2010 National Conference
CCL’s FIRST NATIONAL CONFERENCE!
Changing the conversation in Washington:
Twenty-five activists from across the country traveled to Washington this past week to attend Citizens Climate Lobby’s first national conference. With oil still gushing in the Gulf of Mexico and climate and energy legislation sitting in limbo in the Senate, it seemed like a perfect time for citizen lobbyists to be speaking up on behalf of the Earth, its climate and the people who are most affected by our continued use of fossil fuels.
CCL shared conference space and several events with RESULTS, a citizens lobby founded in 1980 that is dedicated to ending poverty. Marshall Saunders, founder and president of Citizens Climate Lobby, modeled his organization after RESULTS, and so CCL volunteers got a glimpse of what the future might hold.
“Being there with RESULTS, witnessing their success was really inspirational. Just to see what they had created over thirty years and seeing what they accomplished,” said Rachel Ginis, a CCL volunteer from Marin, California.
The conference opened Sunday evening with volunteers honing their speaking skills on a number of points related to climate legislation. With more than 50 meetings lined up on Capitol Hill, CCL members then organized into groups of three or four volunteers for each of the meetings, assigning roles that each would have in the meetings.
Monday was devoted to sessions designed to prepare volunteers for their meetings on the Hill.
At Monday’s sessions:
Making better use of time: CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds offered tips on being more productive and effective with your work and life. Bottom line: multi-tasking doesn’t save time. It wastes it by taking your focus away from the task at hand. Also, if something is important – phone call, meeting, writing a letter, etc. – it should be scheduled in your calendar, allowing for the time needed to complete the task.
Keynote Lester Brown: A joint plenary session featured keynote speaker Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of “Plan B: 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.” Brown presented the big picture on global sustainability, with the premise that there are four interconnected crises that must be addressed simultaneously: climate change, poverty, population and renewal of natural resources. On climate change, he said the United States must make a rapid transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy, and the most promising way to do that is with a predictably-rising tax on carbon. Illustrating the interconnectedness between poverty and climate, Brown told the audience that for the first time food prices are now directly connected to energy prices. With corn crops being used to produce ethanol for cars, the price of this essential grain now rises with the price of oil.
NAS reports: During lunch, CCL members heard from Dr. Laurie Geller from the National Academy of Sciences, who presented the Academy’s recent reports on climate change. Those reports confirm the long-held consensus that climate change is occurring, caused primarily by humanity’s burning of fossil fuels. The Academy recommends adopting an economy-wide carbon pricing system to move away from fossil fuels.
Working with media: Afternoon sessions began with CCL Communication Director Steve Valk leading a workshop on getting letters to the editor published in local newspapers. The key to success is finding opportunities in the newspaper that have a connection with the climate issue and then responding quickly with a letter. Best results come from responding to editorials, front-page stories or staff-written columns. Syndicated columnists and opeds (locally written opinion pieces) also provide good opportunities. Formula for a good letter: Start with a grabber and end with a zinger. The “grabber” is a compelling first paragraph that refers to particular article in the paper, either challenging the article or raising a point that wasn’t brought up. Follow that up by transitioning into the message you want to get across and then conclude with a “zinger,” a clever play on words, or closing the circle by referring back to the original reference.
Science of climate change: Doctoral candidates from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography then presented a session on the science of climate change, arming volunteers with the information needed to refute the claims of science skeptics. Sandra Kirtland, Daniel Richter, Lauren Rafelski and Timothy Ray talked about the “tricks of the trade” that skeptics use, such as taking a kernel of scientific truth and manipulating it or misrepresenting legitimate data. A great resource, the panel said, is skepticalscience.com. An excellent Power Point presentation accompanied the discussion, and CCL hopes to make that available on the Web site soon.
