Peace Corps volunteers advocate for climate policy

National Peace Corps Association

Kate Schachter cofounded the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers for Environmental Action, whose members will attend the CCL 2018 conference.

Peace Corps volunteers advocate for climate policy

By Claire Cortright

Working to build the political will to act on climate means drawing upon the many varied perspectives, skills and experiences of all who work for climate solutions. Citizens’ Climate Lobby has seen the rise of a wide range of action teams, including the Conservative Caucus, the Business Climate Leaders, those focused on agriculture, on outdoor recreation or members of faith. Each group sheds light on the particular challenges and opportunities they see, making CCL a stronger organization, better able to reach the wide array of people who can and must be part of solving climate change.

Here is just such a group, with their own unique and powerful perspective: the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RCPVs) for Environmental Action.  

Like the more than 230,000 other Americans that have served in the Peace Corps, members of this group have served our country and, in turn, seen the weight of our moral obligations to our fellow nations.

RPCVs marching at the People’s Climate March

RPCVs marching at the People’s Climate March

Paul Thompson, a member of CCL since its inception, identifies Peace Corps members as an essential group because they understand the importance of government policy.

For him, the lesson came from one of the most painful and chaotic of times, serving in Malaysia during the Vietnam War (1971-73). “I first learned in Malaysia that people who make decisions influence all kinds of people that don’t have their voices heard. The Malaysian government made it very difficult for [the Chinese]. Chinese people were changing their names so that they could be accepted by the Muslim majority government. My Chinese [students] had to do so much better in school to move to a higher level, and you could just see the pressure that they were under.That was the first time I really saw the inequality because of race.” 

Paul Thompson, RPCV and regional coordinator for CCL's North Wind region

Paul Thompson, RPCV and regional coordinator for CCL’s North Wind region

He continues, “And then, coming home from the Peace Corps in 1974, I went through Laos and I saw all these people that had been bombed and napalmed and their disfigured faces. It was very upsetting to think that this was caused by my government and these village people were very similar to my students’ families in Borneo.”  

Upon his return, Paul knew that as citizens of our great country, we can do better.

That resiliency and decision to do better, that focus on solutions, is not limited to Paul.

Members of this group have traveled the world, dedicating themselves to serving others. Along the way, they have not just seen the ravages of war. They have also met the people most immediately impacted by climate change in some of the nations with the fewest resources to adapt.

And it has driven them to build greater and greater advocacy for climate action.

Kate Schachter, who served in Ghana and Georgia on projects fostering sustainability, is cofounder of the RPCVs for Environmental Action. She and several other RPCVs were raising awareness on the importance of carbon neutrality and individual action on climate within the greater National Peace Corps Association when its Director of Advocacy said, “You should start a group.” So, as Kate says, “We did.”

Kate Schachter tabling for carbon offsets

Kate Schachter tabling for carbon offsets

For the past three years, they have worked to build their presence within the greater Peace Corps community, organizing and encouraging members to buy carbon offsets, to support carbon-neutral events and to take personal, individual action to cut emissions in their own lives.

And now, bridging their CCL and RPCVs connections, they have trained as a CCL group for lobbying and are readying themselves to attend the June 2018 CCL conference.

As they travel to D.C. to meet with legislators, they hope to remind us all that, in Kate’s words, “What we’re doing here is absolutely critical, not just for the United States, but for the world. It is in large part because of our huge carbon footprint. Everyone in CCL already knows this. [But we cannot forget] that we are doing this for the people in Guatemala, the people in Malawi, people in Armenia, in Thailand. They are going to be impacted far more than the United States. It’s urgent that we ramp up and make a difference as soon as possible.”

These folks have served our country, and in doing so, have seen the impacts of policy first hand.  They are here to remind us that those policy choices matter. Here and everywhere.

For more information on their group, go to They are welcoming new members with open arms as they network within CCL. Seek them out at CCL’s 9th annual International Conference and Lobby Day and introduce yourself!

Claire Cortright
Claire Cohen Cortright is a mother, climate activist, and biology teacher living in upstate New York.