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The Fossil Fuel Resistance: Meet the New Green Heroes

Michael Brune: The Insider

Tim Dickinson


Michael Brune
Ann Heisenfelt/AP/Corbis
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For 120 years, the Sierra Club has hewed to its charter to "use all lawful means" to defend the environment. But under the leadership of 41-year-old executive director Michael Brune, the Club is suddenly flirting with the creed of Malcolm X: "By any means necessary." On the day after president Obama's February State of the Union speech, Brune zip-tied himself to the White House gates – the first sanctioned, illegal, act of civil disobedience in the Sierra Club's history. The action was intended to provoke the president to use his full executive authority in confronting the climate crisis – "to have his ambition meet the scale of the challenge," says Brune. "There remains an enormous amount of authority that the president could use, that is just lying on the table."

Despite the newly confrontational tactics he's brought to the nation's oldest environmental group, Brune is no firebrand. He's a sober, strategic environmentalist who came to the Sierra Club in 2010 after seven years running the Rainforest Action Network, where he made his mark mixing in antagonistic direct action and good-faith negotiation. "Confrontation just because you're angry with something doesn't get you very far," he says. "Confrontation combined with a commitment to find solutions can be transformative."  Brune promises that the Sierra Club will continue to pressure not only lawmakers and but citizens to get off the sidelines and join the climate fight. "People can take action as consumers and voters. They can take action through civil disobedience," says Brune. "What we want is for people to be a part of this movement and to do something."


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