Lobbyists, volunteers dedicate time to address climate issues

[Editor’s note: is story is the third part of the multi-part series “Climate Crisis” examining the causes and effects of climate change that began with Issue #1 and concludes in Issue #6. Several staff members took it upon themselves to interview and conduct research. The results of their combined efforts follow.]

Activists around the world are dedicating their time to stopping climate change.

One organization, however, is working to create climate solutions.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby is an organization that is working toward national policies to address the issues of climate change.

“We need to have national policies in place that are going to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are doing the climate changes,” says Steve Valk, communications director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. “To do that, we have to generate political will to Congress to take action.”

Steve Valk Citizens Climate Lobby
Steve Valk, communications director for Citizens Climate Lobby, encourages volunteers to help with climate solutions. Photo courtesy of Steve Valk

Citizens’ Climate Lobby trains and supports volunteers from around the country to lobby their members of Congress to develop relationships with them by talking with or writing to them.

According to Valk, there are many important issues when addressing climate change. But the Citizens’ Climate Lobby believes the biggest impact that is going to address climate issues is putting a price on carbon.

“We lobby for a policy that we call Carbon Fee and Dividend,” says Valk. “You assess a fee on fossil fuels based on the C02 content in the fuel, and then increase the fee each year. So, you’re providing the incentive for a number of businesses and industries who shift to cleaner sources of energy because of the fee.”

Attaching a fee to fossil fuels leads to coal, oil and gas becoming more expensive compared to solar and wind power. The carbon fee is only one part of the policy, though. The other part is the dividend.

“Take all the revenue,” explains Valk. “Take all that money from the carbon fee, divide it up equally among households in the U.S. and give the money back to people, because we know that putting a fee on carbon will increase the cost of energy. If we give the revenue back to households, then they’ll have the additional income they need to cover.”

In 2014, Citizens’ Climate Lobby did a study for their policy and  found two things. In the past 20 years, they have cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent. The other discovery they found was because they’re giving back the money to households, it creates a stimulus effect that creates around 3.8 billion jobs.

“We’re focusing on getting that passed,” Valk says, “and to do that we need both Democrats and Republicans to support this legislation. We have accomplished in the last few years to get Democrats and Republicans talking to each other about climate solutions.”

According to Valk, Citizens’ Climate Lobby played a key role in the formation of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group in the U.S. House of Representatives which was started in 2016 by two congressmen in Florida.

If you’re aware and alarmed with what’s happening with our climate, if you’re worried about the future of our world, then there is something you can do about it.

“Since January, the caucus has grown to 58 members, 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans,” explains Valk. “Eventually, some members from both sides will introduce the legislation. We’re not there yet, but we’re going to get there.”

Citizens’ Climate Lobby was founded in October 2007 by Marshall Saunders. However, Saunders wasn’t focusing on climate change during his career, as he operated an estate brokerage specializing in shopping center development and leasing.

“Marshall made a lot of money in real estate,” explains Valk, “and back in the early 90s, he became very interested in doing something about poverty. He learned about the approach addressing poverty using microcredit.”

Microcredit provides small loans to poor people and women, mainly used in developing countries. They can start or expand their own business to make money and pull their families out of poverty, according to Valk.

Saunders heard about microcredit through an organization called Results. Results lobbies Congress for hunger and poverty programs. Saunders went on to start his own microcredit program in Mexico based on the success of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.

“He even went over to Bangladesh and learned all about [microcredit] from Muhammad Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank,” Valk explains. “He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work with microcredit.”

Citizens Climate Lobby
Citizens climate lobby meets at the nation’s capital. Photo courtesy of Steve Valk.

In 2006, Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” released and Saunders saw it. He ended up watching the film several times, and he was concerned about what was happening to the planet.

“He realized if something wasn’t done about climate change, the people that he was trying to help weren’t going to have a place to live,” says Valk. “He went to the Climate Change Project and was trained by Al Gore to do slideshow presentations. After doing the presentations for a year, something was missing. The presentations didn’t mention any national policies.”

One day Saunders picked up the New York Times and saw that Congress gave $18 billion in subsidies to oil and coal companies. He decided that the country needed a national policy to discourage the use of fossil fuels.

“He couldn’t find an organization that was providing the support for volunteers,” says Valk. “He said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to start my own.’”

In 2009, Saunders hired many staff members, and that’s when the lobby started to grow. At one time, the lobby only had a dozen chapters in the United States but now has 400 chapters. The chapters meet once a month and have national conference calls that involve climate experts.

“We provide a lot of support for the volunteers, and we educate them,” says Valk. “We train our volunteers and give them skills that they need to be effective advocates. We encourage people to check out the introductory calls and get to know a little bit about us.”

Valk explains there are many climate change-caused disasters happening around the world. He encourages people who are concerned about climate change to take action.

“If you’re aware and alarmed with what’s happening with our climate, if you’re worried about the future of our world, then there is something you can do about it,” explains Valk. “You can reclaim your democracy and get Congress to take action, and we will give you the support and training to be an active advocate to get our government to enact the solutions that are going to make a decision.”

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