By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Last spring, with Werbach’s encouragement, a slate of three younger candidates — one of whom is just a year and a half older than Adam — won election to the club’s board of directors. "The environment," Werbach says, "can serve as the issue that ignites a newborn faith in politics."
The transfer of power has been difficult for Pope, the club’s executive director and a 25-plus-year veteran of the movement. Though, technically speaking, Werbach is the boss, it is Pope, a Harvard graduate who worked his way up through club ranks to his current post, who is responsible for the club’s $45 million budget and its 350 staffers scattered across the land. Meanwhile, Werbach’s official duties amount to tending a relatively small cadre of volunteers and a tiny fraction of the club’s budget. While Pope makes $100,000 a year including benefits, Werbach gets by on a stipend of about a third of that.
Werbach hasn’t let this stand in his way. His skimpy job description has allowed him to write his own ticket, and he has fashioned his position into a bully pulpit as few have before. He has hobnobbed with the president, written a book, crisscrossed the country visiting club outposts (the club covers travel expenses), and met personally with thousands of members and perhaps as many reporters — he is by far the most photographed and interviewed president in club history.
But the height of environmental relevance to which he aspires, a pinnacle attained by the likes of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson and Brower, is still far beyond his grasp. Just how far is most clearly evident in his book, Act Now, Apologize Later, released last fall. A pastiche of proclamations, anecdotes and moralistic tales, it reads like a collection of class assignments, a mere dip in the ocean of environmentalism.
"If I were appointed secretary of the interior," he writes, "the first thing I would do is throw the biggest party America has ever seen to celebrate our national parks." A few pages later, he describes meeting Vice President Al Gore. "I’m going to throw an outrageous party the night this guy takes over." He describes his first snowmobile ride as "all of my best Evel Knievel stunts — jumps from snowdrifts, fishtails on a frozen lake, anything I could do to piss off my mom."
Board member Anne Ehrlich seems to find Werbach almost amusing. "He’s energetic, that’s for sure," she says with a chuckle. "And he has done a lot to recharge some of us older folks, who sometimes get a little jaded."
Tim Hermach, a Sierra Club member who founded the Native Forest Council in Oregon out of frustration over the club’s ineffectiveness in protecting old-growth forests, is sharply critical of Werbach’s performance. "I like people who are willing to fight, like Jesse Helms," Hermach says. "I hate everything he stands for, but he stands up for his beliefs and he doesn’t back off. We don’t have anyone like that protecting the environment, and that’s what we need. That’s not Adam. He’s a nice kid, period."
After witnessing Werbach in action, even Brower has his concerns. All Werbach’s talk of television causes him great dismay. To him, television is "destructive of the mind and of human relationships," and the cause of "cerebral gridlock across America." MTV, in particular, is "a monster." And he wants Werbach to focus more on the problems of the future, such as unfettered growth across the globe. "He’s picked up on the buzzwords of the movement," Brower says. "But he hasn’t picked up on some of the most important things, and I need to sit down and have some long sessions with him."
When asked whether he thinks Werbach has a vision, Brower is uncharacteristically reticent. First he says that Werbach’s vision is being "stifled by the present staff." When pressed on the vision question, Brower expresses regret that because of his age, he has not been able to "guide Adam as much as I would like." He pauses. "Adam does write well, speak well and look good, and he gets a lot of following among the young people."
If the honeymoon is over for Brower, it is for Werbach, too; allying himself with Brower has in many ways turned out to be more than he bargained for. A week after Werbach started his new job, he got a dose of what was to come. Brower called a newspaper reporter and an nounced his resignation from the board. He was, he said, fed up with the club’s bureaucracy and wishy-washy ways. Werbach drove to Brower’s home in the Berkeley Hills and begged him to return, which Brower did, apologizing and calling his resignation "immature." "I love David more than anyone in the club," Werbach says. "But he’s a pain in the ass."
On an unseasonably warm November morning, Werbach sits at his desk, flanked by dueling portraits of John Muir and Marilyn Monroe. As his phone trills urgently, joining the street noise pressing in through the open window (air conditioning is verboten here at the Sierra Club’s San Francisco headquarters), he broods over the unlikely and particularly sticky issue of immigration.
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