Back in June, I had the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. with Citizens Climate Lobby, to go discuss with our elected officials about the possibility of a carbon tax. The event, which composed of a two day conference and a full day of lobbying, was a unique experience for me in the climate-activism world. The idea of politics has always deterred me from becoming engaged in environmental issues, but as of late I realize that our current political infrastructure must take action on climate if we want to continue being a leading nation.
It was amazing to see thousands of individuals from all over the country rally to speak up for climate legislation. The vibe was inspiring and educational, within the two day conference I learned SO much about our House, Senate, and how we as citizens can become more involved with climate policy.
Our day of lobbying was the most educational out of the entire experience. Walking the halls of the House Building, seeing where bills are introduced and debated, opened my eyes to how complex our political system really is. It was my first time lobbying, and I was so excited to give these politicos a piece of my mind! The term “lobby” informally means to wait outside the lobby of the Official, in that you have an appointment to speak with them about your area of concern. Most lobbyists have a tainted connotation that are associated with big corporate lobbying (like the fossil-fuel or chemical industries) so it was liberating to know I was there for just as important of subject, carbon emissions!
While we spoke of a carbon fee & dividend (a highly detailed carbon tax) I am not at liberty to discuss what was said in the chambers. Out of respect to the offices, who are trying to maneuver and leverage certain bills and initiatives, it is best practice not to blab what was said in lobby meetings. However, the entirety of that event I learned a great deal about how we can discuss climate change issues with political figures. Because of that, I feel like I need to share my main takeaways for approaching environmental policy and carbon legislation with my “5 Things I Learned Lobbying for Climate Change”
Climate Change is not a Environmental Issue. It is a people issue.
The minute we start to speak of the environment – the polar bears that are dying off, icebergs melting, etc. politicians tend to tune out. Their first priority is to protect the American people. When climate change is discussed as a “people problem” and not an environmental issue, more doorways and opportunities are available to discuss solutions. We have to learn to shift our messaging as activists to find common ground on topics that unavoidably affect citizens. Topics like compounded Health Risks, National Security, and Extreme Weather conditions all are top ranking issues for policy makers and will all be greatly affected by climate change. By learning to marry these concerns together, we will cover more ground and take action faster towards finding bipartisan solutions.
2. Conservatives support climate change legislation. Politicians who are paid by big-polluters do not.
70% of Republican millennials are in favor of acting on climate. And 2 out of 3 Republican millennials are re-registering as Democrats purely based on climate change acceptance. The party itself has evolved into special interest groups, and our current administration is doing quite the opposite of restoring the Republican party back to it’s original ideals. The Republican office we met with during my lobby day, was more receptive to our climate-based arguments and facts than the Democrat office was. We have to be careful about purely pointing fingers at the other party when reality, we do want accessibility to a cleaner, greener, and more affordable future.
3. Listening gets you a whole lot farther than talking.
Instead of coming in guns a blazin’ about what it is you are lobbying for (whether it be banning plastic-bags or supporting the Endangered Species Act for example) we first have to listen to our elected officials to understand what their political platform is and how we can tailor our messaging to that. The Democratic office we met with does a lot in the Health & Family sector, not so much in Energy & Infrastructure. Therefore, by taking the time to listen what specific bills they can introduce and work on, we can better deliver our argument for them to better understand where we are coming from. We can then talk about climate change as a Health risk, instead of Energy Independence, and help these politicians tweak the messaging of when they introduce legislation.
4. Find common ground!
Commonalities are SO SO SO important. Creating a personal connection with elected officials turns them from being less about the business and more about the people. Do they enjoy skiing for their vacation time? Explain how snow sports industries are at risk from a rapidly warming planet. Do they have a history with the Armed Forces (whether personally or within their family) and can understand that climate change is a SERIOUS threat to our National Security? We have to make our arguments more compelling and more personal, so that we may humanize our political spectrum once again.
5. Your own personal opinion doesn’t matter. But your personal story does.
This touches on #4 as well… but having your own opinion is great, but keep it to yourself. You believe in climate change, well congrats! It’s the other parties fault – well thats your opinion! But if you approach it on your personal experience, you are going to get their attention much, much more. A personal story like “I would like you to vote NO against Bill XYZ that allows fracking next to schools and public spaces so that future generations have safe places to play” is extremely powerful. Or sharing that a carbon tax will help reduce carbon emissions, because personally you can’t afford an electric car or other expensive alternatives that experts advise is not realistic in your life. Personal anecdotes resonate a lot deeper than just dropping facts. These are the stories politicians can leverage in their bill introductions.
All in all, this experience made me realize how much MORE involved I can get. The lessons learned above I realized can be translated into ANY situation. Whether at home, in the workplace, or in various relationships, not immediately blaming the other party and learning to listen SPEAKS volumes. We are able to learn so much more and base our ideas for change with the more information we have.
I encourage you try these 5 tips and see how your conversations go. How do they progress, is there ultimately a “winner” of an argument – or do you find that you are able to come to a conclusion that serves both parties involved? I am curious….
Share below how you Act on Climate and your thoughts on my 5 tips!