Lobbying for a healthy climate

Cool Planet, local CitizensÂ’ Climate Lobby chapter part of growing grassroots movement tackling climate change

(Far left) Cool Planet co-directors Mindy Ahler and (right) Paul Thompson at the recent City of Lakes Loppet festival.  Credit: Photo by Sarah McKenzie
(Far left) Cool Planet co-directors Mindy Ahler and (right) Paul Thompson at the recent City of Lakes Loppet festival. Credit: Photo by Sarah McKenzie

Confronting Climate Change: A new Journals’ series tracking the efforts of Minneapolis residents, neighborhoods, organizations and city leaders working on innovative ways to raise awareness about climate change and advocating for policies to combat the problem.

An idea sparked during a Frisbee game in the Morningside neighborhood has grown into a statewide organization promoting solutions to climate change through fun neighborhood activities and community outreach programs.

Cool Planet is the brainchild of Jenny Shoemate and Paul Thompson, a former Minneapolis Public Schools second grade teacher and longtime environmentalist who has turned his love of Frisbee, Nordic skiing and biking into a way to connect with people about climate change advocacy.

The organization, which launched in 2007, does citizen engagement on climate change through the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) — a rapidly growing grassroots organization with chapters around the world including 12 in Minnesota. The Minneapolis chapter meets monthly at Linden Hills Park.

Cool Planet has also created Cool Planet Skiers, an outlet for winter lovers and Nordic skiing fans to support the organization’s advocacy work; supported LowCarbon Crossings, a group of bikers who ride around the state and host community sessions to discuss climate change issues; created Cool Planet Family, a free program for Edina schools that engages youth in discussions about climate change; and partnered with Minnesota Community Solar, a leader in promoting the solar industry in the state.

“The ultimate goal is to promote active citizenship and get people doing more than voting,” Thompson said, who is focused on making personal connections with lawmakers and finding common ground on solutions. “Once people realize the serious nature of our changing climate, then sometimes the biggest naysayers become the biggest supporters.”

Cool Planet also has a “SPEAK UP!!” program — three-hour climate leadership training events designed to help citizens of all ages become more engaged in climate change discussions. The events feature talks about the latest science of climate change from Dr. John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas and tips on communicating difficult information from Dr. Christie Manning of Macalester College.

Cool Planet’s educational program for Edina public schools focuses on energy conservation and encourages discussions among students and school staff about possible solutions to environmental problems.

Cool Planet co-director Mindy Ahler said Cool Planet and CCL members are focused on forming positive relationships and viewing their advocacy work with optimism despite the direness of climate change.

“We focus on solutions,” Ahler said. “That’s the other key thing. You can hear all the bad news everywhere, but there’s a lot of great stuff already happening. We already have the technology to do all these things, but we haven’t invested enough yet. That makes it easier for people join in.”

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby advocates for a carbon fee and dividend as a key policy measure to combat climate change. The proposal would establish a fee for C02 emissions and other greenhouse gases, including methane leakage. The fees would be placed in a Carbon Fee Trust Fund and rebated to American households to help pay for increased energy costs.

A carbon fee and dividend policy has been in place in British Columbia since 2008.

The CCL chapters meet on the first Saturday of the month. A notable speaker on climate change speaks to the members via a conference call during each meeting.

Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network and author of “The Zero Footprint Baby: How to Save the Planet While Raising a Healthy Baby,” was the featured speaker for the Feb. 7 meeting.

Marshall Saunders of Coronado, Calif., founded the Citizens’ Climate Lobby in the fall of 2007 as a way to help ordinary citizens connect with lawmakers about climate change. He saw that there wasn’t an organized way for people to confront lawmakers about the massive problem.

“Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s purpose is to change all that by empowering individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power and by gaining the tools to be effective with government,” Saunders wrote on the organization’s website (www.citizensclimatelobby.org.)

CCL also trains chapter members to communicate effectively about climate change with elected officials, the media and local communities. Chapter members also meet with their members of Congress, organize letter-writing campaigns and send op-eds to newspapers to promote sustainable climate policies.

The organization also holds an annual conference and lobby day in Washington, D.C. The 2015 event is planned for June 21–23.

When it first got started roughly 25 people affiliated with CCL traveled to D.C. for conference. It has since grown considerably in numbers and more than 1,000 members are expected to attend this year, said Thompson.

Nancy Kent of Linden Hills has been a CCL member for about a year. She’s also started a group focused on climate change discussions at Linden Hills United Church of Christ, has become involved in the statewide group MN350 and joined the Linden Hills Co-op Climate Action Team created by Thompson and Ahler.

Kent said she got motivated to get more involved in advocating for solutions to combat climate change after retiring from teaching.

“I finally got a chance to do my homework and realized the crisis we are in,” she said. “You can get discouraged by the immensity of the problem. Activity helps. It makes you feel better. At least we’re trying to do something.”

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Get involved

Cool Planet
Website: www.coolplanetmn.org
Ways to get involved: Cool Planet offers several ways for people to get involved in environmental advocacy, from fun events involving Frisbee games and biking to leadership training events. The organization also accepts donations and needs volunteers.

Citizens Climate Lobby Minnesota
Website: www.citizensclimatelobby-mn.org
Ways to get involved: There are 12 CCL chapters in Minnesota. The Linden Hills Chapter meets at the Linden Hills Park building at 43rd & Xerxes the first Saturday of the month at 11:45 a.m. The next meeting is March 7.