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Don't Give Up: Sierra Club Leader on How We Can Win the Fight for Clean Energy

The Sierra Club's Michael Brune talks about how we can transition to clean energy, and how his million-member organization plans to flex its muscle.

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TL: What about the international community that is waiting for actual legislative change in this country?

MB: I'm not saying that we shouldn't work on climate change, but the international community will have to adjust its expectation. It doesn't look like we are going to produce comprehensive climate legislation in the next couple of years. We need it. But we aren't going to get it. What we will get is bigger reductions in carbon over the next five-10 years than we would have gotten under any of the climate bills that were introduced in the last Congress. By cutting carbon coming from coal and cutting our oil consumption, we'll produce more carbon reductions between now and 2020 than was in any recent bill. I think it's important to note that one single bill coming through Congress wasn't the only way to address climate change in the U.S.

TL: In terms of cutting oil you're talking about fuel efficiency and electric cars. What else?

MB: Yeah, so that's most of it -- 71 percent of oil is used for transportation now and a lot of that is in cars, trucks, SUVs and heavy duty trucks. So it's a combination of electrifying transportation, using hybrids, mode shifting -- shifting freight away from heavy duty trucks to rail or boats -- and electrifying the rail system. Maybe for certain applications moving to compressed natural gas or liquified natural gas and then looking at what role biofuels might play in acting as a replacement for oil for airlines and other long distance uses.

TL: Where are you guys on the natural gas scenario and the idea that gas is a 'bridge fuel' from dirty to clean energy?

MB: We don't think it's a bridge fuel really, because it doesn't get us to a clean energy future. We have to get off coal as quickly as possible. It's the dirtiest fuel and natural gas is cleaner than coal and in some cases cleaner than oil, but it's not clean. As we retire a coal plant we want a mix of efficiency and solar and wind and in some cases geothermal where appropriate and natural gas to fill in the mix. But it's got to be produced right. I spent some time in the Marcellus Shale and in Dimock, Pennsylvania -- it's just awful what is happening there. We have created a natural gas campaign at the Club since I started to address a lot of the concerns that fracking poses to water quality and air quality. To sum it up, we think that natural gas is an improvement in our energy mix, but there is a huge, fat asterisk next to gas that needs to be addressed.

DH: I've been putting together a list of all the reasons why Democrats lost. Is it that right-wing conservatives want to win more?

MB: We don't seem to have the same passion, we have not yet given evidence that we have the same enthusiasm and the depth in our organizing and so we need to reconnect to our base -- we have to lead with our values and not the policy solutions. There is way too much talk about cap and trade or cap and dividend and a lot less talk of the reasons why we are fighting for the things we are fighting for. There is a lot too much talk about the right frame or parts per million and a lot less talk about how we can cut pollution and make people's lives better and improve health and jobs.