Personnel Profile: Bill Allayaud

[B]Capitol Weekly: Sierra Club California’s six staff members represent over 20,000 activists. How hard of a challenge is it to set your organization’s priorities? [/B]

Bill Allayaud: Actually, they set the priorities for us. We try to get them to speak with one voice. The process can be difficult but it is also very rewarding because you are working with people who care deeply about a local issue.
Would you say that the profile of the average Sierra Club member is a tree-hugging radical? [/B]

No. A lot of the members join just because they want to go hiking. Some join for “Sierra Singles.” Many get involved because they thought the Sierra Club could help them fight a local land issue. The average person is older.
OK, back to Sierra Singles.

That’s just a way to meet people. They go hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing–those kind of activities. But most are passive members in that they expect us to represent them on key environmental issues.

[B]Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth won an Oscar last week. This comes on the heels of the latest U.N. report that reinforced, more strongly than ever before, the belief that humans are causing global climate change. [/B]

Well, it blows my mind that there are those who are still saying that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by environmentalists. It is not just Senator James Inhofe. There are those under our Capitol dome who don’t believe it. But Californians get it. Over 60 percent of Republicans now say they want the government to do more about it. To me, this is a sea change from where we were a few years ago.

[B]What do you make of the fact that some industries and policy makers now embrace the vocabulary of environmentalism to pursue actions that you have historically opposed? I’m thinking specifically about the idea that we need new dams, or that California should revisit its logging practices because of global-warming effects. [/B]

We’re always aware of people trying to take advantage of that. For example, the last several years the building industry has tried to scapegoat the California Environmental Quality Act for high housing prices, when everyone knew that it was because of historically low interest rates. … I think it’s the same with global warming. There are those who will say, “Well this is an opportunity to get out of something.” There is also some greenwashing going on. If a big oil company, that has made billions of dollars of profits, puts a small percentage into alternative energy, have they really jumped on to the global-warming bandwagon?
You used the term “greenwashing.” What else has changed since you began working in this field in 1973, fresh from a degree in environmental studies and political science from UC Santa Cruz? [/B]

First, what jumps out at me is what hasn’t changed. My senior year of college was the first Arab oil embargo. It was followed by the 1978 OPEC embargo. I thought, “This is easy.” We’ll do the technology to have cars get 60, 80, 100 miles a gallon, in 10 to 20 years. But, we’re worse off in many respects today than we were then. My 1987 Honda Accord got better gas mileage than today’s Accord. … The other big change since I left college is that global warming is accelerating sea-level rise. And the spread of diseases, famines and floods was not foreseen.

[B]You are an avid skier, hiker and camper?[/B]

I got hooked a few years ago on golf. But my philosophy is that we do not need any more courses. We have plenty.

[B]What top camping spot or day trip do you recommend for Capitol homebodies?
Within easy reach is Horsetail Falls off Highway 50. It is inspiring and an easy hike.

[B]Have you ever had any close encounters with wild animals or extreme weather?[/B]

I’ve had a number of great wildlife experiences, from facing a great horned owl to discovering a rattlesnake in my sleeping bag off the Salmon River in Northern California. I wouldn’t trade any of these experiences for anything because they renew my spirit and remind me of why I think I was put here on this planet. And that is to help protect all life, and speak for the voiceless–like animals, trees and disenfranchised communities of people.

[B]What makes a great director of an advocacy organization?[/B]

First is the ability to get along with your members and listen to their needs. Second, to use the political power that you get from the Sierra Club name responsibly.
So, what happened with the rattlesnake in your sleeping bag?[/B]

Actually, my camping partner killed it, much to my dismay. I said “Why did you do that?” … I have faced many rattlesnakes since then and all of them have gone their own way. They are part of the ecosystem that I respect. Live and let live.

[B]Finally, how do you pronounce your name?[/B]

Ow-lee-oh. One of the rarest names in the world. My grandfather came from the mountains of central France in the 1860s. Here in the United States. I am the last male Allayaud.

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