"Coming Clean" Has Moved

January 15, 2015

From 2015 onward, new "Coming Clean" posts will appear only here: 


Archived posts are also available at the same location.



New York's Grassroots Triumph

December 19, 2014

In New York State, at least, sanity has prevailed. By banning fracking, Governor Andrew Cuomo has acted to protect his state's citizens from a rapacious industry whose presence would inevitably result in significant health and environmental consequences.

It's hard to overstate how important this victory is. For the past five years, New York has been one of the few states wise enough to maintain a moratorium on a practice that has devastated thousands of neighborhoods and thousands of square miles of landscapes across the United States. Fortunately, after receiving a report from the state's Health Department that found fracking could pose "significant public health risks," Governor Cuomo concluded that even a single fracking site in New York State would be one too many.

The final decision may have been the governor's, but the real credit for victory over the immensely powerful fossil fuel lobby goes to the passionate anti-fracking activists of New York. Thousands of ordinary (and not so ordinary!) people worked tirelessly to spread the word about the dangers of fracking. They pushed for a moratorium when few thought it was possible. They faced years of opposition from the oil and gas industry and their friends in government, and they never gave up. So this is their hard-earned and well-deserved victory, but it's also something more. It's a ringing affirmation that grassroots organizing really is powerful enough to stop these polluters before they can even get started. That lesson will be taken to heart in hundreds, if not thousands, of communities across the country. Organize and work together, and you can stop the frackers, stop the coal trains, stop the gas-export terminals, and start racing toward 100 percent clean energy for everyone.

Activists in New York fought to stop fracking for the same reasons that the Sierra Club opposes it: the appalling risks and destructive footprint. But in New York, as elsewhere, fracking is all the more foolish when much better energy options await full development. New York has a tremendous economic opportunity in renewable energy. Its Renewable Portfolio Standard, with a goal of 30 percent renewable energy by 2015, has already been successful at bringing new projects online, including 21 new wind farms. It has helped create hundreds of new jobs and driven $2.7 billion in direct investments in the state. However, the program will sunset in 2015.

Although the Cuomo administration has launched several energy initiatives to transform the electricity sector, none of those programs includes measurable benchmarks for getting renewable energy to scale. This week, the Long Island Power Authority's Board of Trustees voted to approve just a fraction of the renewable energy contracts promised by Governor Cuomo in his LIPA reform legislation. So although the governor has demonstrated that he's serious about protecting the health and well-being of New Yorkers, he needs to show the same kind of leadership in developing a strong, prosperous renewable energy economy for New York.

One more thing: Now that Governor Cuomo has announced to the world that fracking is too dangerous for New York, how can the governors of other states justify accepting those same risks? Are the risks and the destruction of fracking somehow more acceptable if you live in California, Ohio, Illinois, or Maryland? Do the people living in those states have less to lose than New Yorkers do? Of course not. New York has its fracking ban, which is a wonderful thing. Now it's time to protect the rest of America from fracking and let our country transition to the prosperous, clean-energy economy that we need. 

Read the Comments

December 12, 2014

Riding alone on the D.C. Metro Silver Line late last Thursday night, I shut my laptop in disgust. I had just left my sister's house in northern Virginia. And now, reading some comments on a Facebook post had wiped out much of the good feeling of reconnecting with family. The Sierra Club's expression of solidarity for organizations protesting the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and other victims of injustice provoked many reactions, some of which were racist, vicious, and crude. So I stopped reading and closed my laptop.

Before I go on, let me say that I do realize that spending much time in the comments section online can be a risky proposition. There's even a recently closed Twitter feed, @AvoidComments, that gives several hundred humorous reasons and reminders NOT to read the comments. After all, the Internet can be a place of joy, inspiration, and insight (also, cat videos), but scroll on down to the comments section of just about any high-profile news item and you'll often find seemingly limitless bile and venom. In the wake of the grand jury decisions regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, that was most certainly the case. And when some of that hatred made its way onto the Sierra Club's Facebook page, I initially wanted no part of it.

Then I realized that I had done exactly what the victims of racism cannot. All I had to do was close my computer and -- voila! -- that hatred was gone. From my position of privilege as a white man, I could choose whether to face the ugliness of racism. But had I been born with a different color of skin, racism would have been inescapable. In America, people of color can't ignore the hatred and fear in the comments -- they are living those comments every day. In a moving essay, the chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, Bernard J. Tyson, wrote last week, "If you're not black it's hard to relate to situations as a black man might," and patiently described how being one of the country's top executives doesn't make him immune to indignities at upscale stores, in restaurants, and in public.

