For the past five years, I’ve been striving to educate people about climate change and push for policies that will mitigate the disastrous effects we’ve been observing. I mostly stuck to individual efforts because of my community’s overall ambivalence to talk about this global crisis which sometimes made me feel cynical or hopeless about our disposition. My local Sierra Club group has been a shining beacon there for years, but I was missing the chance to directly engage with key decision makers. Little did I know that I would get that opportunity and so much more when I found Citizens Climate Lobby!
My environmental activism journey began when I first took a conservation class in college during my junior year, completely reversing my decision to pursue a career in microbiology. The concepts I learned came so easily to me while my heart swelled at the thought of engaging in a cause that was so much bigger than all of us. From then on, I started small and began cleaning up litter throughout my town in addition to different areas surrounding our lake. Before I could write to local officials and federal officeholders, it was imperative that I put in some work myself, to learn about the problems impacting my town firsthand. Our local Sierra Club chapter in LaGrange helped me become connected to some long-time friends who have supported me since.
If it weren’t for them, I would not have been able to establish roots or learn the fundamentals of the cause we’ve dedicated ourselves to. Through them, I gained confidence to speak to city officials, rally with activists, communicate with lawmakers, and make future connections as I progressed over the years. There were still conflicting emotions that I had to reckon with, including a sense of unfulfillment which sometimes led me to believe I was not doing enough or not capable of making the differences I sought. It’s still a recurring feeling that I have to reign in and remind myself that I’m just one person who can’t do everything. The greatest driver of that feeling was knowing that our local group didn’t have the means to take our efforts to the national level.
The next few years that followed, I grew increasingly panicked over the worsening climate developments, especially the dire reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I found myself crying on some nights since I had become almost convinced that humanity and the world’s most beautiful biodiversity were in death throes. Antagonizing thoughts swirled in my head. “What’s the point of me even trying?” “How can people see all that’s going on and still look away?” “Why am I even here if me and future generations may not be able to live our full lives?” They carried on until I would break down. Something had to give or, better yet, I needed a way to restore my faith in ordinary people.
In January 2022, I stumbled upon Citizens Climate Lobby by complete accident when doing some research online about important climate bills in Congress. It was an article written by a member of the organization, so I naturally clicked the link to see what was to be found there. Little did I realize that this was the beginning of something profound, a door opening to boundless opportunities I never thought possible for me beforehand. What attracted me to CCL was not only their unwavering resolve to combat climate change but the inclusive culture they fostered that set them apart. Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the others I had previously joined are all excellent in their own right, but CCL took the mission a step further by truly committing themselves to nonpartisanship.
For the longest time, I confined myself to thinking that only Democrats cared enough about climate change to actually do something about it while Republicans only wanted to protect fossil fuels. That was one of the factors that sucked me down into that dark hole, falsely believing that there was simply not enough of us to carry on the good fight. What I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to see in CCL was that there were thousands of conservative members who had the same level of passion as me. It was a stark contrast to many people I encountered in my town who vehemently opposed climate science and refused to engage in any kind of conversation about it. This made the education and outreach components of my activism more important, meaning that having the chance to lobby Congress would be my biggest priority.
Over the course of a year, I learned the organization’s key objectives, values, methods, and networking. We are currently pursuing measures that will promote 1) carbon pricing, 2) clean energy permitting reform, 3) building electrification and efficiency, and 4) healthy forests. They set me up with the means to write my members of Congress, join national calls with guest speakers, engage in policy forums, watch training videos, and log my actions to earn ribbons as a way to track my progress. Pretty soon, I had done almost everything I could except for lobbying. This was going to be my ultimate test.
In June of this year, CCL was going to host their annual conference in Washington, D.C. for the first time since the pandemic began with the last day reserved for lobbying at the Capitol. I made it my mission to sign up and begin prepping a few months prior. I compiled enough notes about our policies, my members of Congress, trainings, and other relevant information to fill an entire file folder accompanied by multiple Zoom meetings with Georgia members who would be in the lobby meetings I was assigned to. One of those meetings would be with Representative Drew Ferguson’s office, and I had the incredible honor of personally scheduling it as a Congressional liaison. This is a role I graciously embrace given that I’m now the official who communicates back and forth between his office and CCL to foster a positive relationship with them.
