Two years ago, I met with the legislative assistant (LA) of a Republican member of Congress from the Midwest to talk about the need to address climate change. There wasn’t enough room to meet in the Congressman’s office that afternoon so the LA led me to a large supply closet in the hallway. We had a cordial conversation among the boxes of copy paper, although she stressed that she – and her boss – didn’t believe climate change was a threat.
I was meeting her and a number of other staffers and members of Congress as a volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL). CCL empowers people around the country (and increasingly, around the world) to engage with their elected officials on climate change. That week, I was joined by about 170 other volunteers who fanned out across the Senate and House buildings to press for climate legislation as part of CCL’s Annual Conference.
Rachel’s Network Member Marianne Gabel started a CCL chapter in Delaware, Ohio in early 2014. “I attended a talk by Yale’s Anthony Leiserowitz about public attitudes on climate change,” she says. “I asked him what concerned people could do. He immediately responded: Citizens Climate Lobby.” Marianne recognized that her passion for the issue coupled with her community connections made her a great fit, not only as a CCL volunteer, but as a group leader.
Marianne’s fledgling chapter has already sent a volunteer to Washington D.C. and has had two letters published in local newspapers. Her group is planning to meet with their Congressman and/or staffers during the August recess and schedule meetings with Central Ohio newspaper editors to press for federal climate action.
“It’s method of empowerment I have not experienced before. I’ve been a board member, a columnist, a political funder, a rally organizer, etc. but I’ve never led an effort like this. It’s exciting to have the support of a national organization that’s building momentum around an issue like climate change.”
Marianne’s new chapter is indicative of CCL’s significant growth over the last few years. There were more CCL volunteers in D.C. (600) than members of Congress at the last Annual Conference in June. Now comprising a network of nearly 200 chapters in 359 districts, and 6,400 volunteers and supporters, the organization aims to be active in every Congressional district in the U.S. by the end of the year. Volunteers have published about 1,400 letters to the editor and op-eds in newspapers and have had 733 visits to Congressional and Parliament offices in the first half of 2014 alone.
During the 2014 conference, I had a chance to return to the aforementioned Republican LA, but this time I was joined by a crew of five volunteers from the Congressman’s state. The tone of the meeting was markedly improved from my 2012 visit. These volunteers were well-versed in the Congressman’s concerns and had been communicating regularly with the LA back in the district. As constituents, they had a rapport with the LA and an awareness of local issues that I didn’t. The conversation became less about “Big C” climate change and more about how our policy would benefit the Congressman’s state.
Rachel’s Network Member Kef Kasdin experienced the value of building relationships with Congressional offices through Rachel’s Network’s own lobby day in March 2014. Kef met with the staff of her Representative and Senators to encourage support for renewable energy and climate action. Months later, she had a chance to return to Congress with others in the renewable energy industry:
“The staffers we met with remembered me and acknowledged that in the meetings. It shows that the Rachel’s Network Lobby Day is about building relationships in Congress and it really paid off for me.”
Voices for climate action like Kef’s are growing louder, and they’re coming from more diverse and sometimes unlikely constituencies. Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson published an op-ed in the New York Times advocating for a carbon tax the day before the CCL conference. Paulson and others in the business community are becoming more vocal about the very real economic impacts of climate change. They’re joined by faith leaders, the military, and even many conservatives – not your typical environmental coalition.
With confidence in Congress at an all-time low, CCL’s method of citizen engagement couldn’t be timelier. “It’s very easy in today’s world to be cynical of politics and government,” says CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds. “It gets harder when not only you go meet with your member of Congress, but you also see hundreds of people doing it at the same time. It’s hard to maintain the argument that people don’t have access to their government and we want as many people to have that experience as possible.”
Click here to watch Rachel’s Network Member Raisa Scriabine’s interview on climate change and national security with Rear Admiral David W. Titley at the 2014 CCL Annual Conference.
Rachel’s Network Communications Manager Erica Flock is also a volunteer group leader for the Washington, D.C. chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.