I reopened my laptop. It was going to be a long ride.

As I read on through the hundreds of responses, they fell into three general categories. There were the ones that made me recoil. There were also expressions of gratitude -- a category I'm glad to say got larger over time and soon represented the vast majority of posts. And lastly, there were comments from people who simply seemed baffled. Why was the Sierra Club speaking out on this issue? What did police shootings, or questions of abuse and racism, however tragic, have to do with protecting the environment?

Right away, I wanted to answer that question. So I wrote a quick post on Facebook that I later added to my own blog, and I promised to follow up in more depth, which I'm doing now.

Where to begin? I'll start by acknowledging that the environmental movement has a less-than-perfect record when it comes to race. After more than a century of conservation work, it's only relatively recently that we have recognized the gravity of environmental injustice -- that communities of color are almost always the ones most affected by pollution. That's not an inconvenience. It's a matter of life and death, from the refineries of Texas to the tar sands of Canada.

At the same time, we have struggled to foster a truly inclusive movement. I think that's finally beginning to change, and I am proud of the hard work that the Sierra Club and others have done. But as I read the comments on Facebook, I thought of how our staff members and volunteers of color would feel. It's not enough for environmental organizations to become more racially diverse -- we must also understand and take responsibility for their experience in the workplace. Just like the nation, we still have a long ways to go.

And I'll say it again: To succeed in standing up to those who don't care what happens to our planet, we need the help of everyone who does. The environmental movement, and the Sierra Club, can and should recognize and welcome the participation of the people most affected by injustice, environmental or otherwise.

But how can we enlist the support of millions of people who are forced to live with irrefutable injustice if we turn our backs on their suffering? I could quote statistics for pages, but for those who really want their eyes opened, I recommend The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Suffice to say that being black means you are more likely to be stopped by the police, more likely to be searched if you're stopped, and more likely to lose your life if you're arrested. If you're convicted, you're far more likely to get the death penalty. Stacked Deck, a report released this week by the policy organization Demos, shows how racial bias in our political system prevents these and many other issues from being addressed.

If you're a young black male, it doesn't matter who your parents are. You might be a future CEO; your dad might be the mayor of New York City. You've had "the talk." You've been warned to be cautious around the police, to hold your tongue, to keep your hands in plain sight. This is good advice for anyone, but for people of color and in particular for young black men, it's often a matter of life and death. I never had to have that conversation with my parents. I can't even imagine growing up with that reality. Although my wife and I talk about race with our kids, they won't face the same danger that their black and brown friends do.

Is it too much to hope that the terrible events in Missouri, New York, and Ohio will force us as a nation to look at ourselves without flinching and to hold these injustices to the light? To the people who still don't understand what that might have to do with environmentalism, here's my answer: Fighting injustice -- knowing the difference between what is right and what is wrong -- must be at the heart of our work. Otherwise, what really distinguishes us from our opponents?  

The truth is that the people who are protesting the deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and so many others are fighting against the same things that we are. I'm not just talking about corrupt politicians, soulless corporations, or a biased criminal justice system. Our real shared adversaries are fear, ignorance, and self-interest. Those are the wellsprings of both the hatred in the Facebook comments and the resistance to making our world cleaner, safer, and fairer for all, not just a privileged few.

John Muir wrote, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." These great leaders of the environmental and the civil rights movements never met, but they would not have failed to see what we share in common: The belief that we can do better and the hope that, together, we shall.

This weekend, I ask you to get out of your comfort zone on race. Listen to what your fellow Americans are saying about their personal experiences of racial injustice. Talk to your colleagues, friends, and family. Maybe start following @Colorlines on Twitter. And consider showing solidarity by attending one of the many peaceful protests around the country. My family and I will be doing that tomorrow here in the Bay Area. Join us! 

Fracking 101: Two Steps Back

December 08, 2014

It's incredible that, despite real progress in reducing climate-disrupting carbon emissions, the United States is still charging ahead with a "boom" in dirty fuels and extraction methods. It's like swallowing aspirin as you beat your head against a wall. What gives?

