Mark Reynolds knows well that dire forecasts about climate change can be overwhelming for the average person.
Dwelling on information about soaring temperatures, the natural disasters they will trigger and the consequences for humankind can be like a “slow walk to the guillotine,” said Reynolds, executive director of a nonprofit organization called Citizens Climate Lobby.
“If you bet, you’d bet the planet is going to burn up,” Reynolds said.
So his organization doesn’t focus on the doom and gloom. It also tries to show people that there are achievable ways to avoid cooking the planet.
Reynolds will present the Citizens Climate Lobby’s mission and its strategies in a free presentation at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. His presentation is titled “How a (Climate) Bill Becomes a Law.”
The Citizens Climate Lobby was created six years ago on the premise that harnessing grassroots support was the only way Congress can be persuaded to take action to reduce the release of greenhouse gases, which scientists say are the prime contributor to global warming and resulting climate change. The organization believes that “normal people” can influence the debate more than “the folks that write a big check,” Reynolds said.
The Citizens Climate Lobby has a staff of nine but really relies on its 3,500 volunteers, Reynolds said. There are 135 chapters spread across the U.S. covering between 220 and 230 of the 435 congressional districts. By the end of 2014, it aims to have chapters working in every district.
After speaking in Aspen on Friday evening, Reynolds will meet with volunteers in Carbondale who asked for help creating a Roaring Fork Valley chapter.
Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability and environmental affairs for Aspen Skiing Co., is a collaborator and supporter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. He said the organization is unique because it works on the politics of the climate-change problem. It recognizes that there are policies that make sense, but the country doesn’t currently have the political will to implement them, he said.
The Citizens Climate Lobby aims to build that political will.
“They are organizing just like people did around civil rights, and we know that strategy works,” Schendler said.
The work of grassroots chapters is key to the nonprofit’s plan. Reynolds said it has no intent of wading into the standard Washington, D.C., morass. Instead, its members will work in their home districts, patiently meeting with senators and House representatives and their staffs to outline issues and propose solutions. It’s called a direct-lobbying strategy. Most members of Congress, regardless of political affiliation, are willing to meet with constituents, he said.
Citizens Climate Lobby chapters are making a big push to get businesses, organizations and communities of faith to sign a letter in support of a carbon tax. Reynolds said the organization is advocating a carbon tax that would add $15 per ton of carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas. The tax would be collected only once, at the wellhead, the mine or the point of entry into the country. The Citizens Climate Lobby advocates adding $10 per ton to the carbon tax each yeart for a minimum of 10 years.
The idea exercises a concept that economists have known for years — the way to reduce consumption of something is to make it more expensive. The organization’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below the 2005 level by 2050.
The carbon tax would add about 13 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline initially, but consumers would get the money back under the organization’s model. There would be a monthly or annual dividend, Reynolds said. Roughly two-thirds of American households would receive more in a dividend than they would pay in greater costs for fossil fuels because of the tax, he said.
Reynolds said the carbon tax would reflect the true costs of producing fossil fuels, such as fighting wars in the Middle East to protect oil supplies. And as the true costs of fossil fuels are charged, it levels the playing field for alternative energy sources, he said.
What are the chances of getting this Congress to pass a carbon tax when it is so fractured that it’s on the brink of defaulting on U.S. debts?
“Realistically, in this Congress, not too likely,” Reynolds said.
But the makeup of Congress could change sooner than later, he said. Plus, many top Republicans, such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, have been willing to meet with the Citizens Climate Lobby, he noted.
The nonprofit will try to sway the political leaders as well as decision-makers on the local level to embrace the carbon tax as the best way to save the planet, Reynolds said.