CANTON — Four years ago, Canton artist Laurie Sproul found herself deeply frustrated as she searched for ways that she, as an individual, could take action against what she saw as the impending threat of climate change.

She had come across local environmentalist groups working in their communities but craved something on a grander scale with the potential for “massive impact.” So, in the middle of a snowstorm, she and her mother trekked to a climate change conference at the Augusta Civic Center, where they ran across a booth for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a national group of citizen volunteers who, with laser-like focus, lobby members of Congress for a market-driven solution to carbon emissions.

“We saw that booth and it was about a national price on carbon, and I looked at (my mom) and said, ‘This is it!’ ” Sproul recalled. “The more I learn about the proposal that Citizens’ Climate Lobby has put forth, the more it is totally engaging and viable and the more I want to help the public know that that’s a real solution for climate change.”

Sproul now volunteers with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, helping them use art to start conversations about what can arguably be a dry and abstract subject. Along with Winslow-based artist Jean Ann Pollard, Sproul is hoping her art can help break down barriers to discussions on climate change, which over the last decade has transformed from a bipartisan issue – albeit with different takes on its causes and solutions – to one that is no longer acknowledged by large swaths of one of the country’s two major political parties.

“Art is a great communicator,” Sproul said. “It kind of communicates with a deeper, fundamental level in our psyche.”

This past week Sproul and Pollard’s artwork traveled to Washington, D.C., for the eighth annual Citizens’ Climate Lobby & Citizens’ Climate Education International Conference & Lobby Day, a three-day conference where about 1,300 volunteers from chapters across the country gathered to learn how to effectively raise public awareness of climate change and carbon pricing, grow the group’s ranks, and lobby members of Congress to take action. Nearly 1,000 of those volunteers stayed on to lobby staff or officeholders from approximately 500 members of Congress.

By all appearances, there is little executive or legislative will to act on climate change, but behind the scenes the Citizens’ Climate Lobby has been successfully working to build consensus around the group’s carbon fee and dividend proposal, which proponents say is the most effective, market-friendly, bipartisan and fair approach to curbing carbon emissions.

Originally conceived by Republicans, the model places a fee on carbon dioxide emissions at the point of extraction, such as oil wells or coal mines. All of the proceeds of the carbon fee then go to American households to help offset rising consumer energy costs as energy companies pass their own increased costs down the supply chain and on to consumers. As the price of carbon increases, the model posits, those companies will move away from carbon-based fuels and increase their investment in non-carbon-producing energies such as solar, wind and nuclear.

In 2016, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby documented 1,391 meetings with staff or members of Congress on the carbon fee, up from 106 in 2010. In the last year, the group generated 40,721 letters to Congress, 2,931 media stories and editorials, and held 2,387 outreach events.

That pressure has been making an impact. Each year more members from both sides of the aisle are acknowledging the reality of climate change and the need to take preventive action to avoid its worst effects. A growing number have joined the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, the brainchild of a Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer, which works together on policy responses to the causes and impacts of climate change.

Founded in February 2016, the Climate Solutions Caucus now includes 40 members of Congress, 20 from each party. Members sign up in twos, one Democrat, one Republican, to maintain the group’s bipartisan balance. At the current rate, the caucus is gaining six new members a month.

Those numbers are notable in a political environment where mention of the words “climate change” can spell disaster for some politicians. Members of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby attribute their success to the group’s persistent yet respectful approach to lobbying.

“One of the things that I have found over the years is that the staff and the members of Congress, if you meet them, are very appreciative of the fact that we come in appreciating them for the work they do,” said Peter Garrett, regional coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapters in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. “We don’t go into an office unless we have a reason on hand to appreciate them for.”

This past week, Garrett and other volunteers met with staff for all of Maine’s representatives, urging Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree to join the House Climate Solutions Caucus and pushing for Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to sponsor carbon pricing legislation and form an equivalent climate working group in the Senate.

In a meeting with staff from Poliquin’s office, Garrett saw what he believed was new interest in the group’s work and policy ideas.

Poliquin spokesman Brendan Conley confirmed that the congressman does not support a climate tax, but said Poliquin “will be reviewing the details of the Climate Solutions Caucus in Congress.”

Staff from Pingree’s office made clear that Pingree is committed to joining the House climate caucus and needed to find a Republican colleague to join with, Garrett said.

In conversations with staff for Sen. Susan Collins last week, Garrett said the group ran through the proposal they would like Collins to put forward and learned that because Collins does not sit on the relevant Senate committee she would need to find another, better-positioned Republican colleague to work with.

For Sen. Angus King, already well-versed in the science of climate change, the issue was one of personal political capital and how best to use that capital to make an impact. King has a habit of passing out business-sized cards filled with climate data to his colleagues in the Senate, Garrett said.

Kate McCormick can be contacted at 861-9218 or at:

kmccormick@centralmaine.com

Twitter: KateRMcCormick