Sierra Club chapter addresses climate change, rallies together at anniversary celebration

Michael Brune at the podiumMichael Brune at the podiumWhen Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey Shore in October 2012, Michael Brune’s parent’s house – the house he grew up in – suffered serious damage.

“We walked in and you could smell the mold that was forming,” said Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “We saw the first floor was completely gutted, so everything had to go.”

Brune told approximately 300 Sierra Club, John Muir Chapter members and supporters at the chapter’s 50th anniversary celebration April 20 that months ago, he helped his mother and father transfer all of their belongings, from furniture and floorboards to photographs and memory boxes, to the curb for garbage collectors to pick up.

He told this story as the event’s keynote speaker to emphasize how the Sierra Club must continue to push for legislation and action to combat climate change.

“It’s becoming clear to an increasing amount of Americans these environmental disasters are not isolated incidents,” Brune said in his speech.

The Sierra Club’s John Muir Chapter began in 1963 with the creation of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. The organization has been advocating for environmental conservation and protection since its foundation, and it is made up of people who “love the land,” said Liz Wessel, the chapter’s chair.

Wessel said the John Muir Chapter has spent the past 50 years working with state government officials to raise awareness and implement change regarding conservation and pollution issues, such as mining and transportation.

While several speakers, including Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Spencer Black, a former state representative, commemorated and celebrated the John Muir Chapter’s past accomplishments, Brune emphasized there is still work to be done.

“We have a lot of power, and we have a lot of passion,” Brune said of the thousands of groups working around the globe to counter corporations and politicians who, according to him, harm the environment. “We have a vision more compelling than anything out there.”

Brune said in his speech that environmentalists, and the Sierra Club in particular, “have the greatest opportunity to succeed than ever seen,” and encouraged members to maintain their hope and efforts to create a “safe, secure, and sustainable” way to provide energy to future civilizations, despite powerful figures and corporations standing in their way.

“We talk about [the opposition] in a way that takes away our power,” Brune said to the crowd. “It almost gives us an excuse not to succeed. But we need to consider we are extremely powerful.”