Taking Action for the Earth

Eau Claire’s Citizens’ Climate Lobby exemplifies grassroots tradition of original Earth Day

Taylor Limberg, Dr. Kate Hale Wilson

The first Earth Day in 1970, conceived by U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, used the model of anti-war teach-ins to draw attention to and catalyze action on the environment. The archives of UW-Eau Claire’s McIntyre Library provide insights into the local problems seen as critical at the time, including water pollution and the proposed siting of a nuclear power plant on the lower Chippewa River. Forty-eight years later, climate change tops the list. Thinking about climate change can be daunting, even overwhelming. Our personal daily choices and our communities offer many areas to address – but where do we start?

Citizens’ Climate Lobby – a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization – focuses on creating the political will to generate effective and sustainable climate solutions at the national level. Organized within state congressional districts, CCL trains and supports volunteers to build respectful relationships with their members of Congress. Through those relationships, and through work in their local communities, volunteers help create the political will needed to pass federal legislation for a carbon tax that returns money to American households. Such a tax, properly implemented, would jump-start the process of decreasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, while also sending a market signal that business as usual – reliance on fossil fuels – is no longer acceptable.

The Eau Claire chapter, one of 19 active chapters in the state, started in 2012. In the 3rd Congressional District, it works together with chapters in Stevens Point and La Crosse. With campuses of the UW System nearby, these CCL chapters are fortunate to count students among their active volunteers. Locally, UWEC students Taylor Limberg (a junior environmental geography major) and Lauren Becker (a freshman transnational geography major) were both active in environmental and sustainability issues prior to joining CCL. Both serve as commission members of the Student Office of Sustainability, which works to allocate money from the student-initiated Green Fund to improve sustainability efforts on campus and in the community (for example, purchasing LED lighting for the new Pablo Center at the Confluence). Lauren has additionally focused her efforts on encouraging a sustainability culture on campus through education and outreach to other first-year students. On June 10, Taylor will join more than 1,000 CCL members from across the country (including more than 50 others from Wisconsin) at the annual conference in Washington, D.C. On June 12, teams of constituents will meet with their legislators or the pertinent aides to talk about climate change impacts and CCL’s carbon fee and dividend proposal. These meetings happen annually in Washington and also back in congressional districts, building relationships over time.

Since 1970, the original Earth Day teach-in has expanded to a month-long appreciation for our precious planet, including a March for Science, a city-wide cleanup, an “Earth Claire” event on campus, Jam It for the Planet, and much more. This year we have some victories to celebrate: Recently the Eau Claire City Council passed a resolution in support of the Paris Climate Agreement to commit to being carbon neutral by 2050. Similarly, UWEC’s Student Senate passed a resolution in support of the Climate Action Plan, which was written by students and faculty to track the waste and energy being used by the university and which also commits the campus to carbon neutrality by 2050.

Climate change can feel overwhelming, and many of us are uneasy about the future of our planet. At such a time, more than ever, we need citizens to be engaged: to vote and hold their representatives accountable, to channel the power their voices have, and to empower others to demand strong and effective policies that will protect our common home.

Taylor Limberg is a UWEC student and a commission member for the UWEC Student Office of Sustainability. Kate Hale Wilson, an emeritus professor of English at UWEC, is group leader of the Eau Claire Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and served as UWEC’s first campus Sustainability Fellow.