Under the slogan “A Climate for Change,” the Citizens Climate Lobby held a 100-town climate change summit in Washington on Tuesday. This is the fourth summit since its inaugural gathering in 2013. But a fourth summit sounds familiar — a lot like an election rally: You stand before a mic, make your case, and sit down for the cameras. While the lobbying campaign continues, these summits have little effect on the decision-making that so many communities and communities around the world are dealing with.
In conversations with residents of Washington, D.C., in mid-September, we heard that their voices don’t go unheard. When we questioned 14 local officials about climate change, all of them responded with an overwhelming “yes” or “mostly yes” in response to “Do you think climate change is happening?” These meetings—like the ones we also conducted in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Illinois—indicate that there is a better way to translate information about climate change into action.
Now, the local officials don’t have a specific policy position on climate change. What they do have is specific leadership on how to decrease local carbon emissions and help workers who may be in danger of losing their jobs. They have the leadership to enact policies that reduce pollution and energy costs—and that empower their citizens. The local officials we spoke with said they see climate change as one of the most important issues they have ever faced—that is, in all the times they have ever faced it. They have the leadership to guide the conversation on climate change, and to tackle the problem as a community.
In addition to the leaders we spoke with in Washington, our efforts did not go unnoticed in the capital of the fossil fuel industry. The National Association of Manufacturers hosted one of their side events on climate change, too, and they had the opportunity to explain their position to the leaders we met with, as well as model their approach.
Both the climate rally and the manufacturing event highlighted the energy that is left over after the public is heard. The leaders of the CCL heard from ordinary citizens on their level of concern for climate change, and what steps they are taking to live their lives cleanly. On the other side of the country, leaders of the NAM heard from scientists, businesses, and other like-minded citizens in their town meetings on climate change. The NAM—which represents industrial and manufacturing sectors across the country, including the retail, transportation, and technology industries—also hosted its own, smaller-scale version of the CCL’s summit.
Fortunately, there is a business-friendly way to tackle climate change. At the meeting in Washington, we spoke with leaders in businesses and companies who show good leadership on the issue. The leaders aren’t setting the agenda, but they are having an impact on a local level through policy change. These leaders said that climate change is one of the greatest issues facing them. In fact, if companies that are profitable by what the public values aren’t taking action on climate change, they are going to have to.
Citizens Climate Lobby is also open to working with organizations on this issue. This summer, we teamed up with Big Pharma to help more patients have access to their medications. That is good policy, good for communities, and good for the public. While COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, officially kicked off the “1930s Classic.” 2018, there should be no more COP climate summits. We need an alternative that could actually work.
We also believe that community outreach shouldn’t end in a one-time event. We’ve all seen the benefit of this approach. When the campaign for the Clean Power Plan sprung to life, Citizens Climate Lobby members took it one state at a time. We worked with leaders in South Carolina and Virginia who took climate change very seriously. They listened to the community’s concerns, and they listened to their local residents. They created a plan to address the citizens’ climate change concerns, and they were proud to take this plan to their own citizens.
Work with local leaders in the local communities around the country to strengthen local policies to lower the emissions that are endangering the health of the workers we hear from day to day, and the safety of our children. There is so much at stake for the public health of the American people, and the jobs of the men and women working to find solutions. A coalition of local leaders and local businesses can work together to reach a good, bipartisan solution for climate change. Working together, they can make a positive difference.