If you want to know what’s happening in the US around climate and you need reassurance that there’s a vigorous political struggle to support action, this interview with RL Miller (her preferred moniker) is for you.
RL Miller has been called many things in her crusade against climate change. Incendiary. Divisive. A political terrorist, to quote former California governor Jerry Brown.
Most politicians would bend over backward to avoid such labels. Miller touts them proudly on her Twitter bio.
“I apparently have a reputation for being difficult or a pain in the ass,” she laughs.
Her newest title: Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegate for California.
From blogger to Climate Hawk politician
While a growing number of women got into politics after Donald Trump’s rise to power, Miller’s calling came with Sarah Palin back in 2008.
“We’re both these community organiser volunteer types, we’re both hockey moms and we’re both absolutely unqualified to be vice president of the United States.”
Miller’s political interests led her to the liberal blogosphere where she rediscovered an old love of environmentalism and the escalating fight against climate change.
Blogging turned to involvement in local politics, founding grassroots advocacy group Climate Hawks Vote and eventually chairmanship of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus.
Despite her best attempts to push for a stronger climate stance from the DNC – a climate debate at the bare minimum – her measures were shot down by DNC chair Tom Perez.
Tired of the empty promises within the party, Miller ran for a DNC position on a climate platform and won.
The not so distant consequences of inaction
When speaking on climate change, Miller comes from a place of absolute authenticity.
On November 8, 2018, three bushfires broke out across California well after Southern California’s fire season should have ended, including the Camp Fire in Paradise that killed 86 people and the Woolsey brushfire that swept through Miller’s home base of Los Angeles.
While Miller was able to evacuate with her elderly mother, she watched as the fire consumed her neighborhood, just barely missing her home.
“I watched my childhood memories go up in flames,” she said, emotion choking her words.
Miller is not alone. Her story is one of millions affected by the severe storms, increased flooding and out of control wildfires that stem directly from climate change.
“Climate change is not some far off distant threat. This is something that is happening to us right here, right now.”
Fed up with fossil fuel funding
If there’s anything Miller hates most about climate inaction, it’s the stranglehold the fossil fuel industry has on global politics.
The blame doesn’t just rest on conservatives with deep fossil fuel ties. Liberal candidates can talk a big game when it comes to climate change while happily accepting campaign donations from fossil fuel giants.
As chair of the California Democratic Environmental Caucus, one of Miller’s proudest accomplishments was the No Fossil Money pledge, demanding every candidate sign a pledge that they wouldn’t accept donations of over $200 from the fossil fuel industry.
Her logic was simple. “If they wanted to speak to my caucus, they had to sign it or explain to 300 activists why they wouldn’t.”
The No Fossil Money pledge was signed by every Democratic presidential candidate, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and nominee Joe Biden.
Red versus blue and what it means for a green planet
While Biden is not exactly her ideal president, the alternative is far worse.
“If Trump wins again, and good horrors I hope not, I’m just very very very worried for what it means for the future of life on Earth.”
Trump has proven time and time again that he favors profit at the expense of the planet. Just in the past few months, the Trump administration slashed Obama era fuel efficiency standards, relaxed reporting on greenhouse gas emissions and refused to crack down on dangerous soot pollution.
Over the years, Democrats have tried to compromise with Republicans to find a bipartisan solution to climate change, most ending up dead on arrival or declawed beyond recognition. After Trump’s election, Miller doesn’t even want to see them at the negotiating table.
“The only thing I want to do with Republicans on climate change is vote them out of power … I want them to lose.”
Rather than reach across the aisle or compromise with climate denialists, Miller is building her own political support.
Climate Hawks operates as a super PAC — a nontraditional political action committee — that raises unlimited funds to campaign on a candidate’s behalf. Founded by Miller in 2013, it has already found a significant political footing, endorsing Congress members such as Nanette Diaz Barragan for her tough stance on Big Oil in Southern California.
Just because a politician hugs a tree, doesn’t mean they can expect Miller’s endorsement. She refuses to settle for anything less than fierce climate activists whose actions speak for themselves. “We’re picky about who we endorse and we win our races.”
Where can the US go from here?
Despite the odds, Miller still has hope that the US can find the courage to fight back against the onslaught of climate denial and willful ignorance.
Two weeks ago, 23 states, including Miller’s home state of California, filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its fuel efficiency rollbacks, a case they stand to win based on Trump’s unjustifiable decision.
Miller’s own Climate Hawks is finding success in campaigning for a growing number of climate serious candidates in local government and Congress, amplifying the movement’s political power with each new voice.
While Miller may have her foot in the door, she knows the climate movement is going to need all the support it can get, especially in the upcoming presidential election.
For anyone who wants to know how to make a difference, Miller has two words: get involved. Vote in upcoming elections, show up to town halls and city councils, ask questions and demand answers.
“This is a big movement. There is space for everybody,” Miller said. “Get involved and let’s change the world.”