How Politics Can Help Us Protect the Planet
My entire life I’ve lived to spend time outdoors. I deeply believe that while our inside world has become more comfortable, with squishy chairs we can sink into and screens we can get lost in, there is a piece of us that will always be missing if we don’t spend enough time connecting with the natural world that is our true home.
That’s why I always try to do my part to protect the planet.
Nearly every time I go to a coffee shop, I don’t just bring money to pay for my drink—I also bring a resuable mug.
I’ve been doing this for a few years. Each time I hand my mug to the cashier, I think of what a great environmental steward this simple action makes me.
But I know deep down this really isn’t that true.
While it really is lovely to believe always remembering a reusable mug when getting coffee and driving a more efficient vehicle are going to save the world, unfortunately experts say individual actions just won’t cut it to prevent the worst impacts of climate change (Time).
In fact, individual initiatives can sometimes be seen as part of a “deflection campaign” in which massive polluters (I’m talking big businesses like fossil fuel companies) put the responsibility on consