Sierra Club Seeks More Ambitious Global-Warming Target

EAGLESHAM, SCOTLAND - MAY 20: A wind turbine stands with the city of Glasgow in the background as Whitelee, Europe's largest onshore windfarm, is officially opened on May 20, 2009 in Eaglesham, Scotland. The Whitelee wind farm will power 180,000 homes and has plans granted by the Scottish Government to power a further 70,000. 
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Nov. 20, 2013, 8:11 a.m.

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.”

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