A Novel Approach to Climate Action at the State Level

By Cindy Jayne

An effort is afoot to bring an ancient Athenian democratic process to Washington State – a Citizen’s Assembly, where a representative group of randomly chosen Washington State residents would come together to make recommendations on how the state could address climate change.

Citizen Assemblies have been happening all across the world to address a variety of issues, and they have been successful in making progress on challenging issues such as climate change. For example, they were used by our British Columbia neighbors to craft a new electoral process.

In Washington State, a “Climate Assembly” would be an independently run, non-partisan direct democracy process that would bring together roughly 100 residents of Washington, selected by lottery, who demographically mirror the state in age, race, education, and other demographic indicators. Over the course of several weekends, the Assembly members would come together online to develop connections, learn from science and policy experts, deliberate on paths forward, and most importantly recommend policies to lawmakers. The recommendations would be provided to our State Legislators to inform climate law and policy. 

Because of the inclusive nature of Citizen’s Assemblies, the participants would reflect all Washington residents as well as elevate the voices of under-heard constituents, bringing together the diversity of viewpoints on climate in the state.

A group of volunteers from Climate Assembly Washington have begun talking with Washington State legislators about this, and support is building. State Representatives Jake Fey (D-27), Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34), Zack Hudgins (D-11), Steve Kirby (D-29), and Cindy Ryu Nam (D-32) have called for a Citizen’s Assembly on Climate to be held online over the summer in Washington State.

This could be the first Climate Assembly to be held in the USA (discussions are also under way in New York State). Similar Assemblies are concluding online now in France and the UK, and reflect a long history of deliberative democracy methods used to raise the level of discourse on divisive and challenging issues. The Legislators are eager for any method that supplements their work and raises the voices of under heard constituents. Representative Steve Kirby says, “The Washington Climate Assembly is a great idea for bringing a diverse group of people safely together, to learn, collaborate, and make a difference for all of us in the midst of a crisis. I look forward to seeing their recommendations.”

Want to learn more? Go to https://www.climateassembly.us to learn more about Citizen’s Assemblies on Climate, and consider sharing your views on this deliberative democracy method with your legislators.

Cindy Jayne leads the Local 20/20 Climate Preparedness Action Group and is a member of the Local 20/20 Steering Council.