Michael Brune, Executive Director of National Sierra Club
They say that it can’t be done.
They say that fossil fuels are what make our country grow.
They tell us that we need oil and coal and gas and that our prosperity is threatened if we even look for a better way.
And they have never been more wrong.
Now, there’s a reason why a movement has burst open to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
It’s the same reason why people across the country have shut down 150 dirty and deadly coal plants.
It’s the same reason why communities here in PA and in NY, MI, WV, and beyond have called for an end to fracking.
What is happening is that the spell has been broken. Here, and across the country, people are realizing there’s a better way. Why rely on dirty fuels when clean energy will do a better job? Why settle for the status quo when we can have power without pollution? Why wait for a distant clean energy future when we can have a prosperous clean energy present?!
As we approach the one-year anniversary of Sandy, I don’t need to tell you all the stakes are high. When we look at the consequences of doing nothing about the severe storms, wildfires, droughts and destruction, it’s clear that we all have an obligation. An obligation to act strongly.
But here’s the thing: obligations don’t spur innovation. Obligations don’t change convictions. Obligations don’t start revolutions. So I want to talk about opportunity. The opportunity to do something that’s never been done before: to build a society that is 100% powered by clean energy. 100% clean energy.
We’re on the path in Iowa and South Dakota, which generate more than 25% of their electricity from wind right now.
We’re on the path in Colorado, which soon will be at 30 percent from wind and solar.
We’re on the path in California, which may get up to 40 percent clean electricity by 2020.
And this is where the tipping point happens. This change won’t be linear: As we get bigger and bigger inventories of clean energy, the costs come down. The price of solar panels has dropped 80 percent in three years. The cost of wind has dropped 90 percent over the last decade. That means that when it comes to the price of energy, renewables are going head to head with fossil fuels.
And they’re winning. In Southern California, a new gas plant was shelved because solar came in cheaper.
In Colorado, the utility will triple the amount of solar and wind that’s coming online, because it’s cheaper and more reliable than gas or coal.
They’re winning in Nebraska, where 30 percent of electricity will come from wind by 2015 with no increase in rates.
10 years ago, none of the so-called experts predicted clean energy would be this competitive this soon. They didn’t predict solar panels would drop so quickly in price. But they didn’t predict we’d defeat hundreds of coal plants or build a movement this powerful either.
Here’s something else that most people don’t realize. These clean energy victories are irreversible. We’re on a one-way trip. Once we leave fossil fuels behind, we’re never going back. We’re not going to tear down wind farms because people get nostalgic for fracking in our watersheds. People won’t rip off solar panels because they miss having mercury in their tuna or asthma inhalers for their kids.
But to take this one-way trip, we need the President’s policies to match his principles. We need to trade the President’s “all of the above” energy policy for an “all in on clean” energy policy. If we do that, our country can have a fossil fuel-free power sector by 2030. That’s right, by the time your little brothers and sisters are in grad school, every time we flip on a switch, turn on a light, power up our homes all of it will come from carbon-free energy. We can also cut the use of liquid fuels like oil and gas in half by 2030, and then cut it in half again a decade later.
So what’s standing in our way? People talk about coal and gas companies or Exxon, Chevron and the Koch brothers as if they’re invincible. They’re not! They are dangerous, and reckless, but their influence is overblown.
Fossil fuel companies are like zombies from the apocalypse. They don’t know they’re already dead! But we do.
The real war we’re declaring isn’t on coal or fracking or oil or any other dirty fuel. The real war is on pessimism. We need an end to pessimism… the pessimism that limits our ambition and our willingness to fight for big ideas. And there is nobody better equipped for that fight than the people here in this room. You’ve already ignored the doubters. You’ve stared down the powerful. You’ve rejected the cynics. And you know how to win.
Think of what we can do. Something that has never been done. A society powered 100% with energy that is safe, secure, and sustainable, forever. 100% clean energy, forever. Are you with me!!??
To get us started, I’m going to ask you all to do three things.
First, come Occupy the Sierra Club. We’re member-driven, so take us over. Whether you’re a student, teacher, if you work in maintenance here in the building or for another NGO, we have room for you. We’ are run by volunteers. Become a member, you can use the Sierra Club brand to fight for clean energy in your backyard. Stand for election to run the Sierra Club in your state, or join our national board. Come Occupy the Sierra Club. Make it yours. We. Need. You.
Second, I want you to take out your cell phone. Go ahead, take it out. I’ll do it too. Now open Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or even Snapchat. You ready? Ok, now hold your phone up and take a picture of this amazing crowd. Bonus points if you get yourself in it. Okay? Now post it with the following: Over 5K of us commit to 100% Clean Energy. Add whatever hashtags you want: #100% #ActOnClimate #Powershift #HiMom. Tag your best friend, tweet at the President. Tag me @bruneski or the Club @sierraclub. I’m going to post this right after so make sure you tag yourselves in that too. Okay you guys got it? Done? Awesome. We just committed publicly. We’ve told maybe half a million of our closest friends and followers that we don’t buy the pessimism. We’ve told them that we will stop at nothing less than 100%. We’ve told them it’s 100% possible. WE ARE ALL IN. And when you get home, I want you to start writing this everywhere. Make t-shirts, stencils, short stories. Make art! Take pictures. Tatoo it over your heart it’s the new world. I want to see 100% everywhere we go. On the Sierra Club’s Facebook feed! On the bathroom stalls. And soon I want to see our politicians saying it on TV.
Finally, this is our future, so stake your claim. This is an art project, but so much more. Make 100% clean energy a reality where you live, work, play and party. 100% clean energy universities. 100% clean energy coffee shops and dive bars. When you get home, keep this energy alive. Go to ssc.org and join thousands of students like you who will be participating in a Week of Action to fight zombie fossil fuels companies. Keep working for 100% clean energy in your hometown.
I just turned 42. By the time most of you are my age, there will be no coal or fracked gas powering our lives. No more mountaintops destroyed. Rather than building a pipeline that divides our country, we’ll be building high-speed rail lines to bring us closer together. Rather than exporting coal or natural gas, we’ll be exporting innovation and climate solutions. 100% clean energy. Can we do this? Are we ready? Let’s go!