Climate change has arrived. As monstrously abstract as it seems, it is not some possibility of a problem on the horizon; it is here, now. With it come contentious debates about timeline urgency, most efficient means of grappling with the challenge, and best ways for citizens to become meaningfully involved.
Businesses worldwide are being affected by climate change, motivating companies to take action. According to a report issued by the World Economic Forum at its January meeting in Davos, Switzerland, four of the top 10 major threats to business in 2018 are climate-related, outranking cyberattacks (No. 3) and terrorism (No. 8). The Trump administration’s official ostrich-like posture pretends that boastful tail-feather shaking can acceptably substitute for science and advance planning for the next extreme weather event. Meanwhile, EU nations have identified economic benefits of responding to climate change by changing regulations and business practices, and China has leapfrogged forward in developing green technology — a burgeoning growth industry in which the United States could be an international leader, if not for lack of political will in Washington, DC.
Municipalities across the country are striving to fill the breech by committing themselves to greenhouse gas emission reduction programs like Pasadena’s recently adopted Climate Action Plan. The CAP lays out a blueprint for reducing local greenhouse gases by 59 percent below 2009 levels by 2035, which falls short of the “100 percent clean energy” standard that groups like Pasadena 100 are pushing the city to meet within that timeframe. Other groups, like the bipartisan Citizens Climate Lobby, remain focused on national climate legislation.
At the local level, that means explaining to people, one on one, how they will be personally impacted by climate change as well proposed policy changes. According to CCL Pasadena/Foothills chapter leader Robert Haw, a JPL engineer and interplanetary navigator who co-founded the chapter with Arroyo High School teacher James Waterhouse in May 2011, “politics really comes down to people.” He compares their efforts to earthquake preparations.
“I don’t think people are trembling in their shoes earthquake-wise when we talk about ‘the Big One coming,’ we just say we have to prepare for it. That’s what we’re trying to do with people with respect to climate change. … There will be huge refugee flows. You don’t like immigration now? Just wait; don’t take action. You thought this drought last year was bad? Just wait. But we don’t try to scare people; what we’re trying to do is help people.”
How best to mitigate climate change’s effects, of course, is the Earth-sized question. CCL’s proposal is to institute a carbon tax. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report has laid out some benefits of such a tax. Some controversy persists regarding redistribution mechanisms; progressive environmentalists, in particular, blast it as being akin to buying indulgences or favors susceptible to corruption by Big Business. A proposal made last fall to institute a state carbon tax similar to that levied in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta was countered by Gov. Jerry Brown’s support for maintaining California’s cap-and-trade system (which was ultimately extended for another decade). Washington state’s attempt to pass a carbon tax also failed, by one or two votes. But the idea has a tenacious hold in business as well as environmental sectors.
CCL’s Pasadena/Foothill chapter includes an active letter-writing team led by Jan Freed; in fact, this Saturday’s monthly meeting at Neighborhood Church will include a 20-minute talk by Freed offering pointers on effective letters to newspaper editors. Local members also include three liaisons to US Representatives Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, and Adam Schiff, D-Burbank. Asked about their response to CCL’s outreach, Haw says all three “get it.”
“They are all onboard,” he says. “But when we talk to them about passing a bill, they just say, ‘We have to take back the House first.’ And I get that. What they’re not about to do is step forward and co-sponsor some bill like we are proposing from a minority position, and then have it go nowhere. They lose credibility because nothing happens. So they’re waiting.”
He points to Schiff’s past support for the Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) bill, and Chu’s recent decision to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. “This is now the biggest caucus in Congress,” Haw says, noting that members can only join in twos — one Democrat, one Republican — so as to maintain bipartisan effectiveness and balance. “It was started by CCL.”
In addition to discussing advocacy and letter-writing campaigns, CCL meetings include speakers. Online programs enable approximately 500 chapters nationwide to hear the same speaker each month, and then participate in follow-up Q&A sessions. Past speakers have included economists, insurance company presidents, psychologists, scientists, and “Drawdown” editor Paul Hawken. This Saturday’s guest speaker will be meteorologist Amber Sullins.
CCL’s Pasadena/Foothills chapter encompasses Pasadena, Alhambra, Arcadia, East LA, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel, Sierra Madre and South Pasadena. Haw says active members number about 140, and range from high school students to retirees. “We’re recruiting everybody — anybody who wants to have a toehold on Earth,” he says with a rueful chuckle. “It’s open to everyone.”
The Pasadena/Foothills Citizens Climate Lobby chapter’s next meeting takes place 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, April 14, at Neighborhood Church, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena; free admission. To learn more about CCL, visit Pasadenaccl.wordpress.com.