By now, it's clear that the dirty fuel industry is determined to continue business as usual, no matter the cost to our climate. Look no further than the last election to see how determined they really are. In California alone, fossil fuel industry groups spent $7.6 million to defeat one ballot measure that would have banned hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Santa Barbara County. Across the country, billions of dollars are backing the polluter agenda.

That big spending is in part a reaction to a growing recognition among Americans that fracking and other dirty fuel development is bad for public health, bad for the climate, and bad for the economy. National and state-level polls tell us that, once people understand how fracking affects our groundwater, air quality, and climate, opposition to it rises. In this case, knowledge really is power as we push back against the polluters.

That's why the Sierra Club has released Fracking 101, an animated video that shows how fracking works and why it threatens both our environment and our health. Narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Edward James Olmos in both English and Spanish, the video makes it easy to understand fracking's risks.

Because of these unacceptable risks to our communities, our environment, and our climate, the Sierra Club is opposed to fracking, period.

As we move forward on clean energy solutions and emissions reductions, we cannot afford to let dirty fuel companies undo our progress. Our Dirty Fuels, Clean Futures report, released earlier this year, estimates that oil and gas fracking in the Monterey, San Juan Basin, and Marcellus shale plays would release three-and-a-half times more climate pollution than will be saved by President Obama's new fuel-economy standards. That's what a certain Jersey poet calls "one step up and two steps back."

Help us spread the word about the dangers of fracking and the need to keep dirty fuels in the ground. Share the video and take this action.

Why We Can't Be Silent

December 06, 2014

During the past week, the Sierra Club has spoken out about Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City, and President Obama's executive action on immigration. Some have told us that they consider these to be "non-environmental" issues. Here are some quick thoughts on why these issues are so important to address. I'll share more later this week.

The Sierra Club believes that all people deserve a healthy planet with clean air and water and a stable climate. All people also deserve equal protection under the law and the right to live their lives free of discrimination and hatred. These issues are not separate. Indeed, we believe that working toward a just, equitable, and transparent society is not only morally necessary but also exactly what we need to confront the unprecedented environmental challenges we face.

Injustices in our political system and in our culture empower polluters and lead to the destruction of our most cherished places. Those same injustices often breed hatred, sow division among us, and threaten our health and safety. The Sierra Club's mission is to "enlist humanity" to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. That mission, which applies to everyone, cannot be achieved when people's rights are being violated and their safety and dignity are being threatened on a routine basis. This must stop.

That is why we must speak out on these issues. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

From Shadows to Security

November 21, 2014

Last night, President Obama announced that he will use his executive authority to take the first significant steps toward fixing what has become an increasingly dysfunctional national immigration policy. As with climate and energy policy, he has not done all that is needed, but as much as he believes he can. In the face of a Congress that routinely passes on opportunities to do anything constructive, and political ideologues who cry foul before the ball is even in play, Obama is determined to do his job.

Why should the Sierra Club care about this latest announcement? For the same reasons anyone should care. Because (again, just as with climate disruption) fixing this problem is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. What kind of society forces millions of people -- people who are essential to its functioning -- to live in the shadows?

Policy debates tend toward abstraction and depersonalization. One side talks about "illegal aliens" and the other about "undocumented workers." Really, though, we're talking about people. People just like us. They are moms and dads. They're uncles, aunts, and grandparents. They may love to dance, to hike, or to spend Sunday afternoons at a big family picnic. Their kids play with ours in the schoolyard. We sit together in the same movie theatres and at our churches, mosques, and synagogues.

One thing is different for them, though. When we look to see who is being hurt most by pollution, our nation's immigrants are the people we usually find on the front lines. Their communities are not only among the most exploited and abused by polluters but also among the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate disruption and extreme weather. Yet they have been denied even the most basic protections that would allow them to speak up and seek justice.

That millions of families in this country should never feel truly safe is both unconscionable and un-American.

Beyond the issue of justice, though, Obama is helping to restore something that has always been essential to the character and achievement of our nation. Immigrants do not want to be a burden -- they want to contribute. In the past, we were proud of that fact and those contributions. When the Sierra Club was founded 122 years ago, at least 20 of our 182 original members were immigrants -- including, of course, John Muir himself. Some of them had come to the U.S. because it was a land of opportunity. Some were fleeing political upheavals. All of them, though, were proud contributors to their adopted country.

