Sierra Club in the US is coming under fire for accepting millions of dollars from the natural gas industry, the lastest in a string of environmental NGOs to be embarrassed for total compromise on flagship issues (also known in the sustainable development community as 'coming to the table').
First of all: sigh.
Second of all: why? In a long apology on the organisation's website, director Michael Brune explains why Sierra Club allowed big utilties like Chesapeake Energy to control their campaigning agenda through large checks. After making it clear that he's not responsible - ahem - he writes the following:
"...natural gas, while far from ideal as a fuel source, might play a necessary role in helping us reach the clean energy future our children deserve. It was also during this time, in 2007, that the first contributions to the Sierra Club were made from entities or individuals associated with Chesapeake Energy. The idea was that we shared at least one common purpose -- to move our country away from dirty coal."
Key phrase - 'the idea'. When a dirty industry's entire license to operate is being questioned, it's almost laughably naive that an organisation like Sierra Club assumed that a business within it could share a common objective; using natural gas temporarily before shifting wholesale to clean - read: not coal, not gas, not anything Chesapeake offers - energy. You only have to look at the section of Chesapeake's website attributed to their CEO and titled 'Fueling America's Future', which doesn't mention climate change a single time, to see that.
The Sierra Club aren't the only ones to blame. The sustainable development community's work to begrudgingly support producers of natural gas, with precisely this assumption in mind, has enabled the traditional energy industry to massively derail (and in America nearly destroy) the renewable energy industry (keyword: renewable).
So what exactly has Sierra Club done recently that it's proud of? Brune has his choice proof point:
"This Beyond Coal initiative has continued to have unparalleled success working with literally hundreds of other organizations, small and large, and using grassroots power to stop more than 160 new coal plants and prevent 500 million tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere."
Right. Because now that this coal is becoming less and less viable in the US, it's simply being shipped abroad to thirsty emerging industrialists like China. Which could actually lead to an increase in emissions. While Sierra Club is now campaigning against the development of coal-export terminals, it's probably going to be too little, too late.
Did somebody say "please can NGOs around the world work more in partnership someday"?