Climate change policy: The scientific session was followed by a panel of experts who discussed the various policy and legislative proposals on climate change currently under consideration. Moderated by Tom Stokes of the Climate Crisis Coalition, the panel included James Handley and Charles Komanoff of the Carbon Tax Center, environmental attorney Laurie Williams (producer of “The Huge Mistake” video), and Bill Newman from Clean Air Cool Planet. Williams made the case against carbon offsets as a means of reducing CO2, saying that in many instances they provide no additional reductions over what would have occurred without the offset, and they only help American polluters to delay their efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. To create the political will for a fee on carbon, Williams unveiled the “Million Letter March” campaign to generate a million hand-written letters to members of Congress. The campaign is hoping to enroll 50 organizations that would urge their members to organize letter-writing parties. At the end of the session, Tom Stokes announced that there would be a National Pricing Carbon conference at Wesleyan University Nov. 18-21.
Meeting tips: The last session featured Congressional aides Jesse Uman (Rep. John Lewis) and Catrina Rorke (Rep. Bob Inglis), who offered tips for having successful meetings with House and Senate offices. Among the suggestions:
- House offices are small, don’t bring a crowd.
- Get to the point quickly, be clear about why you are there and what the request is.
- Be on time!
- Don’t give handouts until end of meeting. The staffer will be reading handout instead of listening.
- Meetings with House or Senate members are big wild cards. They can be pulled out at a moment’s notice, so make your request early.
Lobby day on Capitol Hill:
On Tuesday morning, after listening to an inspiring charge from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), CCL activists fanned out across Capitol Hill for meetings with congressional offices with a straight-forward request: Will you sponsor a bill in the next Congress that places a steadily-increasing fee on carbon and returns the revenue to the American people?
Though some meetings were scheduled throughout the remainder of the week, most took place on Tuesday with staff aides in House and Senate offices. All total, CCL volunteers and staff met with 52 offices.
“Some of us found it interesting that the Republicans were more open to us than the Democrats,” said Amy Bennett of San Diego. “But it kind of made sense, given the political climate. The conversation with Lieberman’s aide was that the GOP looking at alternatives was an obstructionist ploy.”
For the most part, the meetings went well, with aides saying they were willing to continue talking to us about the fee and dividend proposal and what we might accomplish in the next Congress.
Danny Richter of Scripps talked about one memorable encounter with Darren Springer in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) office:
“He said that the utility companies dominate the legislative policy on climate change and energy. When we told him about Citizens Climate Lobby and what we were up to, he got excited about CCL and thinks that’s the answer to getting out from under the utilities.”
Several of the meetings were face-to-face with members of Congress, which takes the conversation to a much higher level.
“It really electrifies everything,” said Chris Byrd of Tallahassee, who met with Rep. Allen Boyd, a Blue Dog Democrat who voted for Waxman-Markey last summer. The congressman told Byrd that he “got his butt kicked all over the district” for his vote on the bill.
“He was interested in the fee and dividend proposal and asked a lot of questions,” said Byrd. “He told me that this would gain more traction than a cap and trade approach that would involve Wall Street and risky trading. He said he was going to ‘put this [CCL’s proposal] in my reading file and take it home and look at it tonight.’ ”
Byrd plans to follow up with Boyd after the July 4th recess.
Another face-to-face meeting that held great promise was with Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), who sits on the Science and Technology Committee.
“He was very much on board,” said Joseph Robertson, a CCL volunteer from New Jersey. “He said he’d like to do a fee and dividend approach, that you don’t tax wealth creation, you tax pollution creation. He was angry that leadership lacked the courage to act in some way to save the planet. He respects the science and understands the scope of the problem. He’s willing to lead if the things we’re proposing are right.”
Thoughts about the conference:
Looking back at the conference CCL Founder and President Marshall Saunders said, “I thought it was surprisingly successful, given that it was our first one. We had so many meetings, and when we talked to the offices and explained what we wanted to do, they were really listening.”
“The partners were enlivened and empowered. I saw that happening with people. It was wonderful. People were stepping outside their comfort zone and doing things they hadn’t done before. It was very rewarding.”
Rachel Ginis of Marin said, “It definitely recharged me for moving ahead. Once you're there and part of it, it just really energizes you for the cause… It really brought it home to me what we're trying to accomplish.
“I hope that so many more people come to the conference next year. You can talk the talk and write the letters, but it's still an abstract experience until you’re there meeting the people. It gives it a human face. You can connect with it so much better.”
Ann Morrow of Seattle may have said it all for the folks who were there: “The conference was amazing… It was a high point of my life.”