After six years of waiting in vain for Congress to act, President Obama has taken an important and necessary first step toward offering temporary relief for undocumented families. In doing so, he is enabling millions of people to make their own contributions to this country by removing the threat of deportation and family separation. The result will be an America that is more diverse, more fair, and all the stronger for it.

Thank President Obama for taking action here.

Tar Sands End Runs

November 19, 2014

In a narrow victory for common sense, yesterday the Senate rejected an attempt to legislate approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Senators like California's Barbara Boxer, Hawaii's Brian Schatz, and Virginia's Tim Kaine stood up as environmental champions and deserve our thanks for their leadership. But since the beginning, the decision on the pipeline has belonged to President Obama, so there's no good reason for the Senate to have wasted time on trying to circumvent the approval process.

The bigger issue, though, is that there's no good reason to support Canadian tar sands expansion, much less allow more dirty tar sands oil into our country. Even though everything about tar sands oil is destructive, dirty, and dangerous, oil companies (and their champions on the Hill) are determined to bring as much of it as they can across our border, even if it means bending, breaking, or changing the rules. TransCanada failed this week to get the Senate to do an end run, but another tar sands company, Enbridge, has been having more success in a different branch of government.

Enbridge somehow has convinced the State Department to approve its Keystone XL-sized tar sands pipeline expansion. That's right, this is the same company responsible for the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history, which contaminated 35 miles of Michigan waterways and wetlands in 2010 with diluted bitumen from tar sands. If Enbridge's expansion of its Alberta Clipper pipeline goes through, the increase in tar sands exports will be equivalent to building 20 new coal-fired power plants.

How did this happen? Enbridge had applied to the State Department to expand the Alberta Clipper back in 2012, which was necessary because, like Keystone XL, the pipe would cross our border with Canada. Since then, the State Department has been going through the environmental review process required by law before making a decision. But Enbridge got tired of waiting. Tar sands producers aren't in it for the long haul -- they're eager to cash in while their extreme oil is still economically viable.

So in June, Enbridge sent a letter to the State Department informing it that it had decided to immediately move forward with the Alberta Clipper expansion without waiting for State to complete its review. It would do an end run around the law by diverting the flow of tar sands oil to an adjacent, 1960s-era pipeline called "Line 3" just before it reaches the international border, and then back to Alberta Clipper once it was across the border. Enbridge asserted that the State Department's jurisdiction was limited to the actual border crossing, so State could do nothing to stop it.

Give them points for chutzpah. But, in fact, the State Department has jurisdiction over the entire border, including Line 3. Both pipelines operate under the permission of the State Department. The permits for both pipelines prohibit these kinds of operational changes, and State has the authority to revoke or terminate either permit at any time. Not surprisingly, Enbridge also ignored that the State Department's job is to evaluate whether increased tar sands oil imports into the U.S. are in our national interest, including climate impacts. Just last week, the White House reaffirmed that it is "firmly committed" to that process, which is why we expect President Obama to veto any future legislative attempts to shove Keystone XL down our throats.

Not everyone in his administration, though, seems to have gotten that message, because in July the State Department replied to Enbridge's blatant attempt to avoid the Alberta Clipper permitting process -- by agreeing that the expansion could go forward.

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. After all, this is not the first time that the State Department's ties to the oil industry have raised eyebrows. Twice it has ignored its own conflict-of-interest procedures and come under fire for hiring oil-industry groups to write the environmental impact statements for Keystone XL. The resulting reports naturally downplayed Keystone XL's negative impacts despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In this case, it appears that State privately met with Enbridge to discuss this new scheme as far back as June 3, yet nothing was disclosed to the public until almost three months later. In addition, State has refused to disclose crucial permitting documents despite Sierra Club requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

That's why the Sierra Club, together with a coalition of environmental and tribal allies, has filed a lawsuit challenging Enbridge's illegal scheme to nearly double the amount of tar sands coming across our border, while avoiding public review and the presidential permit process.

Once again, though, it's important to remember that the stakes extend far beyond the approval of any single pipeline -- whether it's proposed by Enbridge or TransCanada. We should be looking for ways to avoid -- not encourage -- extreme oil sources.

