Capitol Hill Fever

I’ve arrived in Cancun for the climate conference after seven thousand kilometers of cycling. I was hoping to get across the gulf without using fossil fuels, but couldn’t find a sailboat from Florida… so I’m going to admit that I flew across instead. This is blog describes the final part of the Solutions Revolution bike ride that I’ve been part of for the last three months.

Speaking with Dennis Kucinich, the Representive who voted against the Cap and Trade because it didn’t go far enough

I have a newfound respect for those who can stand living and breathing Capitol Hill.  After our second day of lobbying politicians I was drained; by day five I was too exhausted to argue when the John McCain aid we were meeting with started telling us that natural gas was a great solution to climate change.

It’s hard for me to remember individual events or even individual days –every day was a blur of the same things –the reflections of incandescent lights in marble floors… the swish of suits… the clicking of high-heels… the endless ringing of telephones in congressional offices… It’s even hard for me to distinguish one meeting from another. All the Democrats we spoke with shared the same gloom about the future of climate legislation… “If we couldn’t pass the cap and trade when we had sixty votes how will we do anything with just fifty three?” Nobody offered any ambitious game-plan; all the Democrats were focused on seemed to be to preserve the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding and ability to regulate carbon emissions. Republicans we spoke to advocated an “all of the above” energy strategy that would rely heavily on nuclear, natural gas and carbon capture and storage.

Many of the staffers we met with didn’t even seem attentive when we described some of the innovative solutions to climate change that we’d found while filming the Solutions Revolution documentary. For every aid who was interested in hearing about wind turbines providing revenue for disabled people and abandoned industrial plants being transformed into vertical farms there was another aid for whom the meeting could not end soon enough.

I left the Senate buildings for the final time on Friday; relieved that the week was finished and dejected about Congress’s response to climate change. What is the outlook for our future if Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on an issue that threatens to wreak havoc on global peace, national security, economic prosperity and environmental health? If scientists tell us we have just five years before global emissions must start taking a nose-dive- then how will anything happen if the United States won’t get any legislation passed in the next two or possibly four years?

Despite all the depressing realities of government inaction and indifference I still am optimistic. Over the past three months I’ve met hundreds of dedicated citizens across the United States who are working on solutions to climate change. In eastern Chicago John Adel is turning an abandoned meat packing plant into a vertical farm which could provide thousands with locally grown food while bringing life back to a desolate part of the city. Jim Winkle from Madison, Wisconsin is generating enough solar energy for his entire home through the panels he installed on his roof.  Suzanne Malec-McKenna is leading Chicago’s Climate Action Plan, which has a carbon emissions target in line with what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends. I’ve learned that there is an enormous network of citizens across the country with a diversity of solutions to climate change. I know the when enough citizens mobilize and take the lead on climate change then governments will follow. Yes, I was bummed out by our week of lobbying senators and representatives, but as long as there are motivated citizens working for a stable climate and a renewable energy economy I will always have hope.


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