Big Green (9/28/11)

Big Green Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club Felicia Marcus, Western Director, Natural Resources Defense Council Karen Topakian, Board Chair, Greenpeace USA It would not seem a fruitful time to be on the frontlines in the fight to protect the environment in the United States, with the EPA under daily attack and climate legislation stalled. But the three environmental leaders participating in this Climate One panel note that many fronts exist outside of Washington, with at least one formidable adversary, utilities operating coal fired-power plants, forced to play defense. Until recently, says Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club, “every single conversation was about, Will we get 60 senators to pass comprehensive climate legislation – when that really represented just the tip of the iceberg, part of the conversation about climate change.” Brune and fellow panelists Felicia Marcus, Western Director, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Karen Topakian, Board Chair, Greenpeace USA, agree that D.C. politics will force environmental groups to play defense in the near term. They also stress that building grassroots support and presenting a positive vision of the future will be critical. “We’re trying to create a future in which we have clean energy, clean communities, and clean food. We have to deal not just with playing defense; we have to create a vision of the future that people are for,” says Marcus. Over the next three to five years, the Sierra Club will, as Brune puts it, focus on getting real and getting local. “It’s hard to motivate people around an issue where they get the moral imperative, but they don’t really understand what it is that you’re trying to do, and how your solutions will address the problems you’re identifying,” he says. For the Sierra Club, this means a return to its roots, a focus on the grassroots, says Brune, with the most visible manifestation of that effort its Beyond Coal campaign. Recently buttressed by a $50 million donation from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the campaign aims to force the retirement of one-third of the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants over the next five years. Greenpeace likewise aims to retire old, dirty coal plants, says Karen Topakian. Its goal is 150 plants taken offline by 2015. “We’re making it tangible to people,” she says. “If you start talking about fuel in a way that’s abstract, people don’t get it.” “We are in alignment in fighting dirty fuels, and then creating an opening for clean fuels,” adds Felicia Marcus. “We’re at a place where we can use [clean energy] as a way to create and talk about a future that is at some level complex but at another much more clear to the average person.” For example, she says, NRDC is “doubling down” on an issue it has focused on for 30 years: “the very low-glamour, high-value issue of energy efficiency.” This program was recorded in front of a live audience at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on September 28, 2011 Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

by Climate One