But instead I choose to write these ecological truths, hoping reason prevails before global ecological collapse engulfs us.
Even given this scathing critique, I have seen some reason for hope. Mr. Brune abandoned his similar reckless and misinformed promotion of natural gas as a bridge fuel upon moving to the Sierra Club, where he quickly exposed and dispatched their secret funding from the natural gas industry. He has been particularly effective on coal and tar sands campaigning, and getting Sierra Club board approval for civil disobedience against the Keystone pipeline. Yet this too little, too late, play it safe strategy isn’t going to stop global ecosystem collapse.
Sierra Club doesn’t really speak out much about protecting remaining large and connected old-growth globally, or working to end markets for FSC and other primary forest timbers. Sierra Club under Mr. Brune continues to support FSC on its web site and in public statements, without mentioning that the majority of its products come from old-growth. And Sierra Club – and even – remain silent on the issue that at least 18% of carbon emissions come from old-growth forest logging, even as they take an important – yet at this time largely symbolic – stand on tar sands’ 1% of global emissions.
At this juncture in converging ecological crises, it is more important to seek ecological polices that will actually prove sufficient to avert global ecosystem collapse, if successful, than it is to pursue piecemeal reforms that, even if achieved, would prove inadequate. For the human family to survive, let alone thrive, together we need to end coal, tar sands, AND old-growth forest logging all at the same time. Large, connected, and ecologically intact old-growth forests power the biosphere and provide for local livelihoods forever; their loss threatens all life’s existence.
Mr. Brune personifies everything that is wrong with the corporate, PR, and image-;driven environmental NGOs. He is an accountant making decisions based upon maintaining his environmental bureaucracy rather than developing and implementing ecologically sufficient solutions to global ecosystem collapse. Sadly, he doesn’t know what he is talking about.
John Muir would certainly call out Mr. Brune as a clueless San Francisco hipster who managed to latch onto celebrity and foundation money and now incautiously promotes logging old-growth forests, while stifling the grassroots ecological sustainability movement that exposes and resists his old-growth forest logging policies.
There is no more treacherous betrayal to John Muir’s legacy than greenwashing old-growth forest logging and profiting personally from doing so.
Mr. Brune’s emphasis upon style over substance is ill-placed to address looming ecological crises. He no doubt felt right at home, however, with clueless Madison Progressives who preen and pose without really knowing what they are talking about. Namely, that global ecological sustainability and all life’s well-being (including humanity’s) depend critically upon protecting and restoring old-growth forests. Let’s hope – for old forests’ and Earth’s sake – that Mr. Brune and the Sierra Club are capable of self-reflection and turning over a new leaf that doesn’t include logging old-growth. Until they do, they are legitimate protest targets.
[1] Terrestrial Ecosystem Loss and Biosphere Collapse – science by Dr. Glen Barry
[2] EARTH MEANDERS: Earth Is Dying, Yet Climate and Forest Movements Lack Urgency and Substance
[3] Action Alert: As Rainforest Action Network Prepares to “Revel”, What Has Become of Their Old Growth Forest Campaign?
[4] EARTH MEANDERS: The Great Rainforest Heist
How environmental groups gone bad greenwash logging Earth’s last primary old forests

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