Citizen Lobbyists Flood Capitol Hill to Combat Climate Change

17 November 2016

The day before yesterday, I joined 350 other volunteers from around the country to visit Congressional offices in Washington at the Capitol for pre-arranged meetings with staffers for Senators and Congressmen. I had four such meetings: with a Texas Congressman’s staff, with a Florida Congressman’s staff, with my Senator Marco Rubio’s staff, and with my local representative, Bill Posey’s, staff, Florida district 8. At each meeting I was joined by two to four other members of the organization which planned the meetings, Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

That day, we held nearly 535 meetings with members of both houses of the Congress. That’s the number of our representatives in Washington currently. The message is clear and straightforward:

· Climate change is real and is accelerated by human actions, mainly from the fast-growing emissions of global warming gases, mostly carbon dioxide (CO2), but others as well, including methane (CH4), produced by a variety of causes, most importantly the combustion of fossil fuels. The level of those “greenhouse gas emissions” has ramped up steadily throughout the industrial revolution. The rise in the concentration of these gases has been trapping solar radiant heat in the atmosphere, on the Earth’s surface, and in its oceans and other water bodies at increasing levels throughout the last century. The trend is accelerating in this century, with bad and growing consequences. Great damage will be done to human civilization if the process is not stopped in the next few decades. But if we wait too long, it will be too late. A cascading sequence of adverse effects will have begun.

· Stop the combustion of fossil fuels. The best way to accomplish this within current political realities is not by forcefully regulating them, building more and costly government bureaucracies in the process, but by pricing them out of existence. The idea is to use free market forces to send energy investment dollars away from fossil fuel production and into clean renewable energy of all kinds. These include natural energy sources provided by our sun and planet: solar radiation, wind, ocean currents, hydrologic energy, certain clean biofuels, and geothermal heat (from within the Earth, where close enough to the surface to be tapped and used without fuel costs). Clean energy employs more people than the fossil fuel industry, so more jobs will be provided as the transition gets under way. It will take an action of government to price fossil fuels out of market viability. The Citizen’s Climate Lobby plan for doing this is called Carbon Fee and Dividend (CFD).

· Pass Carbon Fee and Dividend Legislation. This works by placing a government fee on fossil fuels as they enter a nation’s economy (where they cross the border into the country, come out of the coal mine, or emerge from underground through oil and gas well pipes). The revenue so collected will not be retained by the government but sent to every American household in a monthly dividend check. This is why we call it a “fee” rather than a “tax.” The government already knows where and how much fossil fuel comes into the U.S. economy. So fees can easily be collected by the agencies monitoring those flows. The fee will be made to grow each year over the next couple of decades, so that the price signal will become an ever stronger force in the energy market, but still slowly enough that energy investors and energy companies can shift their operations to accommodate the new reality without excessive financial disruption. (This transition is already underway, thanks to declining costs of wind and solar power plants and rising costs to produce fossil fuels. The problem is that it is not proceeding fast enough. Left to current forces, it will be too late by the time the transition is mostly completed. The ravages of global warming and its side-effects will have already devastated the human economy and disrupted many governmental systems.) The household dividend checks (like a reverse income tax and distributed by the IRS, a form of poetic justice) will grow year after year, making the whole program more palatable to the American public.

· Make the program attractive to other countries. If an energy producer wants to avoid the fee on their fossil fuel sales, it could move to another country and export into the U.S. But the fee would still be collected for U.S. citizens─at the border crossing. If that investor/producer hopes to avoid the fee by using their fossil fuel not to export but to manufacture energy-intensive goods abroad and export them into the U.S., a “border adjustment fee” will be assessed at their border crossing. If an outside exporting country adopts a similar program or otherwise assesses a like fee, then their exports into the U.S. are exempt from the U.S. carbon fee. In this way, each country will have an incentive to tax its own fossil fuel production, retaining competitiveness with the U.S. Other countries already are planning for carbon taxes and other programs somewhat similar to our CFD and some provinces have already passed carbon taxes in order reduce fossil fuel emissions there. (See www.carbontax.org/where-carbon-is-taxed/) In fact, the U.S. needs to adopt the CFD approach quickly, to be competitive with other countries that may get out ahead of us, thereby harming our exports into their countries.

That’s the program in a nutshell (maybe something larger than a nut, perhaps an avocado). So, to make this great plan work, CCL believes in going to those in power. In the U.S. it is the Congress. When our founders created the government, they made it a democracy. Here power does not rest with a king or dictator but with the people, but only if they exercise it by communicating their wishes to their representatives and following up with their votes. For our votes to be effective, we need to get active, communicate this plan, and attract others to help out. That’s what CCL is all about.

I urge you to check out the CCL web site www.citizensclimatelobby.org, find your local chapter (one for each congressional district in the U.S.), contact your local organizers, join CCL (no dues), go to a meeting or two, and get involved. You learn a little and you accomplish so much.

Political Note: In many of the congressional offices I visited, there was, as you might expect, a lot of buzz about the recent election of Donald Trump to be President and an increase in Republican control over the Congress. We were often asked what we thought about this. CCL is very strictly non-partisan. The plan outlined above, is attractive to both Democrats and Republicans. So our answer was universally the same: We don’t care who wins or loses any election. The climate doesn’t care. We are citizen volunteers, spending our own money and time to meet with whoever is in office. We are their constituents. We work with whoever holds the office and is willing to listen and learn. We’ve received almost universally warm welcomes in every office. That’s a fun place to be.

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