CCL Executive Director’s opening speech at the December 2022 conference

Madeleine's opening speech

Before you read the transcript of CCL Executive Director Madeleine Para’s opening speech, it’s important to set the stage for why this conference — and the rollout of our new policies — is so monumental.

This Congress has been a wild ride for the climate advocacy movement and for all of us here at CCL. We got closer than ever to seeing a carbon price enacted. We helped push a historically large climate package across the finish line this summer. And we’ve done all of that work against a backdrop of increasing extreme weather events fueled by climate change, underscoring the urgency and importance of our efforts.

As we announced in June, we’re ready to engage on even more climate policies. Why? A few reasons…

The science demands it. Pricing carbon, which has always been our north star, remains a critical policy — and we need to do more in order to hit our climate goals of 50% emissions cuts by 2030 and ultimately be on track to net zero by 2050. All of our new policies are chosen because they will help make critical emissions cuts happen.

We’re a powerhouse on the Hill. In recent years, we have become a trusted partner in Congress when it comes to climate policy. Some of Congress’ best known climate hawks have started to count on our support when they are trying to achieve big things on climate. We can help make sure what they’re working on is the best it can be. Some of our new policies are chosen because the next Congress will likely work on them, and we want to help.

Politically, climate still needs more bipartisan buy-in. Without it, it will remain tough to achieve big things on climate. It’s clear there are more bridges to build. Some of our new policies help build those relationships

With those needs in mind, we announced in June the general policy areas we would work on. After more research and planning, we’ve fleshed that out into:

  • Carbon pricing
  • Healthy forests
  • Building electrification and efficiency
  • Clean and fast permitting

Progress in these policy areas will effectively reduce climate-changing emissions and help us build bridges in Congress and in our communities for more political will on climate in general.

Now that the stage is set, enjoy Madeleine’s opening speech.

Welcome to our December conference. This conference is unlike any conference we’ve had before because it’s focused on launching us into the next phase of our work. We’re long past the years of being a tiny organization needing to establish ourselves in the climate movement. We are long past the years of needing to introduce the concept of a carbon fee and dividend to the U.S. Congress, and we’re finally past the intense isolation of the pandemic. 

You know, I remember how I felt before finding CCL. I was frustrated because I didn’t feel like protesting was enough, and I didn’t want to treat people who disagreed with me like they were my enemy. So when I heard that I could become a citizen lobbyist to my member of Congress and work by building relationships, I jumped in and learned everything I could about how to be an advocate, and I ate up all the stories I heard from other people in CCL who were learning too. And I stopped feeling so alone, and I started feeling like being part of a big and growing team. And by working together across the country, we were able to get climate legislation passed by Congress. So, team, I’m very happy to be here with you today. 

At our June conference, we gave you the rough outline of how we will move into the future. At this conference, you’ll get the things you need to launch into action in this new phase. I say phase on purpose because we remain the same organization with the same purpose of building bridges between people and political parties to enact big solutions to climate and to do it from a place of respect, gratitude, and love. Our values and purpose and ways of working together remain the same. It’s our strategy that evolves to fit the times we’re in and the organization that we have become. 

We set ourselves the goal of building political will for climate solutions. We know that it’s our job to build political will — our job — and we know how to build teams and groups that support each other to stay in action through all the ups and downs of our big, bold, and vitally needed undertaking to preserve a livable world. We know that carbon pricing is a hugely powerful policy for lowering emissions. And we also know that the political will isn’t there yet for adopting it, though we came very close to getting it included in the Build Back Better Act, which was unfortunately blocked by Senator Manchin. The next phase of our story is about increasing the sophistication and scope of our work in the wake of what did pass — the biggest climate package of incentives ever, the Inflation Reduction Act — broadening the lens of our focus. Now that carbon pricing is a well-known policy, it’s a critical part of how we’ll do that. 

