Volunteer Spotlight: Bob Clark-Phelps
By Katie Zakrzewski
This month’s Volunteer Spotlight shines the light on CCLer Bob Clark-Phelps. Bob grew up the youngest of five boys who were all involved in Scouting in a western Chicago suburb called Glen Ellyn. Bob was raised Catholic and with a love of the outdoors, eventually achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. For Bob, his love for nature has always been a constant — so it only makes sense that he would work on climate change, too. In his spare time, Bob immerses himself in the outdoors by hiking and camping with his family. “Hiking and camping are my favorite ways to connect with the beauty of our world,” Bob said.
How did you get involved in the environmental movement?
I was in my early teens when the oil embargo hit the U.S. with skyrocketing gas prices and long lines of cars at gas stations. I became interested in alternative energy sources and earned a Merit Badge in Atomic Energy. Later, I settled on solar energy, took a liking to physics, and decided to pursue these interests in college, especially later on in graduate school. I attended the University of California at Berkeley and earned a Ph.D. in physics there. I also was blessed with the opportunity to go backpacking in Yosemite National Park and climb up Half Dome (from the easier side on the chain path, of course!).
I didn’t have a single “Eureka” moment of environmental commitment, but my love of the outdoors kept deepening, and by graduate school, I was committed to the idea of finding a path into solar energy. By 2001, I had become focused on the challenge of global warming. I know this because I still have a story from the Nature Conservancy magazine of that year explaining that the glaciers in Glacier National Park were all in the process of melting away. I framed that story, and I have even brought it to CCL lobby meetings.
How did you get involved with CCL?
I joined CCL in August 2016 at the invitation of one of the local chapter co-chairs. It was a presidential election year and a tumultuous time in national politics. I think these national developments made me aware that we simply couldn’t take progress on climate change for granted. By this point, I was working as an engineer helping to develop more efficient solar panels — the fulfillment of my long-time dream career. Yet I could see that it wasn’t enough to just develop technology — it was clear we needed much more political support for ambitious climate action that matched the scale of the crisis we are facing. We’ve made great progress in the last seven years, but of course, we still need many more people to become aware of and get involved in this challenge of our generation.
Are there any projects that you’re working on in CCL right now?
My main project is to secure an endorsement of the carbon fee and dividend policy from the City Council in Bowling Green, Ohio, just south of where I live. This has been an ongoing effort. I’m very happy that a resident of that city and fellow CCL volunteer, Charlotte Reith, has joined me in this effort and is working to organize more grassroots support in the area.
What are your thoughts about CCL’s expanded policy areas?
The new policy initiatives give us a way to revitalize our dialogue with members of Congress and generate new enthusiasm among our volunteers. So our new policy menu is an exciting opportunity to broaden the coalition on climate action, and I’m proud that CCL is inviting us to grow and improve as activists and citizen-lobbyists. Let’s take that invitation and run with it! On the other hand, I feel disappointed that we haven’t yet generated enough support for carbon emissions pricing to position it for passage in Congress. Like many in CCL, I see carbon fee and dividend as the fastest and best climate solution, and I intend to keep seeking local endorsements for CFD.
What are some of your future goals for your CCL chapter?
I’d like to see our chapter continue to build alliances with other local groups with a focus on the environment, such as the Country Garden Club. I’d also like to see us build on our successful track record in getting endorsements from local community leaders. I think there are a lot of City Council members and probably some local businesses that would be open to endorsing carbon fee and dividend once they have the opportunity to learn about it.