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What: Citizens Climate Lobby Energy Freedom Tour.
Where: The Douglas County Libraries Parker branch at 20105 E. Mainstreet
When: From 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 21.
More information: For other details about the event or the Citizens Climate Lobby, go to their webpage at: citizensclimatelobby.org.
A local nonprofit seeks to cut through the political noise surrounding climate change by using their ears, rather than their voices.
“It's about listening first,” said Parker resident Jamie VanDegrift. “We have to be respectful, we all have to be partners.”
The Citizens Climate Lobby, a worldwide organization dedicated to addressing global warming through bipartisan, economics-based legislation, has been adding members and gaining clout since its 2007 inception, boasting 82,000 members worldwide. There are 3,100 in Colorado alone.
VanDegrift and another member, Rick Sanborn of Castle Rock, hope to boost that number with a five-stop “Eastern Colorado Energy Freedom Tour,” hitting Sterling, Erie, Fort Morgan, Greeley and Parker this month.
The group trains members to find mutual ground with elected officials, neighbors or anyone else they engage in a conversation about climate. They learn to listen, not persuade.
The nonpartisan approach was the hook that landed Sanborn, who had been looking for an outlet for his desire to improve the environment for his grandchildren.
“I was impressed by their bipartisan approach,” he said. “If we're going to get something done, we have to involve everyone.”
For VanDegrift, a Democrat from a family of Trump supporters, the important issue is protecting the environment for her 5-year-old son, not contesting political talking points.
“We can't be focused on flipping people from being Republican,” VanDegrift said. “Everyone has to realize the importance of this, and something has to be done.”
The organization's legislative goal is to persuade lawmakers to adopt a carbon fee and dividend system. The steadily rising annual fee, assessed to each ton of carbon released into the atmosphere, would encourage energy producers to decrease the reliance on fossil fuels. All of the revenue would be returned to consumers and, according to financial analyst Regional Economic Models Inc., offset any price increases incurred by the fee.
Models show the carbon fee and dividend system could produce as many as 2.8 million jobs, as well as reducing emissions to levels 50 percent lower than they were in 1990.
VanDegrift and Sanborn acknowledge it's easy to feel beaten down by political gridlock in Washington D.C. And the environment, often considered a Democratic issue, can be a touchy subject in a historically conservative area, especially in a state where much of the economy is reliant on fossil fuels.
But recent developments, locally and nationally, give them hope.
As of this time last year, there were eight members of a House of Representatives Climate Solutions Caucus. Since November 2016, the caucus has grown to 58 members, 29 Republicans and 29 Democrats. In March, 17 Republican House members authored a resolution urging action on global warming.
“Everybody's realizing that we have to stand up, something has to be done,” VanDegrift said. “That is incredibly encouraging.”
New neighbors moving to the south metro region sympathize with the group's goals, VanDegrift said, but longtime residents from both sides of the political aisle are taking notice.
At the 2017 Douglas County Fair and Rodeo, VanDegrift and Sanborn volunteered to host a booth for Voices for Action, a similar but more politically focused group. They asked residents for feedback on issues that matter to them, and climate change was at the top of the list.
“There were a lot of people who were genuinely excited to see us,” she said. “We gave people hope that they're not alone.”
Sanborn and VanDegrift joined the lobby's south metro branch in February, but they say interest has grown since then. They plan to start a Parker-based chapter in early 2018.
Momentum is building toward common-ground solutions to climate change, they said. Considering the stakes, they don't have time to lose.
“I see things turning,” Sanborn said. “I try not to be overly optimistic because we have to keep our noses to the grindstone. But it's turning.”
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