The controversy over climate change is not something Dave Reed, founder of the Roaring Fork chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, wants to talk about. Instead, he is all about finding solutions to something he believes is a “threat to everything we know and love.” For Roaring Fork Valley residents that means snow and skiing in the winter and in summer, water for everything from humans and wildlife to forests and riparian ecosystems.
A 2006 study by the Aspen Global Change Institute of the potential impacts of climate change on snow, skiing and the ecosystem in Aspen and portions of the Roaring Fork watershed found that by 2030, Aspen could see a later start and an earlier end to ski season as well as an early onset of spring run-off, possibly beginning in February.
“It’s disruptive change,” said Reed. “It’s disastrous economically.” He added that the impacts of climate change across the nation, such as severe weather and rising sea levels, could cost billions and even trillions of dollars to mitigate. “I’m talking about sea walls for the Florida panhandle, New York and New Orleans and the elevation of water sanitation systems in low-lying areas,” he said.
For Reed, now is not the time for hand-wringing and equivocating about whether climate change exists. “I don’t see [climate change] as a problem of polar bears and perma-frost,” he said. “It’s a fiscal problem that we’re saddling our next generations with.” And it calls for a fiscal solution.
Enter Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a national, grassroots, nonprofit organization founded in 2007 by Marshall Saunders, a California real estate broker, specifically to pass revenue-neutral, carbon fee and dividend legislation to address climate change.
“I’ve known for a long time that what we need to solve the climate problem is just to put a price on carbon,” said Reed. He believes a carbon fee and dividend policy would appeal to Democrats, Republicans, liberals, and conservatives.
The idea behind carbon fee and dividend is that carbon-based fuels are taxed at the point where they enter the U.S. economy — at the mine, well or port — and in proportion to the carbon dioxide they’ll emit. The tax is introduced at a low rate and gradually increases to give industry and consumers predictability. The tax then ripples throughout the entire economy, incrementally adding to the price of all goods and services in proportion to their carbon content and the social cost of their contribution to climate change. “We’re talking about the issue that we’re all polluters,” said Reed. “We all have to pay the price.”
The more carbon an item or energy source emits, the more it costs — what proponents, such as economists Greg Mankiw and Henry Paulson, say will be a disincentive to use carbon-intensive goods or services.
Reed said it isn’t a fee for services nor is it a tax because the government doesn’t keep the money. “[Carbon fee and dividend] puts a price on carbon to reduce its use,” he explained. “It doesn’t increase the size of government.”
The money is returned to households annually in equal shares. Reed said it will boost the economy because people will have more money to spend. And the hope is that it will be spent on low-carbon energy and goods.
CCL volunteers also train to lobby members of Congress for climate legislation, which Amelia Potvin, co-leader of the Roaring Fork chapter, said is the main reason she got involved. “It’s not just about climate change,” she said. “It’s about being able to come together and create a shared vision for building a better life.”
If that doesn’t sound like your typical lobbyist, it’s because CCL’s approach is not about strong-arming legislators or pitting Democrats against Republicans. Both Potvin and Reed agree that CCL takes a Gandhian approach to climate change, creating relationships with legislators and listening to what they have to say. “It means sitting down and having real conversations about the values underneath the positions we take,” explained Potvin.
In June, Reed, Potvin and other locals joined 600 CCL volunteers from around the country in Washington, D.C., for the annual CCL national conference, which included meetings with various Republican legislators. Potvin was part of a group that met with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s staff. She said they were surprised by CCL’s approach. “Usually, they see an environmental group on the schedule and they brace themselves,” she said. “We came in just to have a conversation.”
Reed added that the approach transcends party politics. “The number one rule [when visiting legislators] is to show respect and gratitude for their service,” he explained. “We acknowledge that they have a tough job and find common ground.”
CCL’s goal is to have one chapter in each of the 435 U.S. congressional districts by the end of 2014. Right now, 225 chapters, including one in Carbondale, cover more than 300 congressional districts in the U.S. and Canada. A chapter in Aspen holds its first meeting next month, and a Grand Junction group met for the first time earlier this week. And CCL is catching on internationally.
Reed added that training citizens about the climate and how to talk to legislators helps people feel like they’re actually doing something effective. “We’re not just fixing the climate,” he said. “We’re reclaiming democracy.”