Environment

As international climate change talks begin their final week in Paris, a non-profit is opening a new chapter in Louisville to teach residents how to lobby Congress for action.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a grassroots organization that’s making an economic argument for addressing climate change. Spokesman Steve Valk said even if the Paris talks produce meaningful commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it’s likely more cuts will be needed to keep the earth from significant warning.

And Valk said that’s why CCL is advocating for a threefold economic approach to climate change. The proposal calls for the U.S. government to put a price on carbon to make it more expensive to burn fossil fuels, to give that money back in dividends to everyone in the country, and then impose a tariff on goods coming into the U.S. from countries that don’t have equivalent carbon pricing. Valk said the idea is that even though charging utilities to emit carbon dioxide could in theory raise electricity prices or put American companies at a disadvantage, the dividends and tariffs will help level the playing field.

“Because we know the carbon fee will increase energy costs,” he said. “So we don’t want it to be a drag on the economy, we don’t want it to hurt families economically.”

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Citizens’ Climate Lobby focuses on teaching people how to lobby their members of Congress. That, Valk said, is especially important in Kentucky because of the outsize role Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plays in setting national priorities.

McConnell, a Republican, has been a vocal critic of any action against climate change, pointing to the effect on Kentucky’s coal industry. But Valk said he tells the people he trains to believe they can influence any member of Congress.

“You just have to set aside that kind of attitude,” he said. “As I like to say, people are going to live up or down to your expectations. If you’re expecting that they can do good things, they just might do it. But if you’re expecting that they’re going to do bad things, they’ll live down to that as well.”

The group’s Louisville chapter just formed, and Valk said CCL is planning on starting a local chapter in Lexington soon as well.