History and hope from CCL’s founder
By Marshall Saunders
CCL’s founder and president Marshall Saunders joined our July 2017 call to share the story of our organization’s early days, plus a few words of appreciation and encouragement to all our volunteers. Watch his talk here, beginning at minute 28:30, or read his message below.
I want to tell you a little bit about the early going of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, some of the difficulties we faced, and of course, how we originally caught on to Carbon Fee and Dividend—it wasn’t exactly from the beginning.
But before I give you that little history, I want to give you a quote from Alex Steffen. This quote says, for me, who you are. Steffen said, “Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy with a large population of people who believe that things can never get any better. In fact, these days, cynicism is obedience. And what’s really radical is being willing to look directly at the magnitude and difficulty of problems that we face, and still insist that we can solve those problems.”
I love your optimism and how you take it into the political arena. And I love your unwillingness to be cynical. And I love your willingness to look right at the magnitude and difficulty of the problems we face and still insist that we can solve those problems.
Now, just a little more about CCL’s history. I was giving a talk at the Rancho Bernardo retirement home. Thirteen people came down to hear what I had to say. Two of the listeners, two elderly women, trapped me into saying that I would give the first group start workshop. That workshop became Citizens’ Climate Lobby! Twenty-nine people showed up, much to my surprise—I was afraid nobody was going to come. At the end of the three-hour session, everybody wanted to take part in it. It was amazing. We divided into three CCL groups: the north county, central San Diego, and South Bay.
The trouble was I hadn’t thought about what legislation we might lobby on. A stable climate, yes. But exactly what legislation? I hadn’t thought that far ahead. However, we soon began to lobby for something called “fee and tariffs.” It’s complicated, and the name didn’t describe it very well, but we practiced up on our laser talks, and for a while we lobbied for that. Then, we lobbied for the right of states to regulate tailpipe emissions more stringently than the federal rules. That kept us going for a little while. Then we lobbied the city and county governments to adopt more energy-efficient building codes. It was a huge field, of which we knew nothing, but we studied our laser talks and went to meet with the city and county governments.
The basic problem with all those proposals was that none of them were a match for the problem that we faced. Then I called big green institutions, and they were lobbying for something called “cap and trade with offsets.” We studied up on that, lobbied on that, and the moment of truth on cap and trade with offsets came to us when the South Bay group met face to face with Representative Bob Filner. He asked the partners—I think there were six or seven of them there—to explain the cap and trade and offsets. Well, they couldn’t do it. It was just too complicated. At the end of the meeting they said, “Well, we’ll leave you a video that explains it.” I don’t know if he ever looked at it—I kind of doubt it.
So that was the struggle in the early beginning. In late 2008 we had seven groups, and the problem was our focus, as you can see, wasn’t clear. A couple of our groups, frankly, were a little shaky. I think it was Brent Blackwelder that suggested I call Tom Stokes and talk to Tom about what we were doing—well I had no idea who that was.
But I called him. Come to find out, Tom was a 40-year veteran of the climate movement (by now 50 years) and Tom told me that he had organized a congressional briefing in the House Ways and Means Committee room. I was very impressed with that. The briefing was on something called Carbon Fee and Dividend, which I had not heard of. He said that it had already been introduced in the House of Representatives. He thought that this idea of Carbon Fee and Dividend was better than anything we had been lobbying for so far—and I was ready to agree with him—and would I like to come over to Washington for the congressional briefing? I said, “I’ll be there.” I jumped on a plane and flew over.
Well, the House Ways and Means Committee room was full. I was astonished by that. We had this very prestigious panel: one of the members of the panel was John Larson, a representative from Connecticut, who was the third ranking Democrat in the House. He had actually introduced this bill, which they were calling Carbon Fee and Dividend. There were two very prestigious economists on the panel. One of them had been Undersecretary of Commerce for Clinton—I was just very impressed.
And on the far end, on the lefthand end of the panel, was Jim Hansen. Jim was the top scientist at NASA. He had hundreds of scientists working under him. He was my hero at the time. I hadn’t met him, but he was part of the Gore presentation. I had been using his slides and quotations from him—and there he was, right in front of me, in person. As I sat in the audience listening to these people on the panel, this new idea (new to me, anyway) of Carbon Fee and Dividend made more and more sense.
The next CCL call was January 3, 2009: our 15th consecutive monthly call. Tom Stokes, who had organized that panel, was our guest speaker. For the first time ever, Citizens’ Climate Lobby used the words Carbon Fee and Dividend. And for the first time ever, I felt like we were lobbying on a solution that was a match for the problem. And then three months later, Mark Reynolds came aboard to lead us all, and I knew then that we would thrive.
Now back to the quote.
“What’s really radical is being willing to look right at the magnitude and difficulty of the problem that we face, and still insist that we can solve that problem.” And we are going to solve it. We’re not backing down, we’re not going anywhere, we’re not going away. We are going to be successful—not with force, but with truth, persistent truth, and grace.
All of nature, all of God’s creatures, all of life are counting on us.
Thank you for who you are. Thank you for being unstoppable. And remember that I love you.