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Playing to Win

On March 29, 2001, the Bush administration announced that it was rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, instantly shifting the burden of global warming onto the shoulders of reluctant congressional leaders. On that day, the international movement to slow the pace of global warming slammed headlong into a major roadblock: Capitol Hill. As we surveyed our new battleground two things became exceedingly clear: Ideas alone wouldn't win, and we needed to become more politically astute.

Let's face it: Professional environmentalists are not necessarily the best people to deliver messages to politicians. Members of Congress expect to hear from us, and they have a good idea of where we stand on most issues. But if you're a senator and the mailbag contains 10,000 letters from constituents on a single topic, you know you've got a hot issue. When Robert Redford calls to talk about that same issue, you're going to pick up the phone. And when influential businesspeople show up at your office, well, you're so surprised that folks from the business community see value in the environment that you're going to hear what they have to say. It's the combination that works.

When we began advocating for federal regulation of greenhouse gases, it was a struggle. We tried reaching out to congressional leaders and met with stiff resistance. But in California, a group of business leaders, entrepreneurs, and executives of the financial institutions that back them went to Sacramento and convinced state legislators to pass a law to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We call these people our Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2 for short. Two of our board members, Bob Epstein and Nicole Lederer, started the group in 2000 as a way to deliver an environmental message with a bottom-line perspective that even the most conservative politician could appreciate. Today E2's members include more than 500 business leaders in 21 states.

When we wanted to take our ideas for climate policy to the national political arena, we turned to Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, knowing that he would continue to champion good environmental policy. But we had yet to find a way to capture the ear of other key congressional leaders. Two groups from the Los Angeles and entertainment communities headed by trustees Laurie David and Elizabeth Wiatt, the Action Forum and Executive Forum, connected us with Senator John McCain of Arizona. He soon joined the effort, marking the beginning of our involvement in what would become the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.

Since then our members and e-activists have sent more than 218,000 letters to Congress in support of the Climate Stewardship Act. E2 members have made personal visits to Senators McCain and Lieberman, they've written newspaper editorials, and they've testified before Congress to spread the word that to ignore climate change is to court economic disaster. Our collective voice has been heard: Whereas Kyoto had no federal support, the Climate Stewardship Act has gained real momentum. The measure was seven votes shy of passing the Senate. Demand is growing for a genuine policy to fight global warming.

Whenever we tackle a new issue or take another tack on an existing goal, we ask the same question: How can we promote the notion that what's good for the environment is good for the nation? Through the combined voices of our members, high-profile activists, and business leaders, we carry our most important message to our political leaders: It's in everyone's best interest to do the right thing.

The strategy works, and we intend to stick with it.

John H. Adams

Photo: Brennan Cavanaugh

OnEarth. Fall 2004
Copyright 2004 by the Natural Resources Defense Council