Lobbying for the Greater Good
This is part of David Bornstein’s regular series – Fixes – for the New York Times.
In May, scientists reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million. It’s an alarming milestone, to be sure, but, alas, there is no shortage of dire warnings about global warming. What is lacking is the political will to address the problem. The big question is, what useful steps can citizens take to build that will?
A lean and efficient model to direct billions of dollars of government funding toward child survival, microfinance, education and health.
If you pose that question to the leading climate scientist James E. Hansen, he’ll tell you to connect with the Citizens Climate Lobby(C.C.L.). “They have the potential to be extremely effective,” he said. “That’s why I recommend them in my speeches. They’re doubling in size each year. And they’re pursuing the right policy.”
The C.C.L. is a relatively unknown organization that punches above its weight. Founded in 2007, the organization prepares citizens to be effective lobbyists, helping them build relationships with members of Congress and editorial page editors, showing them how to make persuasive arguments about policies to win bipartisan support. Currently, the group’s main focus is to build political will for a revenue-neutral carbon tax, a policy that has been supported by economists across the political spectrum and has demonstrated environmental and economic benefits, most recently, in the province of British Columbia and in Ireland. But a carbon tax faces serious political hurdles in the United States.
With a staff of 9 and about 700 active volunteers, the C.C.L. reports that last year it conducted 534 meetings with members of Congress or the Canadian Parliament or their staffs; met with 24 newspaper editorial boards; published 537 letters to the editor; and directly prompted or placed 174 editorials, op-eds or articles, all focusing on this policy. This year, the group is on track to double or triple its outreach.
“The Citizens Climate Lobby is taking very sophisticated ideas and putting them into letters and op-eds and face-to-face meetings with members of Congress,” explained Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican who served 12 years in the House of Representatives and now directs the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. “I think they’ve moved the needle on this issue.”
The C.C.L. was founded by Marshall Saunders, a retired businessman living in San Diego who had previously spent 12 years volunteering for a grass-roots lobby called Results, which has had major success building support in Congress for initiatives aimed atbasic needs for the poor. One morning, Saunders read that Congress had just approved $18 billion in new subsidies for oil and coal companies and he decided that Results’ approach needed to be deployed to the climate crisis.
To understand C.C.L., it’s necessary to understand Results, which remains one of the best-kept secrets in development. Since the 1980s, Results has played a unique role in helping to direct billions of dollars of government funding toward child survival, microfinance, education and health. It has done it with an army of volunteers and almost no fanfare. “Results has such a lean and efficient model that nobody knows about them,” explained Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank. “They’re incredibly dedicated and very knowledgeable about the issues. It’s remarkable how much they’ve done and how few people have any idea about it.“
Results was founded in 1980 by Sam Daley-Harris, a former music teacher and percussionist for the Miami Philharmonic. In the late 1970s, Daley-Harris read the report from Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Commission on Hunger and decided to help build political will to address hunger. Speaking with groups of high school students, he was dismayed that only 3 percent could name their member of Congress. “They didn’t know it because they didn’t use it,” he recalled. “And they didn’t use it because they didn’t see a reason to.”
Read the rest at the NYTimes here.