Writing Letters to Editors and Congress

— Why Letters? —

Creating political will requires citizens and constituents to speak out and let their voice be heard. In the absence of a face-to-face meeting, the best way to communicate your message is with letters to editors or Congress itself.

Congressional aides and staffers tell us, that, when possible, you should always send personal handwritten letters to Congress, not a form letter or petition.

Letters to the Editor

One of the best ways to influence members of Congress and move the national conversation forward on solutions to climate change is to get letters to the editor published in their local paper.

Letters to Congress

Our representatives must hear from us – their constituents – that climate change is a problem that should be given top priority and that Carbon Fee and Dividend is the best first step we can take.

Creating political will is about moving Congress to take action.  Therefore, it’s imperative that we correspond with them…often.

Write letters to members of Congress about Carbon Fee and Dividend and CCL’s REMI report

Writing Congress

Once you’ve read the background below for ideas, you can use our simple online tool to write your members of Congress about climate change.

Background

In June of 2014, Citizens’ Climate Lobby released a study from Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) that evaluated our Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal for a steadily-rising fee on fossil fuels with all revenue from the fee returned to households.

One of the best things we can communicate to members of Congress is the good news from the REMI study, which shows that Carbon Fee and Dividend will cut carbon while adding jobs to the economy. Unless we’ve met face-to-face with the member, however, it is unlikely that they’ve heard about the REMI study. To increase the chances that our members of Congress see the REMI study, we are writing personal letters asking them to look at the study and share their thoughts about it.

 

Handwritten letters

Handwritten letters are a great way to get attention in your representative’s office. You can use the addresses below to write them once you find your members of Congress by zip code.

Suggested outline for letters:

  • Introduce yourself and acknowledge the senator/representative for something they’ve done.
  • Share your concern about climate change.
  • Tell them that a revenue-neutral fee on carbon, with money returned to households, will cut greenhouse gas emission and be good for the economy at the same time.
  • Share some findings from the Regional Economic Models Inc. (REMI) study:
    • In 20 years, CO2 emissions would be reduced 50 percent below 1990 levels.
    • Because of the economic stimulus of recycling carbon fee revenue back to households, in 20 years, 2.8 million jobs would be added to the American economy.
    • Improved air quality would result in 230,000 premature deaths avoided over 20 years.
  • Ask that they look at the REMI study and share their thoughts about it with you.

House Address

Rep. [NAME HERE]
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Senate Address

Sen. [NAME HERE]
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

In addition to the tips below you can also watch a short video about writing and getting letters to the editor published from CCL’s Communications Director Steve Valk.

Watch the Video

Background

Think of the newspaper’s editorial pages as sort of a town hall meeting that covers a wide range of topics. In essence, those editorial pages are a public conversation between the newspaper and its readers. The newspaper facilitates that discussion by choosing the topics brought up in the form of news stories, editorials or columns. Your job as a letter-writer is to be a brilliant conversationalist who stays on topic.

Structuring Your Letter: The Formula

Letters to the editor typically are 150-200 words, meaning you are limited to 3 or 4 short paragraphs. They are the haiku of advocacy — short and sweet.

Start the writing process by asking yourself the question: What is my message and how does that relate to the article that was in the paper?

Opening: In your very first sentence, cite the article that you are responding to. For example, “Your editorial Saturday questioning the existence of climate change left me quite puzzled, given that the world’s glaciers are receding at record rates.” (Note: It’s okay to challenge a view, but never be disrespectful or snide)

Transition to message: You don’t have much space, so transition quickly to your message. Start by stating the problem. “If we ignore what scientists are telling us, global temperatures will rise throughout the century with dire consequences — coastal flooding, droughts, famine, extinction of species.”

Propose a solution: This is the meat of your message. “We must reduce the level of carbon-dioxide — the primary greenhouse gas — to a level that will avert these disastrous effects. Scientists tell us that level is 350 parts per million in the atmosphere. The most efficient and effective means to do this is to place a fee on carbon and return the revenue equally to all residents.”

Closing the letter: Finish up strong either by referring back to the beginning of the letter (closing the circle) or with something clever. “Policy-makers can argue all they want, but Mother Nature doesn’t argue — and she doesn’t negotiate.”

Don’t try to say everything in one letter. There’s no room for it and it muddies the message.

In addition to your name, the newspaper will want your address and phone number (not for publication) to verify your letter.

Understanding the Letter to Editor Hierarchy

Half the battle of getting a letter published is being vigilant about reading the newspaper and looking for opportunities to respond with letters to the editor. Here is a hierarchy of things you can respond to in the newspaper to get a letter published. The higher up in the hierarchy, the better your chances of getting published.

1. Editorials. This is the official stand the newspaper takes on an issue. Letters responding to editorials will usually be given top priority.

2. Front page stories. These are the big stories of the day. If the newspaper decides it’s important enough to put on their front page, chances are they’ll consider letters about those stories important enough to run on their editorial pages.

3. Staff-written columns. These are columns that appear on the editorial pages that are written by editorial staffers. They provide the “branding” for the newspaper’s readership. Letters responding to staff columnists help to promote that brand and that readership.

4. Locally-written op-eds. These are opinion pieces written by people in the community. These pieces usually initiate a public conversation about an issue of importance to the community. A letter to the editor continues that conversation.

5. Syndicated columnists. These are columns the newspaper pays for — syndication or news service — that are produced by writers who typically opine on national and international issues (George Will, Nicholas Kristof, Paul Krugman, etc.). They appear on the editorial pages, and responding to them will get some consideration.

6. Other letters to the editor. You can respond to someone else’s letter. You’re starting to scrape the barrel at this point, but if it’s an outrageous letter that cries out for a response, it might be considered.

7. Inside news stories. Bit of a stretch, but better than nothing. Most likely will get crowded out by letters responding to all of the above.

Background

With each new scientific study, the message becomes more and more urgent: Civilization must start the process to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we have any hope of containing the damage of climate change. The first and most important step toward achieving those reductions is to enact national legislation to place a steadily-rising tax on carbon-based fuels that will speed the transition to clean energy.

To convince members of Congress to pass such legislation, Citizens’ Climate Lobby is circulating a letter of support for businesses, organizations and communities of faith to sign.

Download the Letter of Support

If you or your organization, business or faith community would like to sign on, please contact us.

Contact Us

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