Racing to the Top with China

November 12, 2014

What a difference a week makes. This morning we awoke to the news that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have negotiated a historic joint announcement on climate change and clean energy cooperation. Coming from the world's two largest economies and two biggest carbon emitters, the new targets set by President Obama and President Xi Jinping have put the international community on notice: It's time to put up or shut up.

Three major, overarching goals were announced:  

  • The U.S. will cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

  • China will attempt to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030 (and possibly sooner).

  • Also by 2030, China will increase the share of non-fossil fuel energy it uses to around 20 percent.

China's pledge to cap its emissions is momentous -- and should compel India and other developing nations to set their own ambitious targets. But the game changer in this announcement -- and an underreported one at that -- is China's goal of producing 20 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by the end of the next decade. To accomplish that, China will need to install 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of energy with zero emissions by 2030 -- an amount almost equal to current total U.S. electricity generating capacity.

Such rapid clean-energy growth will accelerate a positive feedback loop. As China drives toward its goal, clean energy prices will continue to drop. Solar and wind are cheaper than fossil fuels in many places already; as prices plummet even further, the transition from dirty fuels will pick up speed, helping China, the U.S., and other countries meet and exceed their climate targets and save money in the process.

The U.S. and China aren't acting out of sheer altruism, though -- both countries will also gain tremendously by leading the transition to a clean-energy economy. Sure, cutting carbon pollution is a driving factor, but there's enormous benefit in doing so. Fighting climate change is something that we get to do, not just something that we have to do. According to the Center for American Progress, an accelerated transition to clean energy in this country will create 2.7 million new jobs in the clean energy sector nationwide. No doubt the Chinese have performed a similar calculus.

Of course, China had already made it clear that renewable energy was a national priority. At a time when we face yet another congressional debate over whether to renew the Production Tax Credit for wind power in this country, China is erecting wind turbines like yard signs in a swing state -- it already has more wind power than the entire European Union, and will install a record amount of both solar and wind again this year.  

So, yes, while this agreement means that China and the U.S. are standing together to take responsibility for climate action, this partnership is just as much about opportunity. That, more than anything, is why clean energy is unstoppable. The opportunities it represents -- both economically ("Consumers and businesses will save literally billions of dollars," said one administration official) and in so many other ways -- are a powerful force for bringing people, industries, and, in this case, nations together. Just this week, for instance, I attended an event highlighting how the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Sierra Club have worked together to help create more than a thousand new construction jobs with good wages and benefits through responsibly sited large-scale solar projects in California.

One more point on this announcement. Those who keep a clear, unflinching eye on the total carbon reductions needed to keep warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit will say that the U.S. could in fact do much more than cut its carbon by 26-28 percent a decade from now. They're right. The EU has indicated it will cut its carbon pollution by 40 percent (by 2030) -- using a more challenging baseline figure. And our fragile planet certainly needs China to cap its emissions sooner than the end of the next decade.  

But even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single (in this case, giant) step. Two centuries ago, Napoleon presciently compared China to a sleeping giant that would one day awaken and shake the world. But he also made an observation about leadership: "One can lead a nation only by helping it see a brighter future -- a leader must offer hope." President Obama and President Xi Jinping offered that hope today by stepping forward together.

And what about the Republican leaders gnashing their teeth in Congress? What message of opportunity are they offering? How, exactly, do they propose to lead the nation forward when their rallying cry is "Retreat!"?

Don't ask me. I'm not a scientist. But I do know that real leadership should be acknowledged when it happens. For all those who have marched, testified, lobbied, litigated, invested, divested, tweeted, posted, and donated to fight against dirty fuels and for 100% clean energy, take a bow. We're building momentum. And also, please take a moment and send President Obama a message thanking him for acting on climate and elevating our clean energy ambitions.

That Which Doesn't Kill Us...

November 07, 2014

Yes, the election hurt. We feared it would be bad -- and it was worse. By now we've all heard the Wednesday-morning quarterback analyses of how and why the Democratic Party gave up control of the Senate and lost a bunch of other races around the country. For the Sierra Club, it's especially painful to know that in far too many places we have lost long-standing, hard-working champions for clean energy, for the climate, and for the environment. And believe me, it's not going to be easy to see climate-denier James Inhofe chairing the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Big Oil booster Lisa Murkowski picking up the gavel at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Not to mention Kentucky coal senator Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader -- that’s a dirty-fuel dream team right there.

