An organization that’s been around for almost 130 years is working to improve Missouri’s environment for the present and the future.
The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 to try to influence environmental policy while also providing outdoor education. The Missouri Chapter contains groups located in St. Louis, Columbia, Kansas City and Springfield.
“We started by focusing on helping folks explore the outdoors and helping them understand the vital importance it has to people’s health,” conservation organizer Billy Davies said. “We’ve continued to grow and adapt as a volunteer-led organization. Since our founding, we’ve come to have chapters in every state, working across all levels of government.”
The organization contains more than 3.8 million people in its base. The grassroots organization works to help protect the Earth’s ecosystems and recourses.
“The Missouri chapter has an office based in St. Louis where we have staff at the local level and ones at the national level,” Davies said. “We have a few field staff members like myself in Springfield and Kansas City where we work with our volunteer leaders that help mobilize our more than 20,000 members.”
Those volunteers help make sure the decisions made by those in power are inclusive to those that are directly impacted by environmental issues and are shaped in a way that puts their health and well-being first, Davies said.
The issues tackled by the group include climate crisis, pollution and protecting public lands in Missouri. The Sierra Club also campaigned for funding to those communities hit hardest by COVID-19 in the infrastructure bill that was passed by the Senate on Tuesday.
The club has been involved in the push for a greener Missouri. The state is second in the country, behind only Texas, for its coal dependency. Coal accounted for 70% of electricity generated in Missouri last year. The state received just 9% of its electricity from renewable sources.
“Even in a red state like Missouri, you’ll see that people are concerned,” Davies said. “Part of that is big days like today, where they released another IPCC report, that was a lot to take in, to say the least. It is combined with what we’re seeing, like more flooding and cautious air days when you’re advised to stay indoors. It does move people to act.”
Davies pointed to the west when talking about air quality throughout the country being affected by fires on the coast. St. Louis reached an air quality index score of 137 two weeks ago. A score of 50 or below is considered good air quality.
“As the climate changes and we see record-high heat in places, that is going to get worse,” Davies said. “It will also worsen flooding, which is particularly impactful here in the Midwest where we are growing America’s food.”