December 6, 2019

Reason for Hope

Guest Opinion
By Cathye Williams | July 13, 2019

Since joining Citizens Climate Lobby 6 years ago, I’ve sometimes felt like I’m on autopilot. My concern about the climate crisis and my activism have changed little. Thus I found myself taken aback recently when a new volunteer asked a sincere and troubling question — whether I thought “there’s still reason to hope for a livable future for the youngest generation?”

She spoke of being held back by “near-crippling anxiety,” of “extremely bleak” climate news, and her feeling that it’s a “daunting time” time to be raising small children.

This gave me pause. This woman is someone who writes with great clarity and insight about all the reasons we should act on climate. She is passionate, earnest, and respectful, a combination hard to find in these times. To hear her struggle with despair was sobering. And moreover, what could I offer? Who am I to give anyone hope?

My off-the-cuff responses seemed flip: “Well, what have we got to lose?” and “I’d rather go down swinging.” Seriously? Not exactly inspiring. 

So I’ve continued to reflect on my friend’s query. I remembered that at one time I felt the same anxiety she described. It’s exactly what led me to join CCL in the first place. Back then, I embraced the Joan Baez mantra, “action is the antidote to despair”; put my head down; and got to work. I was fortunate to be able to keep at bay thoughts of flooded cities, burning forests, and social collapse. I realize now not everyone is so lucky.

This led me to recall writer Alex Steffen’s thoughts on cynicism: “Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think nothing is going to get any better.” I’m not calling my friend a cynic, by any means; nothing could be further from the truth. But it occurs to me that despair and cynicism are close cousins, with equal potential to create barriers to action and social change. We have reached a time where talking down believers who are teetering on the brink of cynicism or despair might be more challenging than persuading skeptics that climate change is real.

To meet the challenge, I will share this with my friend: I have hope. I have hope because this June, I visited Congress with more than 1,500 other volunteer lobbyists. We came representing 120,000 CCL’ers back in our home states. We met with 526 Congressional offices — more than any other lobbying group has accomplished in a single day, for a single issue. This year marked the first time we came to lobby, not only for a proposal but for legislation that has actually been introduced: HR 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EUCDA).

While standing on the Capitol steps for our group photo, I looked at the determined faces surrounding me. Every single person there had spent months, often at significant personal cost, studying and preparing for that day.

I have hope because the EICDA will work. Modeling shows that it will reduce carbon emissions by at least 40% within 12 years. By reducing pollution it will save thousands of lives every year — especially in poor neighborhoods most impacted by poor air quality. By imposing a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels at the point of entry into the economy (mines, wells, ports) it will send a clear and predictable market signal for business and industry to innovate and seek out cleaner ways to do things. Along with the dividend, which returns fees collected back to American households to spend how they choose, 2.1 million jobs will be added to keep the economy healthy.

I have hope because this Act can pass, even in the contentious state of today’s politics. The bill now has 52 co-sponsors, with more signing on every week. Because it is based on sound research and shared values, and is drafted with bipartisan economic and environmental goals in mind, HR 763 can overcome polarization and achieve results.

I have hope because of people like Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, and Greta Thunberg, and organizations like Our Children’s Trust. I have hope because Water Protectors, who face injury and arrest for their protests, remain undaunted. I look to these and thousands of others — scientists, journalists, government and business leaders, activists, and ordinary people — who risk their office, livelihoods, status, and relationships because they refuse to be quiet or accept “business as usual” in the face of the climate crisis.

In his June 2019 paper, “Saving Earth,” Dr. James Hansen tells us, “Earth is not lost today, but time for action is short … . This is no time to give up.” He further reminds us “There is no one simple solution to this.” Indeed, the Energy Innovation Act will not end the climate crisis. But it is the best first step we have, with the best prospect to work alongside other solutions. It can be one of many positive actions to pressure the fossil fuel industry to become a clean-energy industry.

Dr. Hansen has been warning us about climate change for four decades. If he still has hope, then so do I.

Cathye Williams serves as a volunteer and media liaison for the Grand Traverse area chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, www.citizensclimatelobby.com. She writes from Benzie County.

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