Karl, you have been a citizen advocate for climate action for over a decade. Tell us about your journey.
I learned the science behind the “greenhouse effect” in college in the 1970s. Most of what my professors said was accurate, except for predicting that we would not see impacts until 2100. Over the years I have engaged in various efforts, but until I discovered Citizens’ Climate Lobby in 2013 there was nothing that seemed like it could get the job done at the scale required.
The mission statement reads: “Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a climate change organization that exists to create the political will for a livable world by enabling individual breakthroughs in the exercise of personal and political power.” I can attest that the first time I suited up to join several hundred of my new best friends on Capitol Hill there was a moment when I looked out of the hotel window and saw the American flag blowing in the breeze and thought, “I am so lucky to live in a country that allows me to meet directly with powerful people and help shape their policy priorities.” Then came the experience of doing this in a coordinated, respectful fashion with hundreds of others meeting with their members of Congress on the same day. I was hooked!
When did carbon removal and climate restoration become a focus of your activist interest, and why?
By the mid-2010s, one of the earliest CCL volunteers, Peter Fiekowsky, began talking about the need to remove carbon and created a positive vision of being able to restore a safe and healthy climate. At the time CCL was laser-focused on a highly effective emissions reduction policy called “carbon fee and dividend” so Peter created the Foundation for Climate Restoration in order to be able to focus on removing legacy carbon. I learned from Peter and from reading various IPCC reports, etc. that carbon removal was a) absolutely necessary, and b) totally doable.
I retired in 2020 and while staying active with CCL I was then able to put additional time and energy into working on climate solutions. It’s fair to say that almost all of that has been focused on carbon removal. Discovering and getting to know OpenAir Collective was such an exciting time for me. “These folks don’t just promote existing things, they create new things!” That the creative energies were being applied both to R&D as well as policy felt like such a killer combo – the work in each area informs the other.
Within our community you have played a lead role in developing and modeling our citizen lobbying approach and activities for the Federal Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act (CDRLA). What are the main pieces of an effective citizen lobbying effort?
- Show up. Too many people think of legislators as being “bought and paid for” or at best ineffectual. This is only true to the extent that we citizens allow it.
- Be respectful and show appreciation for members of Congress, and especially for their legislative aides. To quote Jon Stewart: “Legislative Aides Are Holding This Country Together.”
- Do more listening than talking. You should provide the necessary information and be clear regarding your “ask” but the best lobby meetings are the ones in which you ask open-ended questions, listen carefully and take good notes.
- Follow up. A quick follow-up email with a Thank You and any requested information goes a long way towards building a lasting relationship.
- Be a resource. Legislators and their aides are overwhelmed with issues and information. If they come to view you as a go-to resource or even a partner, then you have really upped your game by helping them be successful.
OpenAir’s U.S. Federal Carbon Removal Action mission is ramping up for the upcoming 118th Congress, which starts in just a few days. What’s on the agenda and how can our members, new and old, have an impact?
- Step back and assess our progress over the last year, to celebrate a bit and to synthesize a greater understanding of what will work best going forward
- Rapidly grow the number of people engaged, including having many more congressional districts covered by Mobilizers and lobby teams
- Be part of the process of re-introducing, refining and possibly combining bills that were introduced in the 117th Congress
- Carbon removal enjoys bipartisan support, and Republican votes under 40 are demanding action on climate, so a “split” Congress might be just what we need for producing substantive, durable carbon removal legislation
- Engage with conservatives, both in Congress and across a range of organizations such as ClearPath and RepublicEn
- Members can have impact by reaching out to people in their networks to get them excited about joining the effort, by researching their context in order to do district-specific advocacy work, and by creating or joining lobby meetings with members of Congress and their staffers