A Climate of Change

March 14-15, Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) hosted their annual regional conference at Lehigh University. With 148 registered participants, it was the largest regional CCL conference to date, which is an extraordinary achievement and reflects the remarkable growth the movement has experienced, more than doubling in size every year.

CCL has an active chapter in nearly every congressional district in the country, and they are all working towards one specific goal: to place a steadily rising fee on carbon. This fee would then be collected and returned to households in the form of a dividend or citizen rebate. To achieve this goal, the tens of thousands of CCL volunteers are trained in letter-writing and advanced lobbying skills, which are then used in district offices around the country as well as coordinated lobby-ing in Washington, D.C.

In 2014 alone, CCL members held over 1000 lobbying meetings with elected officials, published well over 2000 letters to the editors and oped pieces, and hosted over 1000 outreach events, recruiting new volunteers and starting new local chapters. In addition to these efforts, CCL volunteers have delivered nearly 7000 handwritten letters to congress. And they are dedicated to seeing these numbers double every year until a carbon fee and dividend is writ into law.

While CCL works with laser focus on this key piece of legislation, their training and leadership support the development of personal political skills by “empowering individuals to experience breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.” And I have to say, as a first time conference attendee and newcomer to the CCL community, I found this to be true.

As I discovered at the conference, CCL champions a compassionate model of communication and relationship-building. Beginning with the opening performance on Friday before the conference and continuing throughout Saturday and Sunday, presenters told stories that supported CCL’s deep commitment to the idea that love is a more powerful driver of change than fear. Peter Toscano, a comic and LGBTQ activist, reminded the audience that we cannot (or at least should not) waste our time trying to guilt and shame climate deniers into action. Instead, Toscano suggested, think of this denial as the first stage of the grieving process — that, in their own way, climate skeptics are grieving for the dying planet. And similar to those grieving over the loss of a loved one, climate skeptics needs our support, not ridicule. It is through our common humanity and love that we can, in time, reach these people.

Similarly, in advanced lobby training, we were taught to be generous listeners. Working with partners, we role-played conversations and observed the impact the listener has on the direction and success (or failure) of the dialog. In short: listening is powerful. And part of that listening occurs before ever stepping foot in the office. It’s generally a good idea to know about an elected official’s stance before a meeting. Additionally, however, CCL advocates to not only know the political, but also the personal, specifically looking for things that you can respect, appreciate, and admire about the individual. No matter the difference in values, perspectives, and priorities, people always have positive qualities too.

Find out more about CCL by contacting the Lehigh Valley chapter, co-led by John Brown, at mit69@rcn.com;
connect with the local CCL community on Facebook; or attend one of their meetings, which are on the Tuesdays after the first Saturday, monthly at 6 pm, at NCC Fowler Center, Third St., (south) Bethlehem. Meetings are held over a potluck dinner. Martha Christine, LEPOCO Steering Committee member and an active leader in the local CCL chapter, will also be happy to answer any questions about their work.

The annual CCL international conference will take place this summer in Washington, D.C., June 21-23. During these three days, 1000 volunteers will meet with the 535 members of Congress to speak about the benefits of a carbon fee and dividend. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, is this year’s keynote speaker. Together with her husband, Andrew Farley, she is the co-author of the book, “A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.” Contact the local chapter for more information on this important event.