Canadians join citizens' climate lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C.

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The citizen climate lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

“No other generation has held the fate of the planet in its hands.” –Jeffrey Sachs

When Citizens Climate Lobby first went to Washington, DC in 2009 there were only three people. In July 2012, 175 citizen climate lobbyists showed up for the conference and to ask their representatives to put a rising fee on carbon and give the dividend back to Americans.

Citizens Climate Lobby is a non-partisan, non-profit volunteer organization, with more than 20 local chapters in six provinces and over 60 chapters in 26 states. Microfinance hero Marshall Saunders founded it in 2007. From July 24 to 28, in just four days of lobbying, 175 volunteers from across the United States, with seven of us from Canada, made more than 300 visits to Congressional offices.

Our goal was to get members of Congress to support the Save our Climate Act (SOCA) that Representative Peter Stark introduced to the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives, and to have Senators seriously consider introducing SOCA after the U.S. election. This bill would put a rising fee on carbon and give the majority of the proceeds back to American households to help during the transition to a clean energy economy. The following are short testimonials from four of the Canadian delegates.

 

Elizabeth Littlejohn

As a member of the Sustainable Design Research Lab at Sheridan College, I am aware of the necessity to advocate for the political will to switch to renewable energy solutions. As the only citizens group lobbying to change climate policy, Citizens Climate Lobby works with scientists such as NASA's Dr. James Hansen, 350.org's Bill McKibben, and economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs' Earth Institute to provide timely policy research for Washington lobbyists and congress.

I flew through an electrical storm with two other of our Ontario delegates during our return flight; it wasn't until someone posted a poster of the nearby CN Tower, with three lightning bolts hitting the tip of its tower, that I learned we had flown through the second worst electrical storm in Toronto's history. I thought 'What a fitting finale. This is what climate change looks like, and this is the danger it can wield.'

 

Ian Edwards

I am a member of the Trinity-Spadina chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. I walked away from Washington with a mix of empowerment, cynicism and guarded hope. There is little doubt that taking direct action and sitting with representatives and aides gives you a sense of empowerment. Action generates this. Inaction does not. Simple as that. The cynicism comes from the realization that this is the most 'business as usual' Congress in history -- blatantly more interested in political gain and the money that lines their pockets as opposed to doing their job.

There is hope, however guarded and remote. Climate change does not discriminate and although the rich may stave off the effects longer than their poorer brethren, ultimately we all share the same planet. We're all human beings after all, we all have children, whether directly or vicariously, and how often in our personal lives have seemingly insurmountable issues been solved through an introduction to just 'talk about it.'

In my experience, everyone I met in Washington was willing to talk about it. And this includes the most unlikely characters like Alaskan congressman Don Young, whose State's economy is based 80 per cent on oil, whose office walls adorn heads and skins of big game, and whose waiting room welcomes you with a foot inch thick cut of real oil pipeline. But this is the same Don Young who through the influence of his recently deceased Gwich'in wife has an intense interest in sustaining the intensely ocean dependent lifestyle of the first nations peoples of Alaska. Ocean acidification, a climate change byproduct, is a real concern for Don. This is what gave me the greatest hope of all. We all have a personal stake in this. Sometimes we just need help connecting the dots.

Lauren Bates

I've been with Citizens Climate Lobby since January 2011, and am the Group Leader for Davenport.

I will tell a short anecdote during my lobby day in Washington to sum up my experience there. It was a meeting I had with a Republican Senator's aide. Our Citizens Climate Lobby meeting leader informed me that she had met with the same aide the previous year, and that the attitude towards our carbon fee and dividend policy had been less than enthusiastic. As we all gathered in the hallway to debrief after this year's meeting, our meeting leader looked at all of us with disbelief and excitement. This meeting, she informed us, was leaps and bounds more positive than the year previous.

This feeling of hope and connecting with someone you weren't sure would listen empowered me throughout the day. I was also struck by the power of building relationships with political figures and fellow Citizen Climate Lobby members, and the confidence in knowing that our work all stems from research and information by leading experts. I feel now like we can keep going, knowing that I have a growing group of people by my side to engage in the tough conversations that we need to have with our governments. I have always been someone who thinks and talks and contemplates action. Now I am someone who acts. And after an experience lobbying with so many amazing people, I am now someone who will continue to act with intention, and with a little more hope and optimism.

 

Cheryl McNamara

I am the Toronto Group Founder and Leader, and Communications Officer for Citizens Climate Lobby Canada. This year marks the second time I traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby with the organization. My experience in 2011 was sobering. Democrats told us that nothing could be done during the current Congress. Tea Party members, elected under the Republican ticket, were stymieing progressive legislation in the House.

The mood this year was different. For the most part many of us felt that we advanced relationships, benefited from very good advice and learned that climate change skepticism on Capital Hill was not as rampant as we thought. The meeting I dreaded the most, one with the energy aide to a tea party-loving Republican from Alabama, took an extraordinary turn. Expecting either a rant or polite indifference, we were instead charmed by a young Southerner who was receptive to our concerns and ideas, and offer to send him resources. He didn't even blink an eye when we introduced him to carbon fee and dividend, using their least favourite word, 'tax.' While he claimed that Alabama suffers from a lack of sun and wind (I reminded him that sun-starved Germany is now a solar powerhouse), he expressed great interest in generating electricity from biomass. While not all meetings went as well, I was reminded that advancements can come from the most unlikely of places. That's why we lobby.

Citizens Climate Lobby Canada plans to join the Climate Action Network to lobby parliamentarians in Ottawa this fall. To learn more about Citizens Climate Lobby, visit www.citizensclimatelobby.ca

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