Michael Brune said Iowa and South Dakota currently get 25 percent of their power from wind turbines. California will soon get one-third of its power from solar and wind while Colorado will soon get 30 percent of its power from those sources, he said.
Utah is lagging behind with reliance on “dirty” energy such as oil and coal, Brune said.
“We don’t need fossil fuels like we thought we did,” he said. “Coal is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.”
Brune spoke to a packed audience at Star Hall. He and his family are touring the Southwest for a vacation as well as an opportunity for Brune to speak out about the Sierra Club’s goal of shutting down all coal plants in the U.S. by 2031.
“Putting solar panels on top of your house is the best way we can save Canyonlands,” Brune said.
He called tar sands development “terrifying.” This year, Utah officials approved the nation’s first commercial tar sands development in the Book Cliffs, a project of the Canadian firm U.S. Oils Sands Inc.
“It is wrongheaded to think tar sands development is good for the U.S., given what we know about its effects on water and air,” Brune said during an interview before his presentation.
He noted that the price of solar panels has come down significantly in recent years, although most panels are made in China. Brune said U.S. jobs mostly involve installation of panels rather than manufacturing of the product.
During the interview, he also endorsed using the Antiquities Act as a way to give monument status to 1.4 million acres of federal lands surrounding Canyonlands National Park. Brune defended the process to create the Greater Canyonlands National Monument, which requires only the signature of a U.S. president, because Congress has failed to act.
Dan Chu, the Sierra Club’s senior campaign director, said a Greater Canyonlands National Monument is needed to preserve the cultural, recreational and natural wonders of the area. It also would keep critical wildlife corridors intact, Chu said.
Brune noted that Sierra Club membership is expected to grow 5 percent this year.
“Interest in environmental issues is reviving,” he said.
While espousing expanded use of wind turbines to generate power, Brune wore a T-shirt depicting two turbines and the words, “There is no such thing as a wind spill.”
He acknowledged the technology has been criticized for killing significant numbers of birds, including eagles. However, Brune said new turbines have been designed that are larger and have blades that move slower, reducing bird mortality.
“A lot of the answer is thinking where these farms should go and where they shouldn’t,” he said.
Brune concluded his talk at Star Hall by encouraging audience members to work toward a sustainable lifestyle.
“Double your intentions to be activists,” he said. “Stay involved.”
Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of Michael Brune's name.<./b>