Just recently, that has started to change. The outdoor recreational industry directly supports three times more jobs than the oil and gas sector. People who play in the American outdoors spend $646 billion a year, responsible for 6.1 million jobs.
Bruce Babbitt, one of the best Interior secretaries of the last 50 years, understood this historic shift but was able to convince his boss, Bill Clinton, of the power of the constituency only in the last years of his presidency.
Jewell is a mechanical engineer by education and certainly knows her way around a drilling rig after a stint with Mobil Oil. She also spent 19 years in the banking industry. But her life was never strictly defined by her day job.
When her father, an anesthesiologist from England, moved to Seattle in the 1950s, he asked what people did with their spare time. Someone told him to join REI, which was founded in 1938 by two dozen or so mountain climbers looking for a way to buy an ice ax. Today, REI is still a cooperative — socialist alert! — honoring its Scandinavian-American roots, albeit a profitable one that returns nearly $100 million to members every year. They have 127 stores in 31 states.
Jewell can be an exuberant evangelist on the subject of trying to get kids from the inner cities into the mountains. There is a profound disconnect, she often says, between modern life and the natural world. And those city dwellers without money are the ones missing out most.
Sally Jewell would be the first woman chosen to join Obama’s second-term cabinet, which is dominated by white men. But she also represents a different kind of diversity inside the Beltway: someone who can tell you which way the wind is blowing without having to fake it.