How an Ordinary Citizen Can Impact Climate Policy

Pictured above: Jenna Chippendale (Constituent Advocate for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney), Krystal Ford, and Olga Anderson

By Krystal Ford

A few months after President Trump’s inauguration, I found myself wandering the halls of an Activist Fair with other kindred spirits, looking for a workshop to satisfy my desire to act. In a way, the activist fair was like matchmaking for scared and angry citizens.  After the 2016 election and the Women’s March in 2017, many people were itching to do something. They wanted to join groups, they wanted to pull together, they wanted to resist, they wanted to fight.

I talked with the different organizations tabling at the fair, all advocating for wonderful causes, but I knew my passion lay with the environment.  When I found a workshop about carbon pricing given by Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), I immediately knew I had to attend. I’d heard the terms “carbon pricing” and “cap and trade” kicking around for years, but had no idea what any of it meant. That workshop changed the course of my life.

By the end of the workshop I understood that putting a fee (a price, a tax, whatever you want to call it) on carbon sources like coal, oil, and gas would drastically shift our economy away from fossil fuels and towards renewables. I also for the first time understood there was a bill that could do a great deal towards addressing our emissions and undoing climate change. It’s called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.

It wasn’t long after that first workshop before I was on an Amtrak train heading for Washington DC for Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s annual conference and lobby day. Over the course of a few days I dove deep into climate science, how to lobby (emphasis on being courteous, polite, and always looking for ways to move the conversation forward in a positive way), and the levers of political will: media, lobbying, grassroots, grasstops, and chapter development. Once our brains were stuffed to capacity, we were set loose to flood the halls of Congress and meet with our representatives.

Krystal Ford lobbying in DC at Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s office

Every year, over a thousand volunteers from across the country, representing 506 chapters, descend on their members of congress to talk climate change during the annual lobby day. And we have slowly made headway. The Climate Solutions Caucus in the house is split 50/50 Republicans and Democrats and the number has climbed to 90 members fairly quickly over the past few years.

CCL prides itself on being non-partisan and working towards bipartisan solutions. I can attest to that. I’ve met a libertarian from Oklahoma who was a big proponent for wind power. I’ve met a conservative working with the military on climate change and national security. And I’ve met dedicated volunteers like Brian Ettling from Portland, Oregon. Brian has been volunteering for almost 7 years. He loves being a volunteer because it has allowed him to have breakthroughs in so many ways as a climate advocate: Getting over 18 op-eds published, numerous radio interviews, giving presentations, meeting with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, and being able to meet other empowering people across the country.

You would think after a few days of talking nothing but climate change I’d be feeling anger, despair, hopelessness, but instead I felt empowered. There’s a great saying that the antidote to despair is action. Oddly, I felt like since I took on climate change, my life had taken on a higher purpose. That feeling has sustained me the last two years. Now I am starting to see a tipping point, where climate change is in the news all the time and being talked about by Presidential candidates. I think that people who are working on climate change advocacy are probably more optimistic than others, because we are tracking the changes, both big and small, when it comes to talking about and acting on climate change.

Back in New York, I joined the local chapter called Mid-Hudson South Citizens’ Climate Lobby, it covers New York 18, my congressional district. One of our volunteers, Olga Anderson, when asked why she is trying to build support for the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act said “I have always thought that the only way to get big polluters to act responsibly was through their bottom line. It’s no mystery that corporations are profit-driven so if their profits are impacted then there is an incentive to change.”

Our bill, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, or HR 763, was introduced last congressional session, in November, in both the House and Senate. It was recently re-introduced into the House by both Democrats and Republicans. It is the first comprehensive bipartisan bill to address climate change in 10 years.

The bill would place a fee on coal, oil, gas at the source. That money is collected and then returned, minus a small administrative fee, to all households on a monthly basis. It will reduce emissions 40% in 12 years, create 2.1 million jobs in ten years, reduce pollution, and improve people’s health and quality of life. Susan Karnes Hecht, a volunteer for Mid-Hudson South CCL, says, “I like that this bill addresses economic justice, gives families and individuals ownership of change, spurs innovation, and that it’s bi-partisan.”

What I’ve learned from my experience with CCL is that we are in it for the long game, building support for our climate policy at all levels, so that we can make lasting change.  I am grateful to CCL for many reasons, and the best reason is that they gave me hope: I have no doubt we will get our price on carbon, it’s only a matter of when.

Want to get involved? Here are some ideas:

About Krystal Ford

Krystal Ford is a writer, mother and an activist. She is a trained Climate Reality Leader, the President of GUFS PTA, and volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby.