2012-08-23 / News

Islanders alarmed by climate change

Two Jamestown women went to conference in D.C.

Last winter, Alison Glassie couldn’t wear the wool sweaters that she had knitted, and she was annoyed. Temperatures were so mild that the heavy sweaters were not necessary to keep warm. Glassie, who had been aware of climate-change issues since she was in high school, decided to do something about it.

Glassie teaches high school English at St. George’s in Newport, and although she is in the process of moving to on-campus housing, she has lived in Jamestown for nearly her entire life. When she heard that a group called the Citizens Climate Lobby was going to hold a conference in Washington, D.C., she decided to attend.

“I found out about the conference and I was curious,” Glassie said. “Climate change is an issue that I have been aware of for a long time. It’s something that I have always been concerned about. I really just wanted to explore the group and their approach.”

The Citizens Climate Lobby was founded a year ago by Marshall Saunders of Coronado, Calif. The purpose of the group is to lobby for climate-change legislation by “empowering individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power and by gaining the tools to be effective with government.”

The group provides regular national conference calls and webinars for its members.

What Glassie didn’t know is that another Jamestown resident, Mary Jane Sorrentino, had also decided to attend the July conference. While the two weren’t well acquainted, they had encountered each other in yoga classes on the island. Sorrentino has lived in Jamestown since 2009 and recently returned to school to get her master’s degree in environmental studies from Antioch University in New Hampshire.

Sorrentino heard about the citizens lobby from an email application that she is subscribed to. The group was interested in starting a Rhode Island chapter, and they were looking for interested parties to help out. An introductory call-in was offered.

“I listened to the monthly callin in June, and I was impressed with the people who were calling in,” Sorrentino said. “I also liked the fact that people were calling in from all over the country.”

The Washington conference included two days of informational sessions, followed by a day of meetings with congressional aides to push for action on the Save Our Climate Act, legislation that was introduced to Congress in 2011. It is currently being considered in the House Committee on Ways and Means. Approximately 175 volunteers attended – 303 meetings were held on Capitol Hill. A total of 535 congressional offices were visited during the conference.

“I really enjoyed it,” Sorrentino said. “It was a good introduction to the economies of climate change. I was impressed with their ideas of having some kind of legislation that would tax fossil fuel at the point of extraction. There was a real transparency in that. It wasn’t the market setting the price.”

On the third day the volunteers were divided into groups, and each person had a schedule. Glassie and Sorrentino were in the same group and met with multiple congressional aides.

“It was a great learning experience,” Glassie said. “We were trying to present the issue to people who may not be as receptive to it.”

Among the congressional staffers that Glassie and Sorrentino met with was Chris Bizacco, the legislative director for U.S. Congressman David Cicilline. Cicilline represents Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

While Bizacco was receptive, other meetings did not prove as fruitful. Glassie said that although no one denied the existence of climate change outright, one aide to a Texas congressman was upfront about the fact that his boss received a lot of money from oil companies.

“I had two meetings with a couple of Texas representatives,” Glassie said. “It was really interesting seeing the different receptions that we got. It got me out of my comfort zone. We met with a legislative aide from Georgia. That was a tough meeting. Fortunately the people I was with had done their research and had the answers to his questions.”

Sorrentino said it was great to meet face-to-face with legislative aides who do a lot of crafting of legislation on behalf of the congress members they represent.

“This is a nonpartisan group,” Sorrentino said. “We met with people in both parties, who come from vastly different places. It was vastly instructive, and it was a way to think about how we might build bridges with people who are sitting on the fence about climate change.”

An example of the bridge building came from a conservative aide who did not believe in climate change. Sorrentino said that the aide proposed an energy policy that was AADD: abundant, affordable, dependable and domestic.

“I really liked that because if we put the proper legislation in place, we can move forward using renewable energy,” Sorrentino said.

Sorrentino said that there are many things that individuals can do to slow down the rate of climate change. One thing she recommends is a home energy audit, which is often free of charge. She also recommended writing to legislators to urge them to support efforts to create a safe climate.

Glassie, who has a master’s degree in marine affairs from the University of Rhode Island, tries to do her part for the environment in her personal life as well. She no longer uses a dryer, choosing to air dry her clothes. She also bikes as much as possible instead of using a car. Her husband maintains a vegetable garden, and the couple eats as much local food as possible.

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