PREPARE Passes, Persistence Pays Off
In 2015, I was a junior in college, studying environmental biology. I was keenly aware of the issue of climate change and trying to figure out what I could do to get involved as a college student.
2015 was a big year for climate change. On the first day of 2015, the world broke 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In May, Pope Francis published his famous environmental encyclical: “Laudato Si,” and the year concluded with the signing of the historic Paris Climate Agreement in December.
At the end of March in 2015, I found the kind of opportunity I was looking for. The Friends Committee on National Legislation was hosting a “Spring Lobby Weekend” in Washington DC, focused on engaging Congress on climate change. With the Paris negotiations looming in the near future and the Republican-controlled House and Senate decrying any attempt to regulate greenhouse gasses as part of a “war on coal,” convincing congressional leaders to act on climate change seemed to be a daunting task.
I arrived in DC on March 24th with a small contingent of students from a small mountain town in Colorado, ready to call for congressional action but unsure how best to go about it. Over the course of the long weekend, we learned from FCNL staff about their faithful, persistent, and positive approach to congressional advocacy. The problems FCNL sought to address, much like climate change, exist in the long-term, and will only be solved by long term commitment and focus.
At the end of April, 2018, the PREPARE Act passed the House as a part of the FAA Reauthorization bill (H.R. 4).
The staff at FCNL understood the reality of climate change, but also understood the reality that Congress was not going to pass sweeping climate legislation in 2015 on the eve of the Paris negotiations. They impressed upon us the importance of both delivering our message of deep and urgent concern with the state of our climate but also a tangible and achievable “ask” of congress.
The “ask” that FCNL had for us that year was focused on a small piece of legislation called the “Promoting Resilience and Efficiency in Preparing for Attacks and Responding to Emergencies Act” or the "PREPARE Act". The PREPARE Act would help federal agencies coordinate with state and local stakeholders to better respond to natural disasters caused by extreme weather. This bill would not solve climate change, but it would help address some of its effects, and more importantly, it would get members of Congress thinking about how climate change-fueled extreme weather was affecting people’s lives.
Sometimes in order to get someone to take a leap of faith, you first have to get them to take a small step with confidence. Benjamin Franklin understood this human quirk and articulated it in his autobiography. He describes how he was able to quell the animosity of a rival legislator in the Pennsylvania legislature:
Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return'd it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.
In many ways this is exemplary of the kind of lobbying FCNL seeks to employ. By finding small ways for elected officials to consider new points of view, we lead them along step at a time to that great leap of faith.
In 2014 the PREPARE Act had 17 cosponsors in the House. In 2015 that number grew to 29. At the end of April, 2018, the PREPARE Act passed the house as a part of the FAA Reauthorization bill (H.R. 4). Watching the bill steadily gain traction and finally pass the entire House of Representatives reminds me that my lobbying along with over 200 young adults at the 2015 Spring Lobby Weekend actually helped influence policy. It also reminds me of the importance of persistent, respectful advocacy, that even as the U.S. pulls out of the Paris Climate Agreement and rolls back environmental regulations, the House of Representatives can take action to help protect people from the effects of increasingly extreme weather.
The climate crisis wasn’t created in a day, nor will it be solved so quickly. In April, however, Congress took a small step with confidence towards addressing the climate crisis, and you can bet that we’ll be here all along the way, leading them to that great leap of faith.