Coming Clean

by Michael Brune
256 pages, Sierra Club Books, 2008

In Review

In Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Coal and Oil, veteran environmental campaigner Mike Brune provides a welcome addition to the growing library of titles dedicated to stopping climate change. The existing literature is full of great writing and important, well-intentioned thinking. What sets Coming Clean apart is Brune’s deeper understanding of the problems presented by climate change – and, more importantly, his thoughtful assessment of the interlocking strategies needed to confront the climate and energy crises head on.

Brune rightly chooses not to focus on individual lifestyle choices, such as changing lightbulbs or buying a hybrid car. Instead, he offers strategic assessments of the pillars of power that are responsible for the ecological destruction around us, and identifies concrete ways to support and join movements to transform those institutions. Looking at the role of the coal and oil industries, and of the private banks that control resource and capital flow, Brune identifies the structures that must change before we can build a clean energy future.

The book’s chapters reflect the campaigns run by Rainforest Action Network, the organization Brune directs. While some might say this is self-aggrandizing, I would argue that Brune is simply drawing on his experiences at the helm of an organization that has been instrumental in building a grassroots movement for ecological and social justice. He speaks from experience, not from a desire to toot his organization’s horn.

To this end, Brune ends each of Coming Clean’s chapters with a list of resources that directs the reader towards grassroots and community-based organizations. In an era in which a handful of “Big Green” professional nonprofits dominate social movements and often (consciously or unconsciously) limit the parameters of what change is deemed possible, steering support to grassroots-based campaigns is a welcome change from the typical calls to merely donate money and let the pros do the work.

This book will resonate with the experienced activist and campaigner, but it is also written for the average citizen looking for both strategic analysis of the institutional forces behind climate change and a practical assessment of the tools we can use to build a clean and just energy future.

—Matt Leonard

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