By Colleen McMullen, BTC Student
This semester, I worked for the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club as a water protection intern. As a biodiversity and conservation biology major at the University of Maryland, I have a strong interest protecting the environment. I was very drawn to this organization for the array of environmental issues it addresses and the unique club experience it offers its members. Working with the Maryland Sierra Club has been a very enlightening and valuable experience that has taught me a great deal about Maryland’s environment and the inner workings of a grassroots organization.
The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 by John Muir, who is considered one of the founding fathers of the environmental conservation movement. There are 65 chapters in the United States, with at least one chapter in every state and Washington, D.C. With the proximity of the fragile Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, the protection of water sources in Maryland is of the upmost importance. The Sierra Club also promotes the implementation of offshore wind and the retirement of harmful coal fired power plants.
The motto of the Sierra Club is to “Explore, enjoy, and protect the environment,” and this is very well reflected in the club’s activities. In order to explore and enjoy the environment, the Sierra Club organizes outings such as hikes, caving and backpacking trips, nature walks, and visits to national parks. To promote protection of the environment, the organization mobilizes its members to support environmental causes and legislation, mainly by contacting their local representatives. Members also participate in petitions and protests, such as the Forward on Climate Rally that took place in Washington D.C. in February. Staff of the Sierra Club also collaborate with other local environmental groups such as the Anacostia Watershed Society and the SmartGrowth Alliance of southern Maryland.
As a water protection intern, I worked closely with the water conservation representative of the chapter. Much of the work I did involved drafting flyers, emails, and call scripts that were used to reach out directly to members to inform them on environmental issues, events, or current legislation. I found this work very beneficial as it allowed me to find the best way to clearly convey information to those who may be totally unfamiliar with the topic. Environmental issues will not gain the support of the public unless the issue itself and the way it affects the lives of citizens is clearly and effectively conveyed. I also conducted a research project on how ecosystem restoration and carbon sequestration in soil of agricultural sources can mitigate climate change.
Working with the Maryland Sierra Club was a very rewarding experience. I learned a great deal about the most serious issues facing Maryland’s environment and the way that the non-profit sector and government work together to combat them. Observing the inner workings of a grassroots movement was very informative, as well, as I was able to see the strategies the organization uses to communicate with and mobilize their members to bring about change. I plan to continue work in the environmental field, hopefully in the governmental field. Having seen the advocacy side of environmental issues, I think it would be interesting to see how exactly the government responds to these concerns.
Edited by Dr. Caitlin Haugen, Adjunct Instructor, Beyond the Classroom