There’s a new kid on the block. Tune into a webinar or press conference on climate change issues, attend a professional lecture or two at a meeting of a group like the American Geophysical Union, AGU, and representatives of the Citizens Climate Lobby, CCL, (see Forum article) increasingly are raising their voices and the visibility of their still-fledgling organization.

Now in its seventh year, CCL in 2013 doubled its number of chapters across the U.S. (in all but six states) to 148. It patterns itself after the approaches of a nonprofit organization, Results, active in fighting global poverty issues. How? “By organizing groups of volunteers and training them to work with members of Congress,” says CCL founder Marshall Saunders on the group’s website.

“By organizing and training people to work by congressional districts, you can get Congress to do some interesting things,” Mark Reynolds, executive director, said in a phone interview.

Sound simple? It isn’t but the grassroots model of Results, and now CCL, can point to some significant successes on the hunger and poverty front, notwithstanding obvious remaining challenges. They hope their approach will work too in confronting climate change, which Reynolds characterized as “the existential issue of our day.”

With a paid staff of nine, CCL depends on a large and broadly scattered volunteer membership, including those who lead each of those chapters (in all states except Delaware, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Louisiana as of the start of 2014). Funded primarily by wealthy individual donors, the group is comprised of volunteer chapters, whose directors in many cases are nearly at or already in retirement. They tend to be well-educated, with many having advanced degrees including Ph.Ds and M.D.s … and a Rabbi in New Jersey.

The CCL demographic appears to be one of volunteer leaders long active in other major national environmental organizations and initiatives — the EDFs, NRDCs, and Sierra Clubs. What apparently attracts them to CCL is its single laser-like focus on a single overriding issue — climate change — and on a solutions-oriented carbon pricing approach they say can appeal across the political aisle. CCL volunteer leaders at the chapter level “have been through this before” and know how to cope and persist, Reynolds said. He said CCL’s forte lies not in “whining” about the challenges posed by the warming climate, but rather in focusing on what can be done about it in terms of advancing carbon fee legislation.

Greg Haugan, a Ph.D and project management expert, directs a one-year-old CCL chapter in a very rural and agricultural area of coastal Virginia. 

Just one example of a CCL chapter — not necessarily representative of the chapters overall — is one turning a year old early in February. It’s a chapter in Virginia’s rural five-county Northern Neck area, buffered about 100 miles to the north by Washington, D.C., and its suburbs, and to the southwest and south by Richmond and by Norfolk/Newport News/Virginia Beach.

A Q&A with the leader of that chapter, Gregory Haugan, Ph.D., follows.

The Yale Forum — Your CCL initiative now is about one year old. Why did you decide to start a CCL chapter?

Haugan — I have been intrigued with environmental issues ever since reading “Silent Spring” and “The Lorax.” In the past few years, through the local community college, I’ve been teaching adult education courses addressing issues of climate change, and my research has convinced me of the validity of the evidence-based concerns about the impacts.

At the end of one class three years ago, a student suggested I write a book related to climate change since I had already done most of the necessary research. I followed-up and got a publisher to agree. The book required much more research, but it was published in June 2012.

Then I read a newspaper column by Mark Reynolds, executive director of the Citizens Climate Lobby, addressing the desirability of a revenue-neutral fee and dividend carbon tax. I e-mailed him asking for more information, and he and Marshall Saunders, founder of CCL, called me and encouraged me to start a group here in the Northern Neck of Virginia.

One thing that particularly attracted me to CCL is its narrow focus on climate change and a practical way to address the challenges it presents. I ended up inviting two members of the Richmond CCL group — about 80 miles west of here — to lunch at my home, and I also had some others that were active in local environmental issues attend to learn more about CCL and its operation. After talking to them about the CCL approach, it was clear it was an organization I could support.

The Yale Forum — What are the most important “lessons” you have learned during this time concerning such an initiative, particularly in a rural area such as Virginia’s Northern Neck?

Haugan — The primary lesson so far is that it will be a long slog.

We met twice with our congressman, Republican Representative Rob Wittman, in 2013 to discuss climate change, We’re a small closely-knit community here, so I had gotten to know him first while he was our delegate in the Virginia state legislature. Our district is a very Tea Party district, and while Congressman Wittman supports many initiatives to improve the Chesapeake Bay, he has a low rating on climate change initiatives.

We also have a very long way to go to educate the residents of the Northern Neck. Many are retired and not particularly interested in problems they feel will occur only after they are gone. Or they are hard-working folks consumed with being able to put the next meal on the table.

The Yale Forum — What exactly are the national goals of CCL? How do those coincide (or not) with your own realistic goals at the local level?