I could go on. But the fact is that losing elections is part of having a democracy. I may not be happy about it when good candidates lose, but I can accept it and move on. There's one troubling aspect of this election, though, that none of us should accept: an attack of democracy itself.

Without question, a rash of discriminatory voter-suppression laws in 21 states kept millions of Americans from voting in this election. Did these new voting and registration laws affect the outcome of this election? It's definitely possible. The New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Social Justice has already made a strong case that in at least four states (Virginia, Kansas, Florida, and North Carolina) enough votes were suppressed to make a difference in specific close races.

It's no secret what's going on here: The same people who are poisoning our air and our water are also poisoning our democracy. This erosion of voting rights affects all of the work that we care about: clean energy, conservation legislation, climate legislation. The Sierra Club, along with a coalition of environmental groups, workers' groups, and civil rights organizations, and others, will redouble our efforts to stop this assault on our democracy.

Even without voter suppression, though, this would have been a disappointing election for people who care about clean energy and the environment. But that doesn't mean that there weren't any bright spots. Here are a few things to keep in mind as we dust ourselves off and prepare for what will be a challenging couple of years.

First, this election marked a huge turning point for climate change as an issue. Two successful senate candidates, Gary Peters in Michigan and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, leaned in hard on clean energy and climate. Perhaps even more telling, we're starting to see Republican candidates back away from outright climate denial -- at least rhetorically. That's why Colorado's Cory Gardner ran an ad claiming -- falsely -- that he supports wind energy.

Poll after poll has shown that the public wants clean air, clean water, and climate action. They want an end to tax breaks for oil companies and they want more investments in clean energy now. It's extremely unlikely they'll get progress from Congress on those issues during the next two years -- instead they will almost certainly see them attacked. You can bet that will be a big issue in 2016.

Second, although the oil and gas industries saw plenty of their candidates succeed, they were by no means invincible. In Nebraska, eight-term congressman Lee Terry, an ardent climate denier and proponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, was defeated. In cities and counties in Ohio, California, and (for the first time ever) Texas, activists succeeded in getting fracking bans passed -- despite being massively outspent. And in the refinery town of Richmond, CA, Chevron failed miserably in its attempt to defeat a slate of pro-environment and clean energy candidates, even after it spent at least $3 million (that's $72 per registered voter) on negative ads.

Third, the most important clean energy and climate champion of all is still in office. President Obama has made fighting climate change a priority, especially during the past two years, and there's no reason to doubt that he will stay that course. He has significant authority to speed up the transition to clean energy and to establish an even stronger climate and environmental legacy. He's also got plenty of ink left in his veto pen.

Another thing to remember: We've been here before, more times than we care to remember, and the political outlook was as bleak or bleaker than it is today. If we look back at what happened, though, progress didn't stop -- in fact, we came out stronger. The most successful activist campaign in Sierra Club history -- Move Beyond Coal -- began and flourished under Bush/Cheney. When Ronald Reagan put James "mine more, drill more, cut more" Watt in charge of the Interior Department, it inspired a generation of activists who are fighting for wilderness, wildlife protection, and clean energy to this day. Sure, we're probably going to be playing more defense during the next couple of years. But guess what? We are really good at playing defense. After all, we have something that's actually worth defending.

Our job now is to sharpen our insights, strengthen our programs, and find new and even more-effective ways to make the clean energy future a reality. As we do that, we'll see a new wave of voters becoming engaged in the political process who know that protecting nature and replacing dirty fuels with clean energy not only makes air and water cleaner and helps to stabilize our climate but also saves money and creates jobs at the same time. That will be a winning ticket all the way.  

Breaking Big Oil's Grip

November 03, 2014

Oil prices have dipped lately. In the short term, that's probably good news (unless you're an oil company or a petrostate). If we look at the big picture, though, it's a lot less relevant. That's because oil prices don't reflect the true costs of extracting and burning oil any more than donut prices reflect what a steady diet of crullers will do to your waistline. Eat enough donuts and your health will suffer, regardless of how much you paid for them. Likewise, the more oil we consume, the worse the consequences will be for our climate, our environment, and our democracy. High prices simply add insult to the ongoing injury.

