A group of New Haven residents discussed bipartisan lobbying strategies for combating climate change at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby of Greater New Haven’s Climate Advocacy Training workshop on Sunday.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby is an international grassroots organization that focuses on improving climate change policy by developing relationships with state, local and national political representatives. Approximately 15 community members attended the workshop, which was held in Bowers Auditorium in Sage Hall. The workshop was led by Roger Kuhns, Connecticut state coordinator of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and CEO and founder of SustainAudit LLC who spoke at length about advocacy strategies for urging legislators to action. Emphasizing what he called a “natural human dialogue,” Kuhns stressed the importance of respect toward and appreciation for members of Congress regardless of political affiliation.

“I see climate change as something that is going to exacerbate a lot of the inequalities within the world, and I see climate change as the most intersectional of all issues to deal with,” said Laura Miller, a health advisor for the International Rescue Committee and a member of the Greater New Haven chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

In paired discussions during the workshop, audience members told each other stories and discussed their personal reasons for advocating climate change legislation. Kuhns underscored the necessity of deeper connections with American legislators, noting that the average congressman is far more likely to be receptive to lobbyists who listen and open up respectful conversation rather than attacking the target of their attentions.

“I want you to perfect your story so you can tell it in two minutes,” Kuhns said.

Kuhns taught the attendees the organization’s procedure for meetings with members of Congress. Members always enter an official’s office in groups. Typically, the group’s leader introduces the other members and confirms the allotted time. A designated team member then gives a statement of appreciation acknowledging the congressman’s previous work, including work unrelated to climate change. Then the team begins “the ask,” urging the congressman to vote for particular legislation or to otherwise support the efforts of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, before concluding with an offer to provide any other required information and an arrangement for a subsequent meeting.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s most pressing goal is the promotion of its own legislation, which proposes a fee on carbon dioxide equivalents contained in fossil fuels, starting at extraction. The aim of this carbon fee and dividend is to decrease incentives to use fossil fuels and accelerate the transition from a fossil fuel economy to a renewable energy economy, according to Kuhns.

“We need this legislation to get our society on the right footing for the future, and that footing is clean energy and a social responsibility to the planet,” Kuhns said.

To push for the carbon fee and dividend, the organization approaches both Republicans and Democrats. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby Caucus currently has 60 members in Congress, including 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats. Any congressman who joins the caucus must have a partner of the opposite political party.

Attendees left the workshop with a sense of renewed motivation.

Diane Lauricella, an environmental consultant and candidate for the municipal election in Norwalk, said she appreciated the organization’s focus on lobbying government officials.

“There is an absence of discussion in Congress, and when it’s on the national news and you’re not discussing it, I find that local and state governments will not discuss it,” Lauricella said. “I like to educate people about climate change, what climate change is and is not, because as we all know there are a lot of myths about it.”

The workshop ended with a call for further outreach to the rest of the New Haven community and beyond.

“According to our research, approximately 40 million people in the U.S. say they would be willing to join a campaign focused on climate changes,” said Eric Fine, group leader for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby of Greater New Haven. “One of the main reasons that they don’t is because no one has asked them to.”

Mei Chen | mei.chen@yale.edu