Four decades of the Sierra Club
by Steve Rumsey
It is not enough to be outraged at industry’s abuse of our soil, water and air, writes Mike McCloskey in his autobiography, In the Thick of It: My Life in the Sierra Club. We have to harness our rage and wage savvy campaigns in the courtroom and Congress.
McCloskey joined the Sierra Club in 1960 as an environmental lawyer, just as the group began its transition from an outdoor club to a powerful advocate for the environment. He retired as its chairman in 1999. His chronicle of those critical years is as much about media campaigns, lawyerly maneuvers and lobbying as it is about the issues that gave rise to the movement in the first place. Unfortunately, the book covers so much ground that the gritty details of the battles over the redwoods, the Wilderness Act, and more fade into the background, giving readers a view that’s far above the fray.
As well, McCloskey’s delicately worded, careful account of the Sierra Club’s internal conflicts — as luminaries like David Brower, Ansel Adams and others struggled to define the organization’s role and strategy — leaves one wondering what really went on in the thick of those legendary dust-ups.
Readers may find the book somewhat wonkish. But McCloskey reminds us that building sound environmental policy is a tedious, difficult task requiring lifetimes of effort by large numbers of people, each with a different role to play; that our national environmental policy is set, not by protesters chained to trees, but by lawyers, lobbyists and congressional aides in wood-paneled conference rooms; and that grassroots effort is only the first step on the long road to legislation that will ensure good practices on the ground.
In the Thick of It: My Life in the Sierra Club
399 pages, hardcover: $29.95.
Island Press, 2005.© High Country News