Informed Opinions on Today’s Topics : Is Ecology a Luxury We Can’t Afford?


Environmental organizations in the United States have, of late, suffered from financial difficulties, decreases in membership and a lack of supportive legislation.

With a budget deficit of several million dollars, the Sierra Club, the nation’s oldest environmental organization, is in its worst financial shape in 20 years. Its local membership has dropped by 15% over the last three years. Recently, Greenpeace also reported its membership down 1 million from its 1990 high of 2.5 million, with revenues steadily declining. Some attribute these weak figures to our nation’s economy, in which monetary concerns supersede environmental. Others simply claim a growing complacency toward the environmental movement as a whole.

Is the environmental movement losing momentum?

Tony Recalde, coordinator, Reseda High School Environmental/Physical Sciences Magnet Center


“People these days are finding their niche when it comes to improving the environment, and some practices, like recycling or composting, have become a matter of course in their lives. . . . Field work, though, is still very important. We took our students to clean up a local creek so they could see firsthand how important it is to be environmentally responsible. Now, they’re talking about adopting the creek on behalf of the school, which may turn out to be a great graduating thesis project for them.”

Ed Stauss, finance chairman, San Fernando Valley chapter, National Audubon Society

“Our local chapter has nearly 100 active members who are just as active now as they were five or 10 years ago. Our local chapter is not a fund-raising organization, but more of a social group of people who have a common interest in bird-watching. . . . We try to work on an educational basis by providing books and other information to local schools. Other than that, our main focus is just enjoying nature.”

Fred Krupp, executive director, Environmental Defense Fund

“In these tough economic times, it is vital to approach environmental concerns in the most efficient way possible. The general public is looking to get the most out of their buck and that goes for the environment, too. That’s why people supported the Clean Air Act of 1990, (which rewards companies complying with clean air standards with salable pollution ‘credits’). The trading provides incentives for companies to reduce their air emissions in the best way possible in order to obtain reduction credits to sell to other firms. With this, we get entrepreneurs and inventors working to do the right thing at the lowest cost possible.”

Gerry Simila, coordinator, Cal State Northridge’s earth science program in the geology department

“When people are concerned about losing their jobs and homes, it’s hard for them to contribute to environmental groups because they must concentrate on their own private causes. In turn, there will be greater lobby pressure to delay environmental requirements. The county and the state have argued that in no way can businesses afford to meet California’s air-quality standards. If they have to close down or leave California because they cannot meet tough air-quality standards, cities and the state will oppose it. Priorities are shifting because problems are shifting.”

Francesca Walsh, office manager, Sierra Club Angeles chapter


“We don’t see it as an economy-versus-environment issue. If you have a good environment, you’re going to have a good economy because nobody will want to live or do business in a place that’s completely polluted.”