Climate Activists Accept Another Inconvenient Truth
What a week. Washington, D.C. in June was abuzz with throngs of climate change activists who came to the nation’s capital to hear from former NASA climate scientist-administrator Dr. James Hansen and others of his caliber and, most importantly, to get action on the existential issue of our time.
Recently four Lagunans—Breene Murphy, Angelina Joseph, Ginger Osborne, and I—attended the Citizens Climate Lobby’s 2018 conference in Washington, D.C. We were among more than 1,200 climate warriors from throughout the United States and other countries, including small Pacific island republics, threatened by sea-level rise. As a historian of the Pacific region, I was particularly moved by my conversation with attendee Dr. Mike Roman, a young anthropologist from the Oceania nation of Kiribati. He spoke about the likelihood of his low-lying nation vanishing beneath a rising ocean, the ongoing pollution of drinking water by intruding tides, and vocalized suicide thoughts among Kiribati’s elderly, many of whom sense impending doom. Dr. Roman was just one of the numerous scholars, scientists, student leaders, and brainy retirees with multiple graduate degrees and impressive resumes—all engaged, articulate citizens who attended the conference on their own dime.
My biggest takeaway from the conference was the point stressed by several featured speakers that only a bipartisan approach to combatting climate change would work. If a single political party, by itself, tried to solve the climate crisis, that party’s work would be undone when a rival administration came to power in Washington, D.C. Such was the fate of the Affordable Care Act, which lacked sufficient bipartisan support to be enduring. I found this to be an inconvenient truth that I must accept and incorporate into my climate advocacy in order to have a lasting solution. From this insight, it follows that activists must listen and be respectful of views different from our own, stick to provable facts, and try to build relationships across party lines and other divisions. Conference attendees took this approach with us into our lobbying on Capitol Hill.
CCL set up several appointments for attendees with some 500 congressional offices. Breene Murphy, my Laguna neighbor, skillfully led our six-member delegation (which included a Christian minister from Africa, now residing in Laguna) at Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s office. There, staffers cordially received us as we presented our call for support of a measure that would price carbon at the well, mine, or port where such emissions originate, with the added provision that proceeds would be rebated to taxpayers. The office promised that our market-based proposal would receive serious consideration. Nearly 40 Republicans and 40 Democrats in Congress, including all OC Republican congresspersons except Rohrabacher, have already said “yes,” to addressing the problem by joining the Climate Solutions Caucus.
In this time of seemingly unprecedented polarization in American politics, such bipartisan agreement is supposedly impossible. Refusing to accept the paralysis that this view fosters, CCL has forged ahead by building relationships with business, academic, clerical, and political leaders of both parties to address climate change. That seems the surest way forward.
“I think what we’re doing is so American,” concluded Breene, the thoughtful father of an infant son. “To see a better future, to work respectfully with people of all parties and affiliations, and to never give up . . . ; that’s the best of America.” At the D.C. gathering, Laguna was part of that.
Tom Osborne is the author of “Coastal Sage: Peter Douglas and the Fight to Save California’s Shore.”