How a Citizens’ Lobby Will Empower You to Fight Climate Change

To those fighting for climate action in America and around the globe, the recent U.S. presidential election dealt a traumatic blow. It was no surprise in his run for the White House that President Trump considered climate change a non-issue, even a hoax. But many hoped a more realistic approach would surface once the dust settled. His cabinet nominations, including former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson and long-time EPA critic Scott Pruitt, however, suggest our hopes were in vain.

Rest assured, the current White House website makes no mention of climate, except in assuring us that the President is “committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.” That’s right, the only reference to climate change on the entire White House website is in reference to dismantling existing steps towards climate action, ironically used in the description of The America First Energy Plan — more like the Fossil Fuel Industry First, America Second Energy Plan. Where, then, does that leave us?

Recently I attended the 2017 Southern California Regional Conference of a group that is becoming paramount in the fight for climate justice in Washington; namely, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. As an air pollution scientist following the climate issue for a decade now, I was thrilled to have attended, yet surprised I had never heard of the group. CCL is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change. Starting at just a single location, CCL has branched out to over 350 active chapters around the country, with dozens more in progress. Though they’ve been around ten years, it wasn’t until after the 2016 presidential election that I discovered them. In fact, if you ask CCL leaders, they’ll tell you that Trump has been their number one recruiter, with record increases in membership following the election.

At the recent conference, it was refreshing to learn that CCL doesn’t employ the same old action strategies we’ve all come to know. In fact, CCL was clear that if you’re looking for a place to march and shout, you’ve found the wrong group. Instead, the organization employs a much more calm and calculated approach. With the goal of building “political will” for climate solutions, members are taught to follow the political playbook — a strategy with proven success. They call Congress. They write their local representatives. They network with media stations. Some even author news articles — all while exercising respect, gratitude, and appreciation. CCL focuses on shared values rather than partisan divides, which has enabled it to successfully build relationships with community leaders, federal elected officials, and Congress.

Recently, CCL was featured in the National Geographic series Years of Living Dangerously, in which The West Wing star Bradley Whitford teamed up with CCL Senior Congressional Liaison Jay Butera in Washington D.C. The episode sheds a well-deserved light on the critical, yet challenging work that goes on at the top level of CCL. Meeting with Congress day-in and day-out, Butera is a dedicated climate leader with the gift of patience to say the least.

Chief among CCL’s accomplishments is its establishment of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group in the U.S. House of Representatives that explores policy options to address the “impacts, causes, and challenges” of climate change. Established a year ago this month, the Caucus has grown from an initial two to a current twenty-four House members, twelve being Republican. This is a remarkable political achievement that The New York Times called “a promising step toward sanity” and “one of the first efforts to break the partisan impasse.”

In other successes, CCL recruited co-sponsors to the Gibson Resolution, a Republican-led resolution that recognizes the impacts of climate change and calls for action to reduce future risks.

More recently, the organization partnered with California state legislature to pass a resolution calling on the federal government to enact “carbon fee and dividend” policy nationwide. Carbon fee and dividend is at the heart of CCL advocacy. Essentially, it places a fee on carbon emissions that gets redistributed back to the population. Thus, carbon-intensive industries are penalized and green industries rewarded. At the population level, people become incentivized to seek greener products — those with low “carbon footprints” benefiting the most. Since it’s a revenue-neutral system, it wouldn’t increase the size of government or require government regulations, instead making use of market-based incentives. A study commissioned by CCL estimated that, after ten years, a program of this kind would decrease carbon dioxide emissions by a third, increase national employment by 2.1 million jobs, and, for a family of four, return an average monthly dividend of $288.

Such policy made the ballot in Washington State this past year as Initiative 732. The state’s neighbor to the north, British Columbia, implemented a similar program in 2008, which served as the foundation for the state initiative. Initiative 732 would have made Washington the first U.S. state with a carbon tax. Though defeated due to some kinks to be worked out, the initiative nonetheless represented a key step towards a low carbon future in the U.S.

Support and advocacy by CCL has been instrumental in the fight for carbon fee and dividend and many other climate related initiatives. But the fight must continue. When I began to study climate change, the prospects were alarming. A decade later, the threat has only heightened. To discover the work that CCL has been doing, however, has given me renewed hope and an outlet for effective action. With a citizen base, CCL is a powerful departure from the all-too-common corporate lobby. It is a lobby of the people, of which I’m proud to now be a part. Be a part too. Look up your local CCL chapter, meet new friends, and become empowered. Together we can turn the tide in Washington, and ensure a healthy planet for the future.