For CCL, the earth moved when George Shultz endorsed carbon fee and dividend

From left, CCL volunteer Peter Joseph, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds at their meeting in 2013.

For CCL, the earth moved when George Shultz endorsed carbon fee and dividend

By Steve Valk

Thank goodness for the people who feel it’s their purpose in life to make the world a safer place for their children and grandchildren. Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who died over the weekend at the age of 100, was one of those people.

During the 1980s, when the world’s two nuclear superpowers edged closer and closer to mutual annihilation, Secretary Shultz reached out to his counterpart in what was then the Soviet Union. They started the process that would lead to a historic de-escalation of tensions between their two nations, eventually ending the Cold War.

Later in life, seeing that climate change now posed the greatest threat to a livable world, he weighed in on climate policy and threw his support behind a carbon tax with revenue distributed to households. He made his views known in a Wall Street Journal op-ed he wrote with economist Gary Becker, published in April of 2013, that was titled, “Why We Support a Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax.” (If you are not a subscriber to the Wall Street Journal, you can read the piece here.)

Throughout Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the Shultz op-ed was greeted as a major breakthrough. An elder statesman of the Republican party had essentially endorsed the climate policy that CCL was working to enact. For Peter Joseph, who’d been a volunteer with CCL’s Marin chapter for just a year and half, there was one question: How do we get a meeting with a man who has held more cabinet posts than anyone else?

In a classic case of “I know somebody who knows somebody,” Joseph had a friend who helped Shultz’s wife Charlotte remodel their kitchen. She provided an introduction, and Shultz agreed to a meeting on Nov. 26, 2013. CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds flew up from San Diego for the meeting on the Stanford campus to ask if Shultz would join CCL’s advisory board.

What should have been a stress-free ride from the airport was anything but.

“We hit a solid wall of southbound traffic and crawled most of the way to Palo Alto, sweating and maybe even swearing a little. You don’t arrive late for a meeting with the former Secretary of State, Treasury and Labor and Director of the Council of Economic Advisors under three presidents,” said Joseph.

Arriving with just a minute to spare, the two were shown to the conference room where Shultz came in with his associates promptly at 10 a.m.

“We made our pitch. He said he’d think about it. As we were leaving, he said in his gravelly voice, ‘I really like what you’re doing. It’s good to see people actually doing something.’ ”

A few months later, Joseph requested and got another meeting with Shultz on May 6, 2014. Again, Reynolds flew up from San Diego.

Joseph said they chatted about CCL, climate change and politics for about half an hour before he again popped the question: “Will you join our advisory board?”

Shultz replied, “Yes.” Joseph asked if he needed that in writing, to which the former Secretary of State said, “No. My word is good. I’m always on the record.”

Three years later, Shultz would join with another Republican who was a Secretary of State, James A. Baker III, to become the founding members of the Climate Leadership Council, the grasstops organization that has enlisted some of the biggest names in politics, business and economics to support the carbon dividends policy.

Reflecting on Shultz, CCL’s Reynolds said in a statement he “made incredible contributions to his country as a statesman, Marine, and economist. Secretary Shultz was an early advisor to Citizens’ Climate Lobby and a valued board member, recommending that we support ‘the most transparent, hardest-to-rig solution’ of carbon fee and dividend. His impact on our organization is still clear today, as is his impact on the world.”

Speaking as someone who’s been responsible for getting CCL’s message out for more than a decade, I can’t tell you how much of a game changer Shultz’s support was. For years I rarely released an op-ed or editorial packet that didn’t mention his endorsement of carbon fee and dividend, and our volunteers often brought it up in letters to the editor that were published. To have a national figure of his stature give his stamp of approval to what we were doing meant everything.

As for Peter Joseph, those initial meetings were the start of a warm relationship.

“Just before his 97th birthday, I paid Secretary Shultz another visit. Having checked with his trusty assistant what he likes to drink, I bought the best bottle of bourbon I could find. When the guy at the high-end liquor store found out who it was for, he threw in a couple of his best Cuban cigars, saying ‘Tell him I’m a big fan.’”

Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.