Sierra Club leader tells teens to take a stand

January 20, 1998

Sierra Club leader tells teens to take a stand


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Forests are worth more standing than they are cut down, so it makes economic sense to protect them.

Such is the philosophy of the Sierra Club as told Monday night by Adam Werbach, the 46th president of the 600,000 member grass-roots environmental activist group.

At 25, Werbach is the youngest person ever to serve as president of the 104-year-old organization. He wasn't much older than the nearly 400 high-school-age kids who made up his audience Monday night at Mercersburg Academy's Boone Hall Theater.


He had even better rapport with a dozen students who milled around him after his speech asking him what they could do for the environment in the world they are soon to enter as adults.

"I'm 17 and I don't have any money. What can someone like me do?" asked one student.

Her answer came earlier, during Werbach' s speech, when he told the private school students that today's college freshman are the most politically apathetic and cynical in generations.

"Less than 27 percent of those 18 to 20 years old voted," he said.

He told the students that they were benefiting from an amazing education and had great opportunities.

"Learn to prepare yourself for all things. Get passionately involved. I misspoke. It's not apathy, it's cynicism. We don't think we can change the system because it's so corrupt," Werbach said.

He said it isn't the fault of young people, but of their leaders who don't inspire activism.

Of the nation's national forests, Werbach said they cannot be selectively harvested.

"You can't do that to an area that has never seen a chain saw. We should manage forests, preserve and protect them. If we can't protect our forests we can't protect anything," he said.

National forests make about $1 billion a year, 97 percent of which comes from recreation, not timbering, he said.

"That's what they should be there for. They're a land of many uses. They're seen as tree farms and we have to change that," he said.

One of the Sierra Club's latest campaigns is supporting a bill banning the building of logging roads into national forests through government subsidies for the benefit of timber companies.

Asked if his youth has drawn negative reaction from his Sierra Club peers, Werbach said while some people had doubts, many felt the movement needed a change.

A native of California, Werbach graduated from Brown University.

When he was 8 he gathered signatures in his second-grade class to help in the effort to unseat James Watt, then-President Ronald Reagan's interior secretary who was unpopular with environmental groups.

"My parents had the petition on the dining room table. We had just learned to write our names in school so I took it to class," he said.

In high school, Werbach founded the Sierra Club's national student program, which established training programs and registered thousands of student voters. The Sierra Student Coalition grew to 30,000 members under his leadership.

In 1994 Werbach was elected to the Sierra Club's board of directors as its youngest member.

He has also has a book out titled, "Act Now, Apologize Later."

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