Marshall Saunders, founder and president of the advocacy organization Citizens’ Climate Lobby, passed away at his home in Coronado on Dec. 27, 2019, at the age of 80.
Born on Feb. 27, 1939, Saunders grew up in Waco, Texas, attended Baylor University and the University of Texas, earning a bachelor’s degree in Economics at UT. After college, he joined the Navy and was stationed in San Diego, where he met his wife Pam. The two were married in 1965 and raised two beloved children.
Following a four-year stint in the Navy, Saunders went into the real estate business, developing commercial properties.
Success in the business world, however, was not enough, and in the early 1990s he started searching for ways to make the world a better place. That search led him to an advocacy organization, RESULTS, that works to create the political will to end hunger and poverty. Through RESULTS, he learned the power that citizens have to make a difference by effectively engaging their government. As a volunteer with RESULTS, he took part in campaigns that increased U.S. funding for child survival activities around the world, programs that would eventually save the lives of tens of millions of children.
A leader in the community, Saunders was named Rotarian of the year in 1991 by the Coronado Rotary chapter and received the Rotarian Governor’s trophy for Service Above Self in 1992-93. He also received the Rotary Foundation citation for Meritorious Service, and he spearheaded the formation of the first Rotary Club in St. Petersburg, Russia.
While volunteering with RESULTS, Saunders learned about microcredit, an effective poverty-reducing strategy that uses small loans given to poor women to start or expand small businesses that lift their families out of poverty. The concept was pioneered by a Bangladeshi economist, Muhammad Yunus, who would later receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Grameen Bank.
Seeking to start his own micro-lending program in Mexico, Saunders traveled to Bangladesh to learn more about the concept from Yunus himself. In 1999, he launched Grameen de la Frontera in Mexico, which has provided small loans that has transformed the lives of thousands of poor women and their families. He was one of only six recipients of the Grameen Humanitarian Award.
After seeing the climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006, Saunders realized his work to help the poor would be wasted if a changing climate made their homes unlivable. He spent a year delivering presentations about climate change and the personal choices needed to address the problem. During that time, Congress extended a law that gave $18 billion in subsidies to oil and coal companies.
“After I had given just a few talks about the climate,” Saunders said. “I realized that the actions I was suggesting to my listeners to take, while essential, were not a match for the problem. 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.”
In October of 2007, Saunders launched Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) based on the successful methodology of RESULTS. Its purpose: to generate the political will for climate solutions by training and supporting citizens to effectively lobby their government. Since then, CCL has grown to more than 550 chapters worldwide -- 460 in the U.S. -- with 180,000 supporters. CCL was the leading advocacy group supporting the introduction this year of a bipartisan carbon-pricing bill, which now has 75 sponsors and cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives.
From the outset, Saunders sought to make CCL nonpartisan in efforts to solve climate change. At a time when most climate advocates had written off Republicans in efforts to enact effective remedies, CCL trained and supported thousands of volunteers to engage GOP members of Congress as potential allies rather than adversaries. CCL’s approach of polite, appreciative and respectful advocacy paid off with the formation in 2016 of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the U.S. House, which grew to 90 members by the end of 2018, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. It became the inspiration for a similar group this year in the Senate.
“To say that he made the most of his time on this earth would be an understatement,” said CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds. “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. As Buckminster Fuller once said, ‘The things to do are: the things that need doing, that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done.’ That was Marshall, doing the things that needed to be done that nobody else was doing.”
Services for Marshall will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 at 1 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 700 D Avenue.