Haugan -– The national goals are to get Congress to pass legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions, keeping concentrations in the atmosphere below 450 ppm, equivalent to 2 degrees Centigrade, and returning 100 percent of the revenues to the citizens — a carbon fee and dividend.

We at the local level champion and give voice to that approach, and in addition we educate the public on climate change and on adaptation, and mitigation issues.

We are realistic, so we do not really expect the current Congress to pass carbon legislation. But we do believe that by providing information to our representatives in Washington, they will be informed at the time such legislation eventually is seriously considered. So our local goals involve writing letters to editors, providing presentations to interested groups, and meeting with our legislators and keeping them informed on the science and impacts of climate change.

The Yale Forum -– What is the role of the national organization? How do they communicate with your group?

Haugan — The national organization manages a Web page, provides resources, and provides monthly action recommendations via a regular telephone conference call. That call often features nationally known speakers.

The monthly recommendations involve activities such as initiating short “Laser Talks” that provide a basis for discussions of current issues with congressional staff members, editorial boards, faith-based organizations, and others.

A highlight is the annual CCL conference in Washington, D.C. where there is an organized approach to meeting with and briefing members of Congress and their staffs. For example, in June 2013, we had 370 CCL members from across the country meeting with members of Congress and their staffs and explaining the mitigation solution of a carbon fee and dividend. This month we are having our first regional conference, in Atlanta, with the CCL members and group leaders from southeastern states. This gives us a chance to meet face-to-face and discuss problems and strategies.

The Yale Forum — Have there been especially vexing challenges or hurdles in establishing a citizens’ climate change lobbying initiative in what is widely perceived to be an area of the state not associated with progressive social or regulatory or “environmental” programs?

Haugan — Actually, it has been very easy to get established. Northumberland County — one of five counties in Virginia’s very rural “Northern Neck” — has an environmental organization called Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship, NAPS. Since we have more than 500 miles of shoreline, most of its activities are related to the Chesapeake Bay and its problems.

NAPS has existed in our county for nearly 20 years, and it has 170 dues-paying members. So our CCL chapter was set up as a subset of NAPS, giving us an involved population to draw from and also individuals to serve as a management team. There long has been a lot of environmental concern regarding the Chesapeake Bay, but not so much regarding climate change. But the links between a warming climate and the welfare of the Bay are pretty clear-cut, so making the links has not been difficult.

The Yale Forum — What have you found to be the most effective processes for communicating with your local CCL members? How often do you meet face-to-face? How many people attend? And what kinds of agenda do you have for your meetings?

Haugan — Our primary communication process is through a monthly meeting and regular e-mails, as we are not yet a texting or Twitter community.

We have approximately 40 individuals on our mailing list, a combination of persons who have attended our monthly meetings and others who have contacted me with an interest in issues of climate change.

We have an attendance of approximately 10 to 25 people at our meetings, depending on the program. So far our programs have been primarily educational, including, for instance, providing viewings of the the documentaries “Chasing Ice” and “Do the Math.”

The agenda for the national organization’s conference calls focuses on a monthly telephone conference call with a nationally known speaker. Our local organization then follows-up on the monthly action items from the national organization.

The Yale Forum — How does your chapter of CCL go about recruiting new members? And promoting awareness of your activities to a broader audience?

Haugan — We have been recruiting active new members slowly. It is largely by word-of-mouth and by providing interesting programs such as the “Chasing Ice” documentary and publishing announcements of our meetings in local newspapers.

We also have had a CCL booth at several local events, such as farmers markets and master gardener group meetings. We had a display at the local library for a month that attracted a lot of attention and local newspaper interest. And our letters-to-the-editor seem to attract the most attention in this area.

The Yale Forum — At this one-year point, what do you consider to be the most significant local CCL achievements? And what are your group’s specific goals for 2014, your second year?

Haugan — We have three activities that I think qualify as especially notable achievements: the first is simply that we still exist and seem to have a core group active in learning about the issues of climate change and taking actions.

A second first-year accomplishment is that as of the end of December, we have had 27 letters-to-the-editor published in local papers addressing our concerns about climate change. We are starting January off with having letters published in three papers.

And a third is that we have met with eight members of Congress or their environmental legislative assistants, including with our own Congressman Wittman in June to discuss our issues face-to-face.

Our goals for 2014 are to have at least four meetings with our congressman and his environmental legislative assistants to discuss CCL issues; to meet with local newspaper editors; meet with faith-based organization leaders; and to at least double the number of letters to editors we write, and get at least three op-ed columns accepted; and to continue our education activities with local organizations.

We will also attend the annual CCL conference in Washington in June and participate in the goal of meeting all 535 senators and representatives of Congress or their staff over a period of three days.