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Snowballs in Hell

Sierra Club's Michael Brune speaks on climate change Sept. 16

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HEATED BATTLE  ‘While we are making great strides in transferring to clean power here and around the country, the pace of climate change is also accelerating,’ says Michael Brune.
  • HEATED BATTLE ‘While we are making great strides in transferring to clean power here and around the country, the pace of climate change is also accelerating,’ says Michael Brune.

The nation's oldest established environmental group gets upwards of $60 million in annual donations from various interest groups and individuals. But they aren't on easy street.

On the one hand, the Sierra Club, founded by legendary California naturalist John Muir in 1892, has for years endured the wrath of former supporters and way-left detractors who have pilloried the group for its establishment posturing and for some money it has accepted, which includes donations tied to the fracking industry.

On the other hand are relentless efforts from climate-change hoax proponents to assail the Sierra Club at every turn, who see nothing but self-interest and eco-hypocrisy at play whenever a Sierra Club member boards a jet, in the manner of Al Gore, to go ramble on somewhere about all those polar bears floating around on ice cubes in the distant waters of Antarctica.

You say global warming and the deniers say, "Hey, here's a snowball from the streets of Washington, D.C.—what are you talking about?" Readers may recall that choice bit of hoax-posturing from Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe in 2015 when he famously threw a snowball in the direction of climate-change sanity. Fast forward to 2017, and the United States Geologic Survey just warned Oklahomans to take a page from California and prepare for even more catastrophic and unusual earthquakes. The quakes have been prompted by an unapologetic embrace of fracking in that state, whose scant pile of electoral votes will likely accrue to climate-denier Donald Trump this November.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama was talking with New York Times reporters two weeks ago and said that when his science guy brings the latest graphs and charts into the Oval Office depicting climate change impacts, it's downright "terrifying" to behold.

With these dynamics in mind, what can North Bay residents expect from a visit from the Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune, who gives a talk on Friday, Sept. 16, at the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa at 7pm?

Brune says the purpose of his visit is to highlight the organization's efforts to beat back climate-change effects with the acknowledgement that it's getting kind of hot out there, even if it's kind of cool in Santa Rosa this week.

Sonoma County is a national leader in an emergent shift toward renewable power sources being funneled into the grid, via its community choice effort that saw the rise of the local utility Sonoma Clean Power. Brune says that "while we are making great strides in transferring to clean power here and around the country, the pace of climate change is also accelerating. It's worse than we thought, and it's happening more quickly than we thought. Everything is falling apart even as it is coming together."

Well, that's exactly the rub of the matter, says Ann Hancock, director of the Santa Rosa–based Center for Climate Protection. "Are we doomed already? That's the question. Is there reason for hope, scientifically? Scientists say there is, and we affirm that. Solutions do exist," she says, "and the science is terrifying."

Brune took over as executive director of the Sierra Club in 2010, in the aftermath of a rolling scandal at the organization centered on the fact that Sierra Club had accepted donations totalling more than $26 million from the gas-and-oil industry. The organization had by then also been in a green-washing deal with Clorox for several years, which got the Sierra Club seal of approval for its emergent eco-friendly product line in exchange for $1.3 million.

Brune came aboard and did not renew the Clorox contract, and the Sierra Club later declined $30 million in pledged donations from the oil-and-gas industry.

Woody Hastings is also with the Center for Climate Protection and specializes in "community choice aggregates," local power companies that have sprung up all over the nation in recent years. Like Hancock, he is a longtime member of the Sierra Club, and proudly so, and says its dalliance with fracking money "is old news and that is really a former and long gone set of policy priorities" at the organization. He's been a member since the 1980s and says that of course he doesn't agree with everything the organization has done over that time, but it has been critical and pivotal to statewide efforts to enact community choice aggregates.

Hastings' colleague Geoffrey Smith chimes in that the Sierra Club has a membership base of around 1 million, and that "for better or for worse" it's a democratically run organization. He describes it as an organization that is "constantly in transition but with a solid foundation at the grassroots level."

Six years after Brune took over the Sierra Club, he now says the organization is far more likely to join forces with Silicon Valley tech giants in the fight against climate change than with the oil-and-gas industry that was at the gate under his predecessor, Carl Pope.

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