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The new silent majority

By Jeanne Johnson,

7th Congressional District,

Citizens Climate Lobby, Alexandria, MN

Eleven U.S. government agencies, four former Republican directors of the Environmental Protection Agency and a coalition of Republican and Democratic business leaders warn of dire economic costs and social disruption if we do not immediately reduce our use of fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas. Hundreds of corporations announce they are building the cost of global warming and the expected carbon tax into their financial plans.

A coalition of Republican and Democratic business leaders have funded a study on the risks of global warming, warning that the costs of doing nothing will far exceed the cost of acting now. Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen said those who wait for “more information” (on climate change) are “actually taking a radical risk.” (See www. Risky and The Coming Climate Crash, NYTimes June 22, 2014.)

Is there a reasonable solution? Regional Economic Models Inc., a nationally respected firm, found that a carbon tax imposed on the polluters, at the mine, wellhead or port of entry, increasing annually, with the revenue returned monthly to the American people (called “fee and dividend”) would in just the first 10 years draw huge investments to clean energy and new technology (thereby creating 2.1 million new, permanent jobs), save 13,000 lives annually, reduce greenhouse gas emissions 33 percent, and put $3,456 yearly in the pockets of a four-person household.

Clearly, with both the problem and the solution within our grasp, the task now is to fuel congressional action before we get deeper into trouble. Yet, the American people, the only force that can build political will, seem to be stuck. Polls reveal that many voters are worried about global warming, with around 15-20 percent seriously worried. With 130 million actual voters, that’s roughly 26 million worried voters. Many belong to environmental and farm organizations. What can explain their passive behavior?

Here are my conclusions after five years’ experience lobbying on the issue. Some people can’t believe that we’re stupid enough to just let it happen. Somebody will take care of it. Others haven’t really dug into the reality and don’t realize the size of the risk we’re facing. Some sincerely believe that God won’t let us destroy ourselves! Some people dare not defy their tribe: church, family, profession or political dogma. Some don’t know how to contact legislators or are too shy to speak up.

I believe that most of the 20 percent have simply lost hope. Hopelessness grows when giant problems are left unsolved due to forces little understood. We’ve seen Big Money and Big Energy drown out the truth and punish those brave legislators who dared to act.

Yet, never have I felt more hopeful. For the first time in five years, I sense a new mood in Washington. The Citizens Climate Lobby and other groups have fostered the conversation that has made the carbon tax the preferred solution nationwide. From think tanks and conservative and liberal economists, from big business, from newspapers everywhere, a national consensus is growing that Americans can lick global warming, just like we have so many others.

Congressional staffers tell us they’re not hearing enough from the electorate, who hold the trump card. Not even the volume of calls, letters and visits CCL and others are generating is enough to convince Congress you’re serious. Legislative action will come only when the silent majority makes its will known. Will you call your legislators? Will you seek them out and ask for their help? Will you join with your church and community organizations to speak truth to power? Will you act while we still have a choice or will you wait until we have no choice?