Marshall Saunders is the founder of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, a group that lobbies the U.S. Congress for a Carbon Fee and Dividend plan. CCL has local chapters across the nation with people of all ages, from both sides of the political aisle.
HPR: What inspired you to create CCL?
MS: Some twenty years ago, I began to read about four or five-inch rains. That was not normal. French people were saying it was climate change. I was just a regular guy, a real estate broker, and I thought, “That does not hold water with me.” Then, I went to see that movie, Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore, in 2006. I was blown away. I went back to see it in a few days to see if it was really true, what he said. A week later, one of my good friends asked me to go see it with a small group of people. I went and saw it three times in a couple of weeks. I wanted to do something. But what can one guy do?
One guy cannot do very much, but one guy, or one gal, can organize. I knew that people needed to work together in groups or they lose heart. If you had those groups all over the country educating on the same thing, we could have a fair chance at making an impression on Congress. Also, we lobbied the media as much as we lobbied congress.
HPR: What motivates you every day to fight for climate change solutions?
MS: You are going to make me cry. I love all of life. We live in a community that has had a flower show for about 80 years, and the garden club has judged every front yard over the last two weeks and the gardens are extraordinary. I just saw one yesterday. It was this little yellow flower with a long stem, and I said, “God, that is so beautiful.” Where in the world did humankind get the right to threaten the extinction of that plant or any other form of life? I do not remember the scroll being handed down from heaven giving us a right to destroy life.
I am 78, looking at 79, and I forget things. I forget what I am saying, but I am still here every day. I care very much. If we want a planet to live on, we are going to have to have the greatest social revolution of all time. I mean greater than the fall of the Berlin Wall, the British leaving India, and Apartheid, and civil rights expansion in this country. We are going to have to have a social achievement greater than all of those and more critical than all of those.
HPR: How do you motivate the CCL chapters around the country to fight climate change?
MS: It involves transformation of ourselves. It has to do with the possibility of one’s own spiritual growth: being a better, more responsible human being. People are motivated by that possibility. We try to offer that on all of our calls. I have a dozen of calls a week with different groups inside of CCL. My own attempt at spiritual growth has led me to this point. It was an opening of me, of my heart. It is a kind of a transformation from selfishness to selflessness.
HPR: Could you describe CCL’s decision to endorse the Carbon Fee and Dividend plan?
MS: When I realized we had to organize, I called a bunch of people together. We met in a library and had a workshop, which included a lot of back and forth. I was doing the most talking. I had prepared well. I wrote out a script. When we finished up the workshop and everyone wanted to play the game, I did not know what to lobby for.
We started to lobby for states’ rights–the states to have the right to regulate tailpipe emissions more stringently than the federal rules. Then, we lobbied for more energy efficient building codes, and we did not know anything about it. Then, we lobbied for Fee and Tariffs; it was complicated and it had a bad name. We were not having any success and nothing seemed very solid to me, but we kept on going. This is over a period of about a year.
Then, I called the big green organizations: the National Resources Defense Council, Dubai Duty Free, and Union of Concerned Scientists. They were lobbying for Cap and Trade and Offsets, offsets being the keyword. Why don’t we study up on that and lobby on that, too? Well, it was more complicated than any of the other stuff that we had lobbied for.
Then, a friend told me to call Tom Stokes from Lee, Massachusetts. He was a 40-year climate volunteer and activist, and he was going to organize a hearing for a committee room in the House. He invited me to come. It was short notice, but I flew over. The panel was an impressive group. They had two prominent economists there, and they had the third ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, who had introduced a Carbon Fee and Dividend bill. This was 2008.
Jim Hansen, who used to be the top-dog scientist at NASA, was there. He was part of the Gore presentation; I had been giving the Gore presentation for about a year. I was quoting Jim Hansen once a week for people, and there he was on this panel, proposing Carbon Fee and Dividend. All these people were talking about this idea or bill that had been submitted to the Congress, written by Congressman John Larson. I just sat there and thought, “This is better than Fees and Tariffs, Cap and Trade and Offset, and changing the building codes.” It would change billions of everyday decisions. Will you turn the light off when you leave a room? Well, if electricity is three times more expensive, maybe you will. I could see the logic of it from this panel.
HPR: Do you see any drawbacks to the Carbon Fee and Dividend plan?
MS: No, I really do not. I do not think anybody does, except it is going to eventually put the carbon-producing companies out of business. If we can get a bill that causes that tax to go up by $10 every year, it is going to be uneconomic to bring coal, gas, and oil out of the ground.
HPR: Do you have any thoughts as to why Exxon Mobil is supportive of the James A. Baker’s Carbon Fee and Dividend plan that he presented to Congress in January?
MS: Exxon has been afraid of Cap and Trade and Offsets. That will be an international mess; impossible to manage and impossible to get international agreements. Carbon Fee and Dividend is simpler. I do not think that the people at Exxon Mobil have any intention of letting us drive them out of business with increasing taxes up to whatever it takes to stop them.
HPR: James Baker denies that climate change is a man-made process, but he is proposing government action. Do you think there is something to be said for trying to convince people that climate change is man-made?
MS: Of course. We have to be patient with everybody. At that time, Baker was making the case that Reagan made, regarding the ozone hole in the Antarctic. I do not think Baker believed what he was saying. I think he sacrificed his integrity, in hopes that he would appeal to fellow conservatives. But I do not have anything to back that up, other than that he is a smart man. He has good sense. He wants that to go through, and some conservatives will buy it, based on an insurance policy.
HPR: In general, what do you find is most difficult when talking to people who fundamentally disagree with you?
MS: The most difficult thing is me; managing myself and not acting rude. I am doing reasonably well. I have not been ugly in a little while. I think I am going to start teaching a class on this again. I used to teach a class on managing yourself.
HPR: Do you have advice for anyone in politics or anyone who, in their everyday life, finds it difficult to talk to people who completely disagree?
MS: If they say something that you totally disagree with, say, “Tell me more.” When they finish that up, say, “Is there anything else that you want to tell me?” Hear them out. I think that is it. I think they need to hear themselves, mainly.
I have tried a number of things. One of the things that has been innocuous and that I thought people would go for, is, “What is your favorite, most trusted scientific institution?” They would already feel a bit trapped. They might say, “Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” and I would say, “Do you know what they say about climate change?” They would say, “No.” “Well, you ought to look them up.” They probably do not agree with them. The only thing I can say is that we have to manage ourselves and be polite. Let people fully express themselves and hear their own selves talking.
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