By Steve Valk
Each year, Earth Day offers an opportunity to get our message out about the need to enact climate solutions. With time running short to pass much-needed climate legislation, getting that message across in the media has been especially important, and our volunteers rose to the challenge this year by getting op-eds, letters to the editor and stories in local outlets.
Once published, our volunteers then leverage that media by having congressional liaisons pass the published pieces on to contacts on Capitol Hill and by sharing them on social media and tagging their members of Congress. The main objective is to let senators and representatives know, in a public forum, that their constituents want action on climate change. As I mentioned to a volunteer recently, we cultivate support from people of influence — local business leaders, clergy, politicians — because they have the ear of lawmakers in Washington. By getting published in newspapers where their message is absorbed by tens of thousands of readers, a CCL volunteer becomes a person of influence, someone their member of Congress is compelled to listen to.
Here’s a quick roundup of some of the media that surely caught the attention of decision makers in Washington.
CCL volunteers got more than 20 op-eds published on or around Earth Day this year in newspapers throughout the country. One of those op-eds, which appeared in several papers, was a piece from CCL Executive Director Madeleine Para acknowledging the one-year anniversary of President Biden’s Earth Day commitment to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 and calling on Congress to pass legislation to achieve that goal. Among the papers that published her op-ed was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here’s an excerpt:
“The climate provisions from Build Back Better are absolutely essential to get through Congress — and still, we will need to do more to meet Biden’s pledge. Hitting that goal will require a price on carbon, which would actually benefit people economically if revenue is given to households. A new study from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that Build Back Better provisions would result in emissions reductions of 34%, relative to 2005, by 2030. Adding a $40 carbon tax would result in 44% emissions reductions, closing that gap considerably.”
A number of volunteers wrote and submitted their own op-eds, as Judy Peres in Chicago did. Her piece acknowledged the need to follow through on Biden’s goal and also pushed back on the chorus of calls to drill for more oil in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Her op-ed was published in the Chicago Tribune, which offered it on their syndicated service, where it was picked up by the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, the San Jose Mercury News and the Idaho Statesman. From Judy’s op-ed:
“As this year’s Earth Day approaches, Biden’s Build Back Better bill — which could have gone at least part way toward meeting that goal — is stalled in Congress. Worse, the war in Ukraine and inflation in the U.S. have made cutting emissions politically less palatable now. The knee-jerk reaction of political leaders to produce more oil and gas to bring down energy prices was perhaps predictable, but it will only aggravate the problem of steadily increasing emissions. Expanding drilling and fracking does nothing to address short-term energy needs; rather, it further locks the economy into long-term reliance on fossil fuels.
“A far better approach to stopping autocrats such as Russian President Vladimir Putin from waging wars financed by fossil fuels — while bolstering this country’s national security and reinforcing its energy independence — would be to accelerate the transition to clean, domestic energy.”
Extra mileage: Getting an op-ed published has the additional benefit of providing a letter-to-the-editor opportunity, which volunteers in Boise took advantage of when Don Kemper and Greg Weeks responded to Judy’s op-ed by publishing letters in the Idaho Statesman.
Letters to the editor
Speaking of letters to the editor, CCL volunteers published 196 letters to newspapers in the month of April, and more than 40 of them were published on or around Earth Day. While we’d love to share all of them, doing so would make this blog prohibitively long, but here are a few I’d like to highlight…
Sara Ann Mason’s letter in the Los Alamos (NM) Reporter focused on the missing ingredient for solving climate change: “Building political will is not an abstract concept, and it’s not something best left to a more powerful and influential person. It’s something you can start doing today through one simple action: reach out to your members of Congress and ask them to support legislation to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.”
In the Las Vegas Sun, Rita Ransom drove home the point that our addiction to fossil fuels is a national security risk: “If ever there were a time to rebel against the stranglehold petro-dictators like Vladimir Putin have over the world because of our international dependence on fossil fuels, that time is now. As long as we continue to be enslaved by the likes of Putin and other autocrats because their countries are oil-rich, there will never be an end to our addiction as we continue begging for our next ‘fix’ of more oil and gas.”
The Ukraine crisis allowed Cynthia Rayner to make the point that true energy independence can only be achieved by transitioning off fossil fuels, and a price on carbon can make that happen. From her letter in the Winston-Salem Journal: “There is outrage over fuel price increases due to the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, but our main concern should be our dependence on fossil fuels and how the oil industry manipulates global crises to benefit profits. Our reliance on 19th-century energy technology must end… Tell Congress we want clean energy independence. Ask them to support the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act now.”
If you want to check out more letters our volunteers are getting published, go to this page on the CCL website and click the letters to the editor tab. Links are not provided, but you can do a Google news search with the name of the newspaper and the title of the letter.
Opinion pages weren’t the only places where CCL volunteers were showing up. CCLers were highlighted in a number of news outlets covering Earth Day activities.
In Denver, a CBS affiliate caught up with CCL volunteer Luke Clarke at an Earth Day celebration in Lakewood, Colorado. He talked about worsening wildfires and the connection to climate change. “It’s the most compelling evidence of global warming. When the fire spread through Marshall and Superior, that was unthinkable… Yes, it scares me, but the thing to do when you’re scared is not to panic but to act.”
Stephen Melton, leader of the CCL chapter in Kansas City, was featured in the Kansas City Star’s coverage of the local Earth Festival, where he talked to people about steps they could take to reduce the risk of climate change. “It’s such an overwhelming problem to the average citizen,” he said. “But they shouldn’t have to feel they have to solve the problems themselves.”
As we continue to push for climate legislation to be enacted through the reconciliation process, our media work will play an important role in pushing Congress to take action.