"Picking a 'best' place is like picking your favorite child. Can’t be done."
My Perfect Adventure
As the Sierra Club’s executive director, part of Michael Brune’s job is to confront the corporations that sully our nation’s great untouched places and to meet with lawmakers who have the power to make environmental destruction illegal.
Brune, who grew up on the Jersey Shore, started out as a grassroots organizer for Greenpeace. After working for other eco-organizations, including ForestEthics, he joined the Rainforest Action Network in 1998, as a campaigner. He worked his way up to executive director and served in that position for seven years. In 2008, he wrote Coming Clean: Breaking America's Addiction to Oil and Coal, a book about how we can stop relying on fossil fuels and pressure powerful people, especially lawmakers and corporate titans, to change environmental policies for the better.
In early 2010, Brune became the Sierra Club’s sixth executive director, joining an organization whose leadership legacy has included John Muir, Ansel Adams, David Brower, and Wallace Stegner. Brune got to work right away; in 2011, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $50 million to support the Club’s efforts to shut down coal-fired power plants, a huge vote of confidence in Brune’s guidance.
As Brune makes clear in this interview, he believes that a climate solution is imminent. It will involve listening, he says, and commitment to the cause. And not a small dose of optimism and fun: Here, he reveals that his perfect day would involve a tent and his family, that his wife is his role model, and that he might consider trading places with Derek Jeter for a day. He also mulls that if he weren’t doing what he’s doing, he’d very likely be serving up mai tais on some tropical island.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
We get a lot of these days, fortunately. I’m with my wife Mary and our kids. The day starts in a tent in the redwoods, on a soft bed of needles. We’d be up in Mendocino or Humboldt County. A long hike, maybe a bracing swim in the ocean, a guilty-pleasure snack (I’m a sucker for Fig Newtons on the trail) and a soft fire at the end of the day. Kids turn in early.
If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go and why?
Tough choice, but I’ll go with the Arctic Refuge. It’s one of the few places left on Earth where the landscape is still wild, despite the constant pressures from oil-industry benefactors. Another reason to go: There’s still a few million acres we need to protect.
Where is the best place you've ever visited? What made it so special?
Picking a “best” place is like picking your favorite child. Can’t be done. But as a kid growing up in New Jersey, I had my mind blown the first time I saw the colors and dramatic canyons of the desert Southwest. Never before had I seen such great adventure and beauty so accessible. Mary and I hope to take our kids there later this year.
If you could have lunch with any adventurer or explorer, who would it be and why?
I’ve had lunch with Jim Balog before, but I’d like to do it again. This time we wouldn’t be in an office in downtown San Francisco but on the ice, surrounded by glaciers, under a blinding blue sky. Maybe we’d talk about how glaciers are retreating but smart, creative activism is surging.