Sierra Club executive director rallies Carbondalians
In the midst of an effort to revamp the Roaring Fork Valley Group of the Sierra Club, the national organization’s executive director stopped into Carbondale on Thursday to talk national issues and rally support.
Michael Brune, a New Jersey native who has run the Sierra Club since 2010, focused on the Trump administration’s dramatic policy changes toward environmental protections, climate change efforts and federal public lands.
Brune highlighted the 27 national monuments now being reviewed under a presidential executive order, including Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado.
“We’re seeing the beginnings of an attack on the Antiquities Act itself,” which presidents use to unilaterally create national monuments, as well as attempts to privatize campgrounds in national parks, Brune said.
“We’re seeing almost every protection we have for … wilderness and basic environmental protections being rolled back”: Obama-era rules limiting mercury released into the environment from burning coal, rules protecting people from coal ash, soot and smog. “We’re seeing from this administration, full determination … full dedication to eviscerating many protections we have relied on for many decades,” he said.
Sierra Club, as well as the broader environmental movement, seeks to split its efforts in two: First comes the fight against the Trump administration’s attempts to dissemble air, land and water protections. Second is “fighting for the world we want,” said Brune.
And that means more communities committed to transition to 100 percent clean energy and renewable energy sources, according to Sierra Club. “We should be able to have power without pollution,” as Brune put it.
In the last few months, despite the current administration’s actions, there has been a surge of engagement from the city level, the state level and from the private sector. Each of these are being more ambitious and accelerating their clean energy policies, said Brune.
The Sierra Club leader also criticized the president’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, a move that only Syria and Nicaragua have also taken.
However, millions of people are becoming politicized and engaged for the first time, though they’re facing a stone wall from the administration, he said.
In the days following that announcement on the Paris agreement, coal plants were shutting down and more cities were committing to 100 percent clean energy, said Brune. In total, 36 cities have now committed to 100-percent clean and renewable energy, and 125 mayors have committed to pushing that transition in their cities.
Activism works, said Brune, as evidenced by labor activists who gave us the weekend, child labor laws and the eight-hour workday. If you have picked up the phone in the last six months to call legislators, company executives or governors, these things do have an impact and are working, said Brune. “We actually are building power as a movement.”
Many national leaders in the Republican party are acting counter to their constituents’ interests; a majority of Americans in every state want to see the U.S. in the Paris agreement, but there is a logjam at the leadership level and an inability to break with fossil fuel executives, said Brune. Parks and wilderness areas also connect most Americans regardless of their politics, and many conservatives really care about clean energy, he said. About 80 percent of wind energy infrastructure and more than 70 percent of solar are built in districts that tend to vote Republican.
Brune said as more and more Americans experience the effects of climate change — droughts, wildfire, stronger storms — and the benefits of clean energy, he hopes to see more pressure on Republicans.
Coal plants are coming down around the world, gas plants are coming down, especially in the U.S., and both are being replaced with clean energy sources. A big part of the struggle, the national director said, will be having good jobs for the workers displaced by that transition.
While the Sierra Club, this year celebrating its 125 years, has been active in the Roaring Fork Valley in the past, the organization plans to redouble its efforts to grow support and activity here again, said Todd Chamberlin, a Sierra Club activist from Carbondale who organized Thursday’s event.
The Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club has also already launched a campaign to get more commitments to 100 percent clean energy goals. The Ready for 100 campaign aims to help communities fully make that transition by 2030.