Sierra Club president visits PSU

National president of the Sierra Club, Jennifer Ferenstein spoke at professor Barbara Brower’s class “Environmental Issues and Action” on Tuesday as part of the Sierra Club’s campaign to increase voter participation.

Ferenstein’s talk was chiefly concerned with the Sierra Club’s history and addressing the rural-urban divide that the club experiences dealing with ranchers and hunters.

In addition to Ferenstein’s talk, the Sierra Club, a nonpartisan, nonprofit environmental advocacy group, is trying to underline the differences between Republican Sen. Gordon Smith and Democratic candidate for Senate Bill Bradbury in an attempt to turn out the vote for Oregon’s Senate race.

“It’s not so much about partisan politics as much as pro-environmental forces and anti-environmental stances,” Ferenstein said.

Ferenstein believes it’s important for people to vote in order to affect change.

“When they choose to not vote, they lose power,” she said. “I don’t believe that power just dissipates, it goes somewhere – the status-quo collects that power.”

Part of the Sierra Club’s solution to voter apathy is to focus on key issues and to explicate the candidates’ stances on those issues beyond that which is seen in 30-second political ads.

“In these times, there’s sort of a preoccupation with the possibility of war,” Ferenstein said, alluding to the looming U.S. invasion of Iraq. The original Gulf War sprung up in an oil-rich part of the world, involving two of the world’s largest oil suppliers, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

“Energy policy is huge,” Ferenstein said. “As long as we have a dependency on foreign oil, there will be a threat to national security.”

According to Ferenstein, the U.S. represents 25 percent of the world’s fossil-fuel consumption and only 3 percent of fossil-fuel reserves.

The Sierra Club believes research into renewable-energy sources is key to meeting the long-term energy needs of the U.S.

“Renewable energy is something that they’re both pretty good on,” said Tim Hester, Sierra Club associate regional representative, though he questions the sincerity of Gordon Smith’s support. “A lot of his support for renewable energy comes at opportune times.”

“I honestly think that we’re not so much in an energy crisis as a crisis of innovation,” Ferenstein said.

“For the last 125 years we’ve been in the industrial revolution,” she said, “and now I feel we’re at the cusp of a new revolution.”

The Sierra club is concerned with the government’s recent move to mine wildlife refuges for natural resources. While Smith voted against drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge during the last vote, it’s no guarantee that his position won’t change, according to Hester.

“He’s basically said ‘not now, but not never,'” Hester said.

“He hemmed and hawed on the Arctic, and as soon as he realized that it wouldn’t pass, he voted against it,” he said.

Smith did, however, vote for the initial step to drill in the Arctic, and he also voted to allow the investigation of other protected areas like the Rocky Mountain Front in Ferenstein’s home state of Montana.

“I think in many ways it’s just as important as the Arctic Refuge. It’s just not as high-profile,” Ferenstein said.

“I’m really not a partisan hack,” Ferenstein said. “There are some amazing republicans,” she said, citing Christopher Shays (R-Connecticut) as an example.

In addition to their issue advocacy, the Sierra Club is working with the Service Employees International Union to give elementary students a hands-on experience in the political process with Vote For Children.

Kids from local elementary schools will canvas their neighborhoods with their parents or teachers, reminding people to vote. If their voter turnout increases, the Sierra Club will reward the schools with $5,000 for outdoor education.

Ferenstein is visiting local elementary schools in that effort. “They were great; the kids were awesome,” Ferenstein said. “They were running mock elections and mock debates. They were setting up their own ballots.”