Before I go further in describing this, however, I want to tell you a little about my experiences of going out in the world as your Executive Director. I wish so much that you could be hearing what I hear when I meet members of Congress or leaders of other organizations. I want you to see yourselves the way they see you. For example, I was privileged to attend the United Nations Climate Conference last month in Egypt. And as part of that, I spent three full days with the Republican congressional delegation that came to the conference to offer as conservatives their ideas on solving climate change, and to meet with their counterparts from other countries. Without exception, the members of Congress and their staff told me how much respect they have for you, our volunteers, because you remain constructive and focused and appreciative, no matter how many times they feel like they’re disappointing you. I was warmly welcomed into their midst because of you.

Another example: I represent you in a monthly leadership round table that brings together organizations focused on solving climate change and overcoming the political divisiveness within our country. Our ability to engage people in all parts of the country in focused and sustained action is much admired. These are people that when we call them to explore ways to collaborate, they seem to almost leap out of their seats with eagerness. So, sometimes I think people outside the organization have a clearer understanding of what we mean in the climate movement than we perhaps do ourselves, because I’m willing to bet that for many of you and for many of our staff, what you tend to notice moment to moment are the things you haven’t done yet, the things you wish you could figure out how to make happen, and maybe the enormity of the climate problem that we’re working to solve.

It’s apparently human nature to put more attention on what’s wrong than what’s right. And it is easy to feel small in the face of such a big crisis and to forget that your efforts don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen alongside the efforts of your fellow CCLers around the country and around the world. So remember, you belong to a very big national and international team. 

Speaking of CCLers around the world, though, I have to tell you one story from my time in Egypt. The U.S. Republican delegation was having a large round table discussion with conservative politicians, people who were members of parliament and environment ministers from eight countries on their last morning in Egypt. And a lot of the discussion was focused on how the United States was dropping the ball and bringing clean energy technology to other countries, and of course, missing many business opportunities as a result. During that free flowing discussion, participants spontaneously and individually from three of the countries — from Canada, Germany, and New Zealand — told the group that they should be looking at carbon pricing. Now, can you picture me in the background there? Smiling and quickly sending texts to our Citizens’ Climate International delegation, whose tireless work promoting carbon pricing around the world was bearing fruit in front of my eyes? I loved it. 

So I would like you to try very hard to internalize what I’m experiencing out in the world on your behalf. Your work and your way of being as you do that work has more impact than you can probably see. So every night — and yes, this is a little homework from an old school teacher — when you get ready for bed, I want you to appreciate something you did that day for the climate, because all those little things are adding up collectively to big things. Now that you’re hopefully remembering who you are and what you belong to, let’s talk about our next phase.

In June, we told you that we would continue our work on carbon fee and dividend. Let me just say that again. That we would continue our work on carbon fee and dividend, and we are, and we will, and add policies that utilize nature based solutions, starting with forests and add policies that build the clean energy economy. Now, at that time, we were not able to be more specific, even though we knew you wanted that, because we didn’t know yet how much would be achieved through the budget reconciliation process, which was, I’m sure you remember, taking a painfully long time and being an emotional rollercoaster. So finally on August 16th, the oddly but strategically named Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law, the biggest climate legislation ever adopted by the U.S. Congress. We were part of that happening. And then afterwards, throughout the fall, staff analyzed and discussed what was in it and what was not in it to determine our best strategy to build on this momentum and to make sure that this groundbreaking legislation wasn’t an end point, but a launching point for further action. 

Once we settled on the policy specifics, we then began crafting how best to talk about them. And that enabled us to then start creating training pages for our website, tabling materials, talking points and images. So I have to pause here for a minute. Can you imagine how much work this has been. This conference served as our deadline, and I just have to acknowledge our staff here. They were busy, productive people before and all during this process of inventing new things and the work spread across multiple departments, and it’s gone on while continuing our normal operations. So if we were in person at this conference, I’d ask them to come on stage so that we could all give them a standing ovation. I am just in awe of them in what they give every day and every week. And I think you’ll see this for yourselves as we continue the conference today because they’re presenting their work to you for your use so that we can achieve our goals together.

