Marshall Saunders, founder and president of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, died Friday. He was 80.
CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds announced Saunders’ death in an email to supporters over the weekend, and volunteers quickly took to the group’s website to laud his vision for grassroots advocacy and bipartisanship to tackle climate change.
The organization — which Saunders started in 2007 — has brought thousands of citizen lobbyists to Capitol Hill over the years to push for carbon pricing legislation, and it was the driving force behind the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus.
"To say that he made the most of his time on this earth would be an understatement," Reynolds wrote. "In addition to being the most kind and generous person I’ve ever known, he was also a visionary, someone who saw the things that are broken in our world and then set out to fix them."
After a career in real estate, Saunders became concerned about climate change when he saw Al Gore’s film "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006.
He started giving talks about the issue but quickly realized he needed to go bigger. The fossil fuel industry, in his view, had a much larger influence on government than regular people concerned about the changing climate.
"After I had given just a few talks about the climate, I realized that the actions I was suggesting to my listeners to take, while essential, were not a match for the problem," Saunders said in his biography on CCL’s website.
"I realized that anything they intended to do would be swamped by what the government did or did not do. I realized that ordinary people like me would have to organize, educate ourselves, give up our hopelessness and powerlessness, and gain the skills to be effective with our government."
Saunders came to the issue with experience in government advocacy. In the 1990s, he founded a microlending program in Mexico aimed at lifting women out of poverty and had volunteered with RESULTS, a grassroots organization that brings people to Capitol Hill to lobby on anti-poverty legislation.
Using that model, Saunders founded CCL in 2007, and the organization has since blossomed to 561 chapters and nearly 200,000 supporters around the world.
"Marshall considered me his mentor, but took what I taught him to an entirely new level and ended up teaching and inspiring me beyond words," Sam Daley-Harris, founder of RESULTS, said in a statement.
The ultimate spread of the group’s influence is still to be determined. Although the Climate Solutions Caucus grew to 90 strong last year, its ranks were severely depleted when many of its GOP members were defeated in the 2018 midterms.
Still, CCL has managed to get its model carbon fee and dividend bill, the "Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act," into the halls of Congress. Most recently, it was introduced as H.R. 763 by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) and others.
And its volunteers are an undeniable force for optimism when they come to Washington for education and lobby events twice a year (Climatewire, June 18, 2018).
Taking after Saunders’ model, CCL spends a day or two educating volunteers and then sends them off to congressional offices, covering nearly every lawmaker on Capitol Hill.
Saunders himself had also taken a special interest in educating branches of Rotary International about climate change and involving them in advocacy (Climatewire, April 26).
"As a humanitarian organization, Rotary has an obligation to talk about climate change," Saunders, once a Rotary member, said earlier this year.
In his note to supporters, Reynolds called Saunders a "visionary."
"Marshall always told volunteers, ‘You’re a dream come true,’" he wrote. "He leaves us knowing that we are working hard on our shared dreams, and we will prevail."