When I arrived in D.C., I was initially overwhelmed by the bustling activity as well as all the people I didn’t know. It was going to take some adjustment for me to come out of my shell. I had never in my life been in such an atmosphere as that, but, once the conference began, it didn’t take long for me to find an endless ocean of activists who opened their arms out to anyone who wished to join. Together, we learned about our towns, identified common worries and hopes for the future, and we shared scientific/legal knowledge of the bills that were to be best available this year. Among those was the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act which would officially establish a carbon price in the U.S. and put us on the path to achieving 50% greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2030.
Me and my lobby teams assembled during free time at the conference to assign our roles, plan our strategies, and rehearse. For the first time, I felt like I was living my best life as a climate activist, armed with loving people who made me feel like I was at home. It was so emotionally overwhelming that I couldn’t at first accept that all of it was real. All the years of having been ignored, outnumbered, and felt like a pariah to many in my town (my local Sierra Club members could probably relate) washed away in blissful waves. All aspects of my being were in harmony and firing off at all cylinders. The psychological troubles I endured in the past would no longer have a powerful hold on me, something that I wouldn’t have overcome without the help of CCL.
On Tuesday, June 13th, we assembled at the Capitol steps that morning and took our official photo that would serve as the ultimate testament to our national influence. People from every state and multiple countries squeezed themselves on the Senate steps, singing along to our mantra that we adopted: “Live, Laugh, Lobby.” Donned in a suit and tie, I stood with a family that was going to reverberate throughout the halls of Congress and be the catalyst necessary to drive carbon pricing and permitting reform home for us. I found hope in the morning sun and finally felt that everything was going to be okay. We were that cavalry I thought everyone was going to have to wait for someday.
Throughout that day, I joined my lobby teams to meet with the offices of Senator Raphael Warnock, Representative Mike Collins, and Representative Drew Ferguson and met a few lawmakers along the way. I personally got to speak to Senator Warnock, Representative Ferguson, Representative Derrick Van Orden, Representative Hank Johnson, and Representative Lucy McBath. The staffers we met with were fully invested in what we had to talk about, and I was overjoyed by the relationships I made with both them and my fellow activists. Without a shadow of doubt, if anything is to come out of Congress this year on the policies we’ve been striving for, it’s going to be because of what we did that day.
What was more astonishing was having the privilege of seeing lawmakers walk around us in their respective office buildings and interact with us if given the chance. I was only accustomed to seeing these people on the news, so to randomly observe them going by us made me feel like we were truly in the middle of all the action. That’s exactly what made the trip so special. We came from all over the country (and the world for some of us) to assemble in one place for one collective vision. No one told us we had to. No one was pulling any strings. Every one of us came there by choice, to do what most people wouldn’t dare think of.
Once the day was over, we gathered in the Regency ballroom of the Omni Shoreham Hotel to hear closing remarks from some key guest speakers. Representative Scott Peters of California expressed his admiration for our efforts in D.C. and announced to us that he was going to introduce the House version of the recently proposed PROVE It Act in the Senate. This bill lays out the first stages of a carbon border adjustment mechanism where we would begin to analyze the carbon contents of certain products imported overseas and tax them if necessary to limit emissions from trading. In the final part of the closing event, first time lobbyists were invited to address the crowd about their experiences. When it was my turn, I described how we needed to rediscover our primordial spirits as living beings, to return to nature. I also insisted that we are one country and one people regardless of political affiliations with the same crisis staring us in the face.
Most of all, I confessed something I discovered during the middle of that day: I had not once felt more alive until then. It was true. I felt that I was fulfilling my passion and love for the environment while forging relationships with people who would be my friends from that point on. I never had that many in one place and certainly didn’t think I would find them so quickly. It was, without a doubt, one of the proudest days I’ll remember for as long as I live.
I want everyone to know how powerful and fulfilling it is to lobby for our planet. Finding the right people and resources can change your perspective on the evolving situation around us, so please don’t give up hope! Everyone can do it as long as they have the will to put in some work and bring their best energy to the table. It’s now more important than ever that we get younger people to engage with their members of Congress so that all of us may take greater strides to build a world for posterity to thrive in.