So to introduce our policy to you, I’m going to read from our new webpage on it. CCL’s Policy Agenda: CCL works on policies that are effective in reducing net emissions and building bridges both in Congress and in our communities. 

Our policy agenda has four main areas: 

  • carbon pricing
  • healthy forests
  • building electrification and efficiency, and 
  • clean energy permitting reform

Carbon pricing

  • We advocate for a carbon fee and dividend with a carbon border adjustment mechanism to lower emissions and deliver abundant and affordable clean energy to Americans. 

Healthy forests

  • We support preserving and expanding forests and climate-smart forestry, as well as advocating for increasing urban forests with a focus on neighborhoods that suffer from a lack of tree equity. 

Building electrification and efficiency

  • We educate the public and elected officials on the importance of electrification and efficiency and how they can accelerate the transition to clean energy buildings with attention to supporting low-income households in that transition. 

Clean energy permitting reform

  • We work to increase America’s capacity to transmit clean energy and speed up the approval of clean energy projects while preserving communities’ ability to give input. 

That’s from the website. It’s there, and that’s our policy agenda for this new phase of our work. It comes from consulting with experts and from listening to your ideas over the last year, and it keeps us focused on effective policies to reduce emissions that also strategically let us build bridges across political parties. It widens the lens of our focus enough to give you more ways to work in your community and with Congress, but not so much that we’re too scattered to have a national impact or provide effective training to you. And yes, carbon pricing is at the top of the list on purpose because it remains central to our agenda. Please don’t stop educating your communities and community leaders about carbon fee and dividend or carbon cash back, whichever way you want to call it.

In upcoming sessions of this conference, you’ll hear staff share their work and provide more details on these policies. Dana Nuccitelli will give us the science and policy background. Ben Pendergrass and Jenn Tyler will share our national legislative strategy. You’ll have a chance to go deeper in a breakout on one of those policy areas, and the members of our program staff are going to show you what they’ve created for you to use in your work. And, of course, you can get an even deeper dive tomorrow in the Sunday seminars. So as you participate throughout the day, I hope you’ll think about what you can take back to your group at your next meeting. If there’s just a handful of you, then focus on what’s most exciting to your group and what’s applicable to your community and your particular members of Congress as you plan to grow. Do what lights you up, as we like to say. Even if you’re in a large group, we don’t expect you to jump into every area all at once. We do hope that whenever we are mobilizing behind federal legislation that all of you, in groups big and small, wherever you are, that all of you will help generate the needed emails or phone calls.

You know, we are, and we’ve always been an organization of people who like to learn and try new things. And I think that no matter our age, from babies to octagenarians, we thrive when we’re learning. So I wish that you and your groups enjoy the joy of learning new things in this new phase. Things like where the trees are in your city, or what incentives are available for building electrification or what the forestry provisions are in the U.S. Farm Bill, or how to talk about carbon border adjustment mechanisms to your member of Congress. Let’s have fun learning these things and learning together how to do this new phase of our work. And to help us do that, we’ve set up forums for our policy areas and you’ll find those on CCL Community, our member website, so that you can share what you’re learning and doing and staff can see that and we can lift it up and learn with you and share it more broadly from those forum posts. So please put your experiences into them and your questions as we go along through the next period of time. 

Okay, so here we go, CCL. We are boldly going into our next phase, a phase of increasing sophistication and effectiveness. I want you to remember what Jenn Tyler said during our recent lobby training two days after the election. She said that in her experience on the Hill as a staffer, most groups doing lobbying come in with a single standard script and request for the member of Congress, whereas you come in highly trained and prepared and have the sophistication to adjust your message to your Congressperson. And that’s what you’re doing right now in our lobby drive right now. We have something unusual in CCL. We combine the power of the grassroots — that’s you — with the skill of a professional government affairs team that knows its way around the politics of the Hill. Members of Congress are increasingly looking to us for help with passing their climate legislation. And together, we will deliver that to them, and we’ll push them to do more for the sake of all that we love on our beautiful planet Earth.