Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s Executive Director lays out the reason for its momentous decision to use peaceful civil disobedience as a tactic for the first time in its long history.
For civil disobedience to be justified, something must be so wrong that it compels the strongest defensible protest. Such a protest, if rendered thoughtfully and peacefully, is in fact a profound act of patriotism. For Thoreau, the wrongs were slavery and the invasion of Mexico. For Martin Luther King, Jr., it was the brutal, institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow South. For us, it is the possibility that the United States might surrender any hope of stabilizing our planet’s climate.
As President Obama eloquently said during his inaugural address, “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.”
…We are watching a global crisis unfold before our eyes, and to stand aside and let it happen – even though we know how to stop it – would be unconscionable. As the president said on Monday, “to do so would betray our children and future generations.” It couldn’t be simpler: Either we leave at least two-thirds of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, or we destroy our planet as we know it. That’s our choice, if you can call it that.
…At this point, we can’t afford to lose a single major battle. That’s why the Sierra Club’s Board of Directors has for the first time endorsed an act of peaceful civil disobedience.
In doing so, we’re issuing a challenge to President Obama, who spoke stirringly in his inaugural address about how America must lead the world on the transition to clean energy. Welcome as those words were, we need the president to match them with strong action and use the first 100 days of his second term to begin building a bold and lasting legacy of clean energy and climate stability.
That means rejecting the dangerous tar sands pipeline that would transport some of the dirtiest oil on the planet, and other reckless fossil fuel projects from Northwest coal exports to Arctic drilling. It means following through on his pledge to double down again on clean energy, and cut carbon pollution from smokestacks across the country. And, perhaps most of all, it means standing up to the fossil fuel corporations that would drive us over the climate cliff without so much as a backward glance.
One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, Jr., although it has its roots in the writings of Theodore Parker (an acquaintance of Henry David Thoreau): “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I believe that, given sufficient time, our government would certainly follow the moral arc that leads to decisive action on this crisis. We have a democracy, and the tide of public opinion has shifted decisively. What’s more, I doubt that even the most ardent climate denier actually wants to destroy our world.
We have a clear understanding of the crisis. We have solutions. What we don’t have is time. We cannot afford to wait, and neither can President Obama.
This is a big thing. The Sierra Club has a membership estimated at 1.4 million and is one of the oldest environmental groups in the world. In the 2012 campaign, it donated a total of over $400,000 to a slew of Democratic Party candidates. No-one knows for sure how much its companion 527 group the Sierra Club Voter Education Fund gave, because it’s a 527 and is not required to report political expenditures - but the group was estimated to have spent $2.6 million to affect contests in the 2000 and 2002 cycles. This group has clout.