Unfortunately, though, the real costs of oil aren't just keeping pace with our oil use -- they're outstripping it. The oil industry's increasing reliance on risky, high-carbon, extreme sources like tar sands, fracking, and Arctic and deepwater drilling means that we're paying an ever-steeper price -- not just in dollars, but in disasters. On top of that, it's clear by now that, unchecked, Big Oil will stay on this destructive course like an out-of-control automaton. If we let them, oil industry executives will keep drilling long past the point where the planet as we know it can recover.

And let's stop right there, because we are not going to let that happen.

What's more, the oil industry knows it. They know that people don't trust them. They know that people don't like being forced to depend on oil for transportation. And, most important of all, they know that people have the power to move our country beyond oil for good.

They know it's possible because they can already see us doing it. We are loosening oil's grip, and we're doing it from two different sides: supply and demand.

On the supply side, our organizing is already keeping fossil fuels in the ground. We're relentlessly challenging the oil industry's attempts to exploit high-risk and pollution-intensive oil reserves. Have you taken action to oppose construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport dirty tar sands oil? Then you've already directly affected the economic viability of that disastrous energy source. A new analysis from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Oil Change International found that tar sands producers lost more than $17 billion in revenue between 2010 and 2013 as the result of citizen protests. We haven't completely stopped tar sands development (yet), but we but we are well on the way to ensuring that it is one of the first forms of extreme oil to become nonviable as we shift away from oil entirely.

And that's just one of many fights here and around the world to stop irresponsible drilling for dirty fuels.

At the same time (and this is part of the reason for the current decline in oil prices), we're reducing the demand for oil. As The Economist recently put it: "Energy-saving ideas will not suddenly be uninvented." Standards for more-efficient vehicles and consumer adoption of technologies like electric cars and more-efficient engines aren't going away, regardless of what happens to oil prices. Every single thing we do to promote clean energy and sustainable transportation solutions (like renewable energy, electric vehicles, transit, and walkable/bikeable communities) permanently ratchets down the use of oil in our economy. And as I've said before, once we break up with dirty fuels, there's no way we're getting back together.

Want to really keep oil executives up at night? Check out the Sierra Club's new "Pick a Plug-In" website to find out whether a full-battery or plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle makes sense for you. The U.S. already has more than a quarter million EVs on its roads and, this past fall, the fourth annual National Drive Electric Week drew more than 90,000 people to events in 150 cities and 39 states. Governors, mayors, senators, and city councillors from all over the nation participated and announced initiatives that will put even more EVs on the road.

If you do end up behind the wheel of one of those EVs, you'll join the thousands who've discovered that driving one is not only cleaner and quieter but also way more fun. At the very least, you'll have one less reason to worry about the price of oil.

Found in the Flood

October 28, 2014

Two years ago, news broke about a hurricane called Sandy that might be headed toward the East Coast. Ultimately, Sandy would leave more than 180 people dead, thousands homeless, and indelible images of a darkened Manhattan and storm-surge waters flooding the tunnels of the New York subway system. The total cost of damages was $60 billion -- the only U.S. hurricane in history that cost more was Katrina in 2005. Many of the hardest-hit communities are still struggling to recover.

Unusually powerful storms like Sandy and Katrina are extreme weather at its most dramatic -- a predictable consequence of a warmer atmosphere and oceans. When you combine such storms with rising sea levels, it's obvious that coastal communities everywhere are vulnerable.

But although we can't prevent more powerful storms, we are far from powerless. We still have time to take action to limit the climate disruption that makes storms more severe. But let's be clear: That time is limited. We can't pass off responsibility to future generations because that tactic has already been used -- on us.

Last week, the European Union showed the rest of the world what taking responsibility looks like by striking an initial deal to require its member countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Could the U.S. make a comparable national commitment? Absolutely. In fact, we could do even better, but only if we force our government to get serious about solving the problem. That will take a powerful, people-driven movement to overcome the money and influence of the corporations whose existence depends on their ability to pollute and exploit without regard for the consequences.

The good news is that such a people-driven movement has already started in this country, and you don't need to look further than the flooding of New York's streets and subways to see it. No, I'm not talking about the storm surge from Sandy but about the human surge of the People's Climate March in Manhattan last month -- the biggest climate demonstration of all time. In fact, so many people filled the streets on that Sunday, September 21, that the same subway system that had been inundated by Sandy set a new ridership record.

The sight of hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets (and mass transit), united by a common purpose, was a powerful reminder that together we are strong, we are positive, and we are not about to give up on the future.

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Michael Brune

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