BY MICHAEL HILL
Quick: Name an event you’ve attended recently where progressives and conservatives, and everyone in between, have come together to calmly and collaboratively discuss solutions for tackling a critically important global issue. Nothing comes to mind? Well, that’s exactly what happened at The Collider in downtown Asheville March 25-26, when 80 people from Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina came together for the Mid-South Regional Conference of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots group advocates for national policies to address climate change. The focus is on passing federal legislation to create a revenue-neutral, carbon fee-and-dividend program in which companies would pay a fee for extracting fossil fuels based on how many tons of carbon dioxide the use of those fuels would produce. After covering the modest administrative costs, all remaining revenues would be returned to American households in the form of checks from the Treasury Department. We’re proposing an initial fee of $15 per ton, increasing by $10 a ton annually. Studies predict that such a program would result in the creation of 2.1 million jobs and more than a 50 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions over 20 years.
If the Climate Lobby can persuade Southern members of Congress to support the proposal, there’s reason to believe it could become federal law. “If we succeed in the South, we succeed nationally,” Don Addu, the organization’s Southeast regional director, told the conference.
Asheville chapter leader Steffi Rausch and her counterparts from other chapters briefly summarized their groups’ activities. After that, participants were treated to inspirational talks by local agricultural expert and author Laura Lengnick, who runs the consulting firm Cultivating Resilience, and Drew Jones, co-director of the Asheville-based nonprofit Climate Interactive. Addressing the assembled volunteers, Jones, a globally recognized expert on climate change modeling, said, “You all are the right people working at the right angle on the right issue.”
Jones illustrated several scenarios, concluding that in order to prevent catastrophic impacts, humans must start now to first cap and then reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (To get a better sense of this, check out C-ROADS, Climate Interactive’s free policy simulator.) To that end, noted Jones, 64 national and subnational jurisdictions have enacted carbon fees.
He also highlighted some global trends, including a slowdown in China’s production and consumption of coal, and the plummeting costs of wind (50 percent drop since 2009) and solar energy systems (80 percent drop since 2008). But even these positive developments aren’t enough — and that’s where the carbon pricing program comes in.
The conference included several sessions training volunteers in how to lobby effectively, build relationships and engage the community. Other sessions specifically addressed such topics as reaching out to conservatives, practicing active listening, and holding a lobbying meeting with members of Congress and their staffers. Participants heard about efforts by the Charleston, W.Va., chapter to bring the idea of a carbon fee-and-dividend program to the very heart of coal country.
I’ll be honest: I struggled at first with the idea of proactively engaging with members of Congress, regardless of their ideological bent and party affiliation. Sometimes I just want to scream and shout, “We have to do something about climate change now! What do you mean ‘The science is unsettled.’ Are you kidding?”
Now, however, I’m all in with that approach, because this issue is too crucial for me to hold grudges or think that I alone have the solution. I’m a pragmatist. I want to see the high elevation spruce/fir forests survive in Western North Carolina, see our native brook trout thrive. Most of all, I want my children, your children and our grandchildren to grow up in a world with a stable climate.
The Citizens’ Climate Lobby declares itself to be “relentlessly optimistic,” and that’s a pretty accurate description. I find these volunteers’ positive spirit and enthusiasm to be contagious. I hope you will, too.
Michael Hill teaches mathematics and environmental science at the Asheville School and volunteers with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. You can find his blog at thehillbillyenvironmentalist.blogspot.com.