Member Profile: John Dixon

My Being in the Sierra Club

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More than 25 years ago I was tabling at an event for another organization. The next table over was that of the Sierra Club. We got talking and I was convinced that the Sierra Club would be a much better organization to be a part of, and I was invited to a Sierra Club meeting. That is how I got started in the Sierra Club.

 

Back then, there were Sierra local groups in nearly every part of Connecticut and the local one for me was the New Haven Group (later called the Shoreline Group). The leader of the Group was Jennifer Yoxall. Jennifer was a wonderful leader. She had a way of making everyone feel they were important to the Group so that it was easy for us to work together. She is also one of Connecticut's top environmental attorneys, so that whenever a legal issue came up she usually had the authoritative answer. We also had Joe Pasquariello who is a toxics building tester and Tom Paul who is an engineer. So we had a lot of expertise in our group when complicated issues came up.


We were always working on some particular issue which we stuck with for as long as it took to get something constructive done. For several years this was the problem of over use of plastic bags in grocery stores. I think we played an important role in the success of moving away from that in Connecticut. For

another period of time our project was working to block a mall development that we considered to be too close to the Long Island Sound shoreline where drain off from the mall would have gone into tidal wetlands. We contributed a thousand dollars toward the legal fees for fighting that.

 

When I started representing the Shoreline Group on the CT ExCom, I got to know Marcie Wilkins and Wendy Harper. They were always the authoritative experts on how things worked in the Sierra Club - so I regularly called them up when I needed to know anything. I also served on the Political Committee. The most amazing thing that happened on that Committee is that we were being led by Homer Scott who envisioned the creation of the CT Clean Energy Fund and the Energy Efficiency Fund. Through his political skills, we were able to get those funds passed in the Legislature. I learned what true political vision looks like. It came from Homer and the Sierra Club.

 

Marcie was the one who told me that special grants were available for working on environmental justice issues. So I got some of my friends in New Haven together to work on an application. Most importantly this included Christel Manning who teaches Religious Studies at Sacred Heart University. Christel became the leader of the group resulting from the grant – the New Haven Environmental Justice Network. The biggest success of this group was getting Attorney General (now Senator) Blumenthal to back us up in blocking the refiring of a very old polluting power plant in the middle of New Haven. 

 

A further success of this group was the creation of the Greater New Haven Green Fund. This resulted from the vision of one of our members, Joe Jolley, who was able to convince his political friends that it would be appropriate to get a million dollars from the proceeds of a sale of public assets set aside to create the fund. I worked closely with Lynne Bonnett, another member, in setting up the structure for the fund. And she has been the president of that fund now for several years. From its investment earnings it gives out several grants each year to local organizations for working on important environmental issues. 

 

As a result of being involved with environmental justice work, I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice. I became friends with Dr. Mark Mitchell, who was President of the Coalition. One of the special experiences resulting from that is that my wife, Jane, and I, along with Dr. Mitchell, were invited to be keynote speakers for a meeting in D.C. of the national staff of the EPA. Jane and I were reporting on our research at Yale on environmental psychology. And the reason we were doing that research – the Sierra Club. Together with us at the presentation was our granddaughter Marina, then eight years old. I introduced her as the youngest member of the New Haven Environmental Justice Network – which she was. Later she became President of her high school Eco Club and Communications Chair of the Sierra Shoreline Group.

 

Most recently I have been working with Tom Paul at reorganizing the Shoreline Group. We found new wonderful people - Jody Kaplan, Jeff Gross, Sue Petit and Rich Melchreit. 

 

So if anyone asks what can come from getting involved in the Sierra Club, the answer is you just never know. But mainly you get to meet amazing people. That you can count on.

 

From John Dixon