Moving Minds with Citizen-Centered Non-partisan Discourse

Citizens Climate Lobby is an international non-partisan, non-profit volunteer organization, working to build political will for a livable world. To do that, they aim to find an ideologically neutral, democratically viable, market-focused way to reduce the amount of carbon trapped in Earth’s atmosphere and speed the transition to clean, renewable fuels. I am proud to be a member of the organization, and one who is inspired by the passion of its volunteers and fortunate to count so many good friends among its partners.

The week of June 20th, 2011, the organization took its campaign to Capitol Hill, bringing 85 volunteers to 140 office visits in the United States Congress —both houses, both parties— along with the State Department, the Department of Energy and the World Bank. The project is more than a response to fallout from excess atmospheric carbon dioxide; the CCL project involves connecting citizens with decision-makers on Capitol Hill, to take ideology out of the energy debate, and fashion policy more democratically.

CCL proposes addressing the carbon crisis in a new and different way, which in fact avoids the pitfalls of more complex and unwieldy past attempts at reducing overall emissions: the proposed Carbon Fee and Dividend Act of 2011 would put a fee on carbon-emitting fuels at the source, then deliver 100% of that money directly to American families and households. 

The plan avoids the need to create burdensome new regulatory infrastructure, does not deliver any new revenue to the federal government, and turns the power to forge a brighter, more economically efficient energy future back over to the American people, the marketplace. By unmasking the massive externalized costs (not paid by industry) of fossil fuel dependency, but covering consumers so the transition is not traumatic, the fee and dividend proposal allows the virtues of a genuine market to operate.

The CCL mission is guided by the principle that when people remain open to one another, to differences of opinion and to opposing views, they can fashion a dialogue based on common vocabulary and put aside ideological biases. This, then, should allow for intelligent people, working to serve their nation in the most forthright and meaningful way possible, to work together to craft practical solutions to practical problems.

Climate destabilization has been turned into an intensely partisan issue, in which ideological assumptions and partisan strategy trump cooperative civics and negotiated problem solving. This is bad for democracy and bad for the human environment, in which impacts from inaction are mounting, and the economic fallout looks to be accelerating, certainly beyond the current window of opportunity to act.

The challenge of the political moment is to find a way around the intense partisan divide, and that is no small task. On Capitol Hill, there is frustration on both sides of the aisle with the inability of Congress to work together in a responsible way on practical issues, and much of the gridlock is due to ideological bias interfering with sound policy judgment. But the United States now faces another moment of urgency regarding climate and energy: China is racing ahead with massive investment in clean energy resources, even as it expands at record pace its use of the dirtiest form of fuel, coal.

The Chinese agenda, to take control of the global marketplace for new technologies, not by manufacturing alone, but by developing the newest, most cutting-edge technologies that will build the future economy of the world, means the United States now sees its dominance in technological innovation and research and development threatened. If we, as a nation, do not succeed in building the foundations for the global clean energy economy of the 1st century, our ability to compete internationally, and to thrive domestically, will face constant pressure.

The most advanced intelligence work of Pentagon analysts has found that sustainability and security are now intertwined and cannot be disentangled: economic sustainability, environmental sustainability, the sustainability of alliances, of political borders, of nation states, of an economic model that allows us to thrive in relative peace and security, are all linked, and the emerging national strategic narrative [pdf], capable of addressing the complexity of the global environment, needs to rethink the paradigm of threat and risk, and view such challenges as opportunities to shape and influence the landscape of human civilization, for the better.

The great success of this week of CCL lobbying on Capitol Hill was that individual volunteers, the citizen-based movement as a whole, and some of those who sat in meetings with the organization, experienced breakthroughs in terms of openness and interest in dealing with this issue as one of practical problems demanding practical solutions.

It is CCL’s mission to work with members of Congress of all variety of ideological inclinations, many of whom have never been able to share a constructive conversation about climate or energy, with one another, to build a coalition based on citizen interest and a shared vocabulary for building a vibrant and resilient, cutting-edge clean energy economy, through which sustainable American prosperity and quality of life can be secured in this century.

It will be citizens who build, manifest and deliver the political will to achieve these vital goals, and success will mean the strengthening of our democracy and our economic future.

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Originally published June 25, 2011, at


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