2013-02-07 / News

Island women launch local chapter

Citizens Climate Lobby now in Rhode Island
BY KEN SHANE

Last year two Jamestown women who had never met found themselves at the same conference in Washington, D.C. Alison Glassie, an English teacher at St. George’s School in Newport, and Mary Jane Sorrentino, a sustainability consultant, were attracted to the nation’s capitol by the message of the Citizens Climate Lobby, an organization that had been founded in California a year earlier.

Citizens Climate Lobby is an organization with the mission to create the political will for a stable climate. The group works to empower individuals to maximize the potential of their personal and political power. The organization has 60 chapters in the United States and Canada. After returning from Washington, Glassie and Sorrentino began to discuss the idea of forming a Rhode Island chapter of the organization.

According to Sorrentino, the two women had not fully committed to the idea of forming the new chapter. But soon after, something happened that made them want to do it.

The women became aware of a pediatrician named Wendy Ring who was bicycling across the country from California. The reason for her trek was to spread a message about the public health issues related to climate change. The Boston chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby asked Sorrentino and Glassie if they would like to host Dr. Ring. An event was arranged on the Brown University campus and it turned out to be well attended.

“I think from that, Alison and I were encouraged that we could start a group in Rhode Island,” Sorrentino said.

The founder of the Boston chapter offered to come to Rhode Island to train Glassie and Sorrentino. The chapter was officially launched at the end of October. Since that time there have been meetings on the first Saturday of each month, usually at public libraries in the area.

At each meeting the group listens to a national call-in presented by a climate scientist or an economic expert. There is an opportunity to ask questions and interact with other chapters that are on the call. Afterwards, each chapter discusses its own business.

Thus far the group has met with U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and his aide, and the women expect to have more face-to-face meetings with Rhode Island’s congressional delegation. An early initiative for the group is to work with the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island to inform people about the group’s support of a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend. The chapter also promotes a campaign to have members write letters to the editor of their local newspaper.

“Citizens Climate Lobby likes to gather the letters together so that when they go visit members of Congress, they can point to all of the letters that have been written in support of the issue,” said Sorrentino.

Although Sorrentino belongs to a number of environmental groups, she said she was attracted to the Citizens Climate Lobby because while there is a lot of work going on related to the climate change issue, there is little being done at the federal level. She cited the group’s mission of building the political will to deal with the problem.

“I feel that we need federal action in a big way. As a New Englander, born and bred, climate is everything. I grew up in a family that hunted, fished, gardened and canned. To see the changing of the climate in my own lifetime is just remarkable. It’s chilling.”

Glassie said that her decision to work with Citizens Climate Lobby was largely based on the organization’s flexibility. It allows members to do their best in the time that they have to devote. She said it is an approach that fits best into her life.

“It’s really up to the individual members,” she said. “There is a lot of room for individual creativity and individual initiative based on what your talents are, what you’re comfortable doing, and what you have time for.”

Glassie said that her support of the carbon tax, a steadily rising tax on the CO2 content of coal, oil and gas, is based on the fact that the proposal is based on the true costs of paying for something. “It seems like a different approach to me, and one that makes sense.”

Another chapter initiative that Glassie mentioned was speaking with local television meteorologists in an effort to get them to include climate-change information in their weather reports.

“We want to ask them to take a look at some of the local impacts that we’re seeing involving storm damage, fisheries and sea-level rise,” Glassie said. She would like to see them include it in their weather forecasts. “Even if it’s just a photograph.”

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