Peter Garrett is preparing for the 9th annual conference and lobby day of the Citizens Climate Lobby, which runs for three days starting next Sunday. He coordinates state groups for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Maine is sending its biggest group yet to the event, which aims to promote the nonprofit’s proposed tactic to combat climate change, namely a carbon fee and dividend system.

Before we talked, the Winslow resident sent along a list detailing his community engagement in Maine dating back to 1979, from promoting solar houses to planting public gardens and building trails. It was four pages. Single spaced. There was a lot to talk about, including how Garrett stays optimistic in a wave of bad environmental news.

CALL IT BY THIS NAME: Garrett is a trained hydrogeologist who once taught at Colby, worked for Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection Hazardous Waste Program and studied groundwater contamination. He’s 73 and has been thinking about climate change for many decades, but he prefers the term “climate trajectory” because as he puts it, “it is a moving target.” There can be a psychological component to using different terminology, he said, as perhaps people have the impression that the main impact of climate change is milder winters. “And they think, ‘I am OK with that.’ ” He has a friend who describes it like a toothache, where you feel like something isn’t quite right but you live with it. “And then you go see a dentist and it is too late to do something and he pulls it out and finds that the roots are septic.”

ALL TOGETHER NOW: Garrett first connected with Citizens Climate Lobby in 2014, after learning about the group from a friend in California. He attended the annual conference in 2014 and was one of three Mainers there. This year he’ll be one of 20. The group is growing – with 1,200 supporters in the state – does that have anything to do with Donald Trump and his administration? Quite possibly, Garrett said. But the group is deliberately nonpartisan. “I know that climate change, because of the Republican side of the argument that climate change is just a wishy-washy thing or a Chinese invention, has become a political issue. But it isn’t political. It is something that affects us all.”

LOBBYING LARGE: The event will include visits to all 535 members of Congress, with some of the states with well-rounded groups of volunteers and smaller delegations pinch hitting for states that don’t have as many volunteers. The Maine volunteers will visit all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation, hoping to meet with the politicians themselves for a face to face. That doesn’t always happen, like with Rep. Bruce Poliquin. “We have only met with him once. That was last November.” It was only ten minutes but “we were grateful.” Mainly, he said, they wanted to convince Poliquin that a carbon fee and dividend – the rallying cry of the Citizens Climate Lobby – would lead to a big shift to clean energy and creation of new jobs.

YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION: Garrett believes that nothing less than a revolution is coming. “The first Industrial Revolution was powered by fossil fuels. Coal at first, oil next, then natural gas. And it is still going. We are very attached to our fossil fuels.” But clean energy is on the move. “What we are on the brink of is a new industrial revolution and that is powered by solar power.”


HOW DOES THAT WORK? To start, the group’s favored approach, the carbon fee and dividend, would impost a $15 per metric ton fee on fossil fuel emissions. Those funds would be held in a trust and given back to households as a monthly dividend. The smarter decisions a household makes about energy usage – say, walking more and spending less on gasoline – the more it would see in those monthly dividends. The Citizens Climate Lobby estimates that about two-thirds of households would break even or get more back than they spend. Former treasury secretary George Schultz supports it (a Wall Street Journal opinion piece he co-authored said “a carbon tax would encourage producers and consumers to shift toward energy sources that emit less carbon”).

KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE: Does Garrett ever get down about the state of the environmental crisis facing the world? “That is kind of a philosophical question.” (Definitely.) The answer is he remains a constitutional optimist. “I am built that way. I am optimistic because that is the only way to be. It is getting more and more difficult when you listen to the news coming out of the White House, but I am.”

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: Citizens Climate Lobby now has eight chapters in Maine. Garrett wants to see those numbers continue to grow. He wants from citizens action in between elections. We need to regularly engage their representatives and senators, Garrett said. “Our job as adults now is to play our part in alerting them, not just voting for or against them, but also getting in touch with them so that they understand that this is important to us.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

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