Former carpenter seeks to build bridges to climate solutions
by Allen Best
BOULDER, Colo. – Andrew Zeiler once was a carpenter, building houses while living in the mountain town of Ward west of Boulder, Colo. Now, he lives near Durango, and he’s trying to build metaphoric bridges as a grassroots activist for a group called Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
“I am 69 years old,” explains Zeiler, now a part-time psychotherapist. “Part of my motivation is my age. I have children I am concerned about and the world they are inheriting.”
Zeiler was spurred to join CCL when listing to remembers listening to climate scientist James Hansen being interviewed. Hansen, who is on the board for CCL, said the most valuable work a layperson could do toward addressing climate change is through Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
With that motivation, Zeiler in February formed a Durango chapter. Chapters are also active in the ski towns of Aspen, Colo., Park City, Utah, and Bend, Ore. There are also many chapters in Canada, including Kelowna and Nelson, both mountain towns in British Columbia, but also Vancouver and Calgary.
Altogether, there are 339 active chapters, with dozens more planned—including Whitefish, Mont., Taos, N.M., and Jackson, Wyo.
Membership has doubled or tripled annually since CCL was formed in 2007. Australia has many new chapters, and there’s even a chapter in Bangladesh.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s key mission is to build support for a national carbon tax, which it calls a fee, to be imposed on carbon dioxide emissions. The revenue would be redistributed to citizens in the form of reduced taxes or an outright dividend. The goal is to give the market direction to find ways to produce and consume energy in ways that cause less harmful atmospheric pollution by greenhouse gases.
Unlike many advocacy groups, CCL strictly avoids fierce rhetoric and angry accusations. The methodology is, as Zeiler is now attempting in Durango, to find common ground while building public support for a carbon tax from the grassroots.
Zeiler has had a letter published in the Durango Herald recently and has approached the local La Plata County commissioners about their willingness to write a letter in support of the concept. He has also solicited support from a local church leader. Zeiler calls this a “grasstops” approach.
CCL members also try to meet with U.S. senators and representatives and their staff members. “Our directive is to treat everybody with respect and not be adversarial, and when meeting with our congressman to have something we can authentically thank them for,” he says. “That can open the door.”
So far, says Zeiler, he and other carbon fee supporters don’t seem to have persuaded U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents Durango and many other mountain towns of Colorado.
Mark Reynolds, the group’s national director, met with CCL members in the college town of Boulder last week. “I grew up in Salt Lake City, so it’s great to be back near the mountains,” he said from the pulpit of the Unitarian Church.
Growing up in Salt Lake, he said, he loved picking fruit. Living in San Diego as an adult, he went on, he loved growing plums. But plum trees need chilly winters, and winters in San Diego have warmed so much that plum trees there don’t bear fruit anymore, he said.
The point of the story was to get people to think about what they cherish most about the natural world. Everybody, he explained has something about the natural world they cherish. The task is to find that commonality. “You don’t have to demonize people,” said Reynolds.
In June, CCL sent 1,200 people to Washington D.C. to lobby their members of Congress. Some found that they got to do little talking. They needed to listen to whatever the congressional staff person had to say. But it was part of the process, they said, of building rapport.
There is now, said Reynolds, reason to believe a bill may get introduced into Congress next year with bipartisan support. One supporter is a Republican from Florida whose district is now facing problems because of the rising seas.
In Durango, Zeiler feels urgency while exercising patience. Since February, the chapter meetings have been held in a real-estate office and at a church, without a real home. Turnouts have been modest. One month, it was just he and another individual. But Zeiler says he is not discouraged.
“I’m committed to this and whatever it takes. I’m going to keep doing it because, while there are many important things in the world, as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing more important than climate change.”