Oak Parkers Test the Climate in Washington

Citizens Cllimate Action in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

By David Holmquist

The nation’s capital was the venue for Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s annual international conference and lobby days, held June 21-24. Nearly 900 people attended the conference portion of the event, participating in training sessions, workshops, presentations and social events on Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday, 800 of them swarmed Capitol Hill where they attended over 500 scheduled meetings with members of Congress or their staffers. Volunteers from communities around Illinois teamed up to sit down for lively discussions in all the active Congressional offices representing the state.

Among the nearly three dozen CCL volunteers attending from Illinois were six from Oak Park: Sally Stovall, Dick Alton, Cheryl Pomeroy, John Porterfield, Ken O’Hare, and David Holmquist. We were well represented in the meeting with our Congressman, Danny Davis, and at least one of us took part in meetings with environment and energy aides for Senators Richard Durbin and Mark Kirk.

The purpose of our lobbying is to create the political will for a livable planet. The vehicle for that ambition is a legislative proposal to enact “Carbon Fee & Dividend,” a fee levied on fossil fuels at the point of extraction with all of the revenue being returned to the people in equal shares. The fee is based on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted when the fuel is burned, beginning at $15 per ton and increasing by $10 per ton until US emissions have been reduced to 10 percent of 1990 levels.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? While there are details, there’s no devil to be found in them. In his encyclical, Pope Francis was critical of the corruption that seems to flow from complex schemes that involve carbon offsets and markets for trading permits to pollute. Carbon Fee & Dividend makes such measures unnecessary. You can find out more about Carbon Fee & Dividend by visiting CCL’s website, citizensclimatelobby.org.

Two things stood out in our conversations with the policymakers in Washington. There was very little contention over the validity of climate science. The influence of Laudato Si’ and Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the United States, where he will address both the United Nations and a joint session of Congress, has focused attention on the climate issue in a new way. The Pope’s activism, combined with the social movement that has been growing since the People’s Climate March last September—and is now gearing up for the United Nations Conference in Paris in December—has raised the public’s consciousness to a level that’s becoming hard for politicians to ignore.

And the pessimism that was evident in last year’s conversations with Congressional ‘climate hawks’ has begun to dissipate. They no longer accept what has been the conventional wisdom: that there is absolutely no possibility that a Republican-controlled Congress will act on climate change. Cheryl Pomeroy described the new political climate by saying, “Citizens' Climate Lobby is closer and closer to bi-partisan sponsorship and passage of Carbon Fee & Dividend legislation as there are fewer and fewer obstacles each year. You can see it in the faces of the staffers." These are truly hopeful developments.

That hope is a hallmark of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. It was palpable in the conference proceedings, even alongside some rather sobering news about the state of the climate system. Dr. James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Space Center and pre-eminent climate scientist, is a member of the CCL advisory board and the originator of Carbon Fee & Dividend. He participated in a panel at the conference where he discussed a new paper he is about to publish, which shows greater sensitivity to increasing carbon dioxide levels than has been previously established. But he stresses that we can still avoid catastrophic climate change if we act quickly and decisively, by enacting Carbon Fee & Dividend.

Another member of the CCL advisory board is Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist from Texas Tech University and evangelical Christian, who is outspoken on the need to look at the climate change issue from the perspective of shared values, both political and spiritual. She delivered the keynote address to the conference, speaking for nearly an hour with passion and total command of her subject and without missing a beat. To convey her message, allow me to quote the last paragraph of her book A Climate for Change:

“Instead of cowering in fear, clinging to the outgrown security blanket of fossil fuel dependence, it is time to move forward with boldness, confidence, and sound judgment to build a new and better future for ourselves and for our children.”

To find out more about Citizens’ Climate Lobby, to register your support, or to find out about volunteer opportunities, go to citizensclimatelobby.org. Look for the red 'Join' button if you’re ready to act for the climate.