Volunteer Spotlight: Jessica Wilber
By Emily Gerard and Clara Fang
Growing up, Jess Wilber was frustrated about the lack of concern on climate change around her, so when she heard about CCL’s Campus Leaders program, she jumped right in. A sophomore at Oberlin College, Jess is majoring in political science and environmental studies. She is also a musician, equestrian, and poet and has been involved with ecology clubs since her childhood. This year, Jess started a CCL chapter at Oberlin College and worked with the local CCL chapter to get the Oberlin City Council to pass a resolution endorsing Carbon Fee and Dividend. She also got the same endorsement from the Board of Sustainability at Oberlin College.
How did you get connected to CCL?
I grew up in Hinsdale, Illinois, where climate change was not an issue people talked about. I went to college and fell in love with Oberlin’s long history of commitment to sustainability. However, I was frustrated to see that climate change was losing traction there too. Even though the school has done a lot to reduce its own emissions, people seemed to care less and less. There was a sense that they couldn’t do much about it. I thought starting a CCL group on campus might bring climate change to the forefront of people’s minds and get them more engaged and concerned about it again.
How did you get the endorsement from the city council?
This was a project that was already in the works for the larger Oberlin CCL chapter as I was growing and developing the presence of CCL on Oberlin campus. My exact role in the endorsement was educating students and faculty on campus about Carbon Fee and Dividend and explaining the benefits of receiving an endorsement from the town as a whole. In addition, I contacted volunteers to ensure they’d be present for each reading of the proposed endorsement so that if any questions were to arise, we’d be able to provide answers from a wide range of perspectives. I then used the endorsement we received from Oberlin City Council as an incentive for the Board of Sustainability at Oberlin College to provide a similar endorsement. Then, I sent a copy of the endorsement letter to Oberlin’s President, Carmen Ambar, to inspire her to follow in suit with the town’s decision.
What else have you been working on?
In April, I tabled around campus to educate students on what CCL does. I’ve also been working with the local Oberlin CCL chapter to build a relationship between students and town members. A big part of CCL, at least here, is to help students understand their role in the community both here and when they leave Oberlin College and how their power as voters will affect the state of our country moving forward.
What keeps you motivated to do this work?
The main thing that keeps me motivated is the frustration I have with the indifference from the Trump administration toward climate change. He’s pulled us out of the Paris Climate Agreement, appointed Scott Pruitt to be head of the EPA, and spent many, many years trying to further the interest of big oil companies.
What have you learned about motivating young people at your school on climate change?
Because of the liberal nature of Oberlin College, there are many students who possess a highly idealistic view of the solutions for social, economic, and environmental issues. Thus, I’ve often struggled with gaining student support for CCL and Carbon Fee and Dividend. I’ve heard the argument that Carbon Fee and Dividend is “not enough” to end climate change, or that it doesn’t take into account many issues of environmental justice. While the earlier statement might certainly be true, I like to remind students that Carbon Fee and Dividend is a first step solution to tackling climate change. We can certainly create additional effective policies moving forward, but we must first propose something that people from both sides of the aisle can agree on.
What do you like about CCL?
I like that CCL focuses on bipartisanship. If we’re going to pass any legislation tackling climate change, it has to have bipartisan support. I also appreciate that the solution we’re proposing is not an end-all-be-all solution. It’s a first step solution, saying, “We can build on this. We can make this better, but this is a really good starting place.”
How do you see CCL contributing to your aspirations?
I am double majoring in environmental studies and politics and going into the field of international environmental policy because I think it’s going to take everyone working together to actually reduce the effects of climate change. I do believe that this is only a temporary moment in the political climate of this country and that things will soon change for the better. I would like to be part of that change moving forward. The leadership and organizational skills I am learning are going to help me become a more effective policy maker, negotiator, and climate leader. Having an understanding of the nature of environmental legislation and how different environmental groups approach the issue of climate change will give me a well-rounded foundation for crafting environmental policy in the future.
CCL’s Campus Leaders Program works with students to start CCL chapters and advance Carbon Fee and Dividend. To get involved with the Higher Education Action Team, visit www.citizensclimatehighered.org or contact clara.fang @ citizensclimatelobby.org.
Got a suggestion for our Volunteer Spotlight series? Send the name, chapter and some brief info about the volunteer to Flannery Winchester at flannery @ citizensclimatelobby.org.