It’s been a rough year for a climate warrior. Every day, something new to set us back. So many steps backward that I’ve gone into a surreal denial, shuttling the bad news to some dark corner of my psyche. What did happen besides Scott Pruitt being chosen to head the EPA and Trump pulling out of Paris? I couldn’t remember. I had to look it up. National Geographic is keeping a running list. The list is so long, I had to sort through, picking and choosing the most egregious actions. Steel yourself. These are only the highlights:
2/17 Scott Pruitt confirmed as EPA chief
3/17 Keystone XL Pipeline approved
3/17 Executive order to begin dismantling Clean Power Plan
4/17 EPA scrubs climate change website
5/17 EPA dismisses science advisors
5/17 Budget proposes steep cuts for the environment
6/17 Trump pulls out of Paris
9/17 Trump EPA poised to scrap Clean Power Plan
But last week, something happened that National Geographic didn’t track. Six hundred Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers from 46 states went to Washington D.C. on their own dime. We had meetings with 400 congressional offices. Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and Progressives. I had meetings with congressional staff from four offices and one member of Congress —two Republicans and three Democrats.
My next-to-last meeting was with a staffer in the office of a conservative Republican. Someone whose environmental voting record is in the single digits. I was not looking forward to the meeting. I was tired. It had already been a long day. I was lugging around my down coat, a shoulder bag with notes about each of the representatives I was meeting with, a scarf that kept getting caught in the zipper of my coat, and gloves that didn’t keep out the cold. I had attitude before walking in the door.
Five CCL volunteers sat at a round table and were joined by Susan, the energy and environment aide. We introduced ourselves, thanked her boss for his military service and asked her how much time she had. “Take as much time as you need. I’m new to this and want to learn as much as possible.” That doesn’t happen. Staffers rarely say take as much time as you need. Especially when they don’t agree with what you’re peddling. She was gracious and curious. We talked, she asked intelligent questions. We listened. She wanted details and follow up. Thirty minutes later we had to excuse ourselves and run through the underground tunnels to make it to our next meeting on time.
I don’t know what her boss will do. I don’t know if the meeting made a difference. But it made a difference for me. It reminded me once again not to be so quick to judge. People like to be appreciated. They like to be listened to. That alone opens doors and hearts.
I went to Washington. Six hundred of us went to Washington. We had four hundred meetings in congressional offices. We were courteous, respectful, and spoke our message with clarity and conviction. Climate change is real. Climate change is now. It’s time to put a price on carbon.
Let’s create a new list. One that tracks the climate related actions of ordinary citizens. One that tracks courage. One that tracks graciousness. One that tracks what can happen when people come together and speak in unison.