William & Mary students lobby Congress for action on climate change
William & Mary senior Justin Berg was long scared by the looming threats from climate change.
“I was a little bit more of a doomer. I wasn't really sure that we could really solve the problem,” said Berg, a 21-year-old biochemistry major.
But last year, Berg joined the university’s new student chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a national nonprofit that advocates for policies to address the climate crisis. He started to learn more about feasible solutions.
“I fell in love with the mission and decided that it was something I wanted to keep doing,” Berg said, “so that I could have more of an impact besides just personal lifestyle changes.”
A couple dozen students are regularly part of the club. Earlier this month, during their summer break, a few of them traveled to Washington to attend the CCL national conference and lobby Congress to pass climate policy.
They each set up a handful of half-hour meetings at the Capitol on Tuesday, Berg said.
He met with staffers for three lawmakers from Virginia — Sen. Tim Kaine and Reps. Rob Wittman and Ben Cline — as well as Texas Rep. Roger Williams.
The students are pushing for a few main measures.
The first is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which was introduced in Congress in 2018.
It’s a market-based approach to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by imposing a fee on producers or importers of fossil fuels. CCL advocates for distributing revenues from the fee evenly between citizens via tax refunds.
William & Mary’s chapter has spearheaded a sign campaign on campus to raise support for a carbon pricing law.
Rising senior Emily O’Keefe spoke about the efforts at the CCL conference ahead of the day at the Capitol.
“Everyone at William & Mary knows and supports the carbon-fee dividend, which is mind-blowing,” she told the audience, to cheers.
The group also asks lawmakers to support removing red tape that stalls the development of new transmission lines — which are key to clean energy infrastructure — and pass legislation that would collect better data on emissions on a global scale.
Berg said the congressional offices, particularly those of Republicans, were frank about certain aspects of climate legislation they will not support.
But the conversations were respectful, and each tried to understand the other’s side, he said. The students hope to maintain and build on those relationships.
Berg cited numbers from the Pew Research Center showing that two-thirds of Republicans under age 30 favor the U.S. taking steps to become carbon neutral.
“With a bipartisan policy, we really have a chance at solving climate change no matter how long it takes,” Berg said.