After shifting its position last year to outright oppose natural gas, the Sierra Club, one of the oldest, largest, and most influential environmental groups in the world, is now in the process of setting an even more ambitious global-warming target.
The group's official position is to oppose any new natural-gas dependence and to wean the country off fossil fuels by 2050. Now, the Sierra Club group is looking to move that date earlier by 20 years, Executive Director Michael Brune told National Journal in an interview this week.
"We're in the process of moving up the date. We are exploring what it would take to get off coal and gas by 2030 in the power sector," Brune said. "We're looking at it sector by sector. We're first focusing on the power sector."
Right now, almost 70 percent of America's electricity is powered by coal and natural gas; nuclear power, which the Sierra Club also opposes, makes up about 20 percent; and wind and solar make up about 3 percent.
The group's new policy will be final in the first half of next year. The change is still in the internal deliberation phase and has not been approved by the board, so no final commitment has been made.
When asked what's driving his group's shifts in position last year and now, Brune said that natural gas is inhibiting, not helping, combat climate change, even though it produces just half the carbon emissions of coal and a third that of oil.
"We think gas offers a false hope of arresting climate change," Brune said. "Even if it has a lower carbon footprint compared to coal, we can definitively say replacing coal with gas "¦ locks in warming of 6 degrees."
He referenced a 2011 International Energy Agency report on the "golden age of gas," which said that an energy mix with more natural gas would put the planet on a path to surpass a 3.5-degree Celsius rise, well above the 2-degree limit most scientists endorse. He also pointed to comments that the study's lead author, IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, made shortly after the report was released: "We are not saying that it will be a golden age for humanity — we are saying it will be a golden age for gas."