Forgive me if I’m feeling a little exposed at the moment, but I recently made a really big promise. This isn’t a tell-your-daughter-you’ll-take-her-to-the-zoo-on-Saturday kind of promise. No, we’re talking about a JFK, “We’re going to put a man on the moon” kind of promise.
On June 19th, at the start of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Citizens’ Climate Education Conference in Washington, I stood before hundreds of CCL group leaders and congressional liaisons – the heart and soul of our organization – and I promised them this:
By the end of 2017, Congress will pass a bill that places a fee on carbon and returns net revenue to American households.
Perhaps you understand why I feel exposed. There are so many moving parts and variables involved that are totally outside my ability to control. So what gives me the audacity to say we can do this?
Well, when I made the promise, the answer was right there in the faces of the people I was talking to. I would never entertain such an outlandish thought – let alone say it out loud – if it were not for our amazing volunteers.
Volunteers like Pennsylvania’s Jay Butera, who saw the potential of bringing Republicans and Democrats together to combat the growing threat of rising sea levels. Two years ago, armed with nothing but his own determination, he flew down to south Florida—a region highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change — and recruited the volunteers who would form CCL’s Miami chapter. He painstakingly secured endorsements from mayors, city councils and chambers of commerce, convincing local Republican members of Congress that it was time to commit to action. His efforts eventually led to Republican Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Ted Deutch uniting to launch the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which now has sixteen members with equal numbers from both sides of the aisle.
Still, my heart was in my throat when I asked, “Who’s with me? Stand up if you’re with me.” When everyone stood up, my knees stopped shaking. I knew that they believe, just as I do, that this is no time to hedge our bets.
They know that bills that get introduced in Congress are a dime a dozen — that the only ones that count are the ones that pass. And they know that we’re running out of time. We’re getting dangerously close to the tipping point of no return on greenhouse gas emissions, the point where temperatures and seas will rise beyond our ability to adapt. It’s time for Congress to pass the most efficient and effective solution to climate change – a steadily-rising, revenue-neutral fee on carbon. We can’t wait another five years until the “right” people get elected. To paraphrase former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: You don’t save the world with the Congress you wish you had; you save the world with the Congress you have.
And that is what we intend to do. By the end of 2017.
I’m confident that making this bold commitment will energize our thousands of volunteers, who have dug so deep time and time again, to find another gear within themselves and do what many consider to be impossible.
With this promise, we tap into and unleash a force that only manifests itself when a powerful commitment is made. Many years ago, W.H. Murray described that power in his book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness…[T]here is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”
Yes, we’re all feeling a little exposed. But sticking our necks out so we can preserve a healthy climate for our grandchildren?
That’s a risk we’re more than willing to take.