Reason for Hope, by John Andrews

Recently I went to Washington, D.C., to participate in a two-day event sponsored by the Citizens Climate Lobby, or C.C.L., as it is called by its members. More than 300 volunteers visited 350 offices of Republican and Democratic members of Congress to advocate action to reduce global warming.

C.C.L.’s proposal is to charge a fee on fossil fuels proportional to the carbon dioxide they emit and to return the proceeds to the American people in equal shares. This would provide the incentive to move toward climate-friendly sources of energy. Low and middle-income people would benefit because the rebates they would receive would exceed their added energy costs. And far from killing jobs, it would actually increase the number of good American jobs by more than two million.

On the first day we practiced how to approach members of Congress effectively. Then we were updated on the prospects for climate-change policy after the election. 

Some of the news, of course, was bad. For example, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which would have greatly reduced carbon emissions by electric utilities, is likely to be undone. The status of the Paris agreement on climate change is in question.

However, there are hopeful developments, as well, and I believe it is important to keep our eyes on the positive. Here are some specifics:

There has been a significant shift among Republican members of Congress toward considering action against climate change. This is key, because unless support comes from both sides of the aisle, nothing will happen. This year, the number of Republicans in Congress who were supportive and positive toward C.C.L. lobbyists was 10 times the number who were negative or antagonistic. The favorable-to-unfavorable ratio is three times better than it was just two years ago. While this doesn’t mean that all these Republicans are ready right now to endorse a specific proposal, it does indicate movement.

Recent polls show increasing support for climate action among Republican voters. This should encourage many of the climate-aware Republicans on Capitol Hill to go public with their support, which up to now has been politically dangerous in the G.O.P.

Several Republican senators have spoken out in favor of climate action. Specifically mentioned were Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Industry support for action on climate is increasing. What industry wants most of all is a policy that is predictable, that can be relied upon even when administrations change, and that uses market forces rather than regulation. C.C.L.’s proposal fits those needs perfectly.

There is increasing support in conservative media that have heretofore opposed climate action. For example, The Wall Street Journal recently published an article praising a Washington State initiative to put a price on carbon emissions there. Here again, it is the use of market forces rather than regulation that is appealing to many conservatives who recognize the need for action but don’t want the government to pick the winners and losers among competing low-carbon energy technologies.

During a panel discussion, a speaker mentioned that one of President-elect Trump’s priorities is to invest a large amount of money (perhaps a trillion dollars over 10 years) in improving our transportation and energy infrastructure. The panelist suggested that a portion of the proceeds of a carbon fee could be dedicated to this purpose, thereby winning the support of deficit hawks in Congress who otherwise would oppose it, leading to a bill that the new president might want to sign.

On the second day of the program, I participated in four lobbying visits. Three happened to be with Democrats. The fourth was with our own Republican Representative Lee Zeldin. Although Mr. Zeldin had once voted for a House resolution opposing climate action, more recently he has moved in a more favorable direction, and that came through in our meeting. Not long ago he joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members working to develop a plan that could win acceptance in Congress. Regardless of party, this is something we should applaud. 

C.C.L.’s strategy is to avoid framing climate change as a partisan issue, but instead to approach constructively all members of Congress who will listen. C.C.L.’s leaders are convinced that there is a real possibility, even likelihood, that a critical number of Republicans will join with enough Democrats to get a climate bill through Congress this session, and that with the right incentives President Trump might be induced to sign it. There are no guarantees, of course, but there is reason for hope. This is no time to give up.

If you haven’t yet joined the Citizens Climate Lobby, please go to the website citizensclimatelobby.org to learn more about its proposal, and then click on the button to sign up. The more people C.C.L. can count as members, the more effective it will be. This is a unique opportunity to stand on the right side of history. 


John Andrews lives in Sag Harbor. Citizens Climate Lobby will meet on Jan. 22 at noon at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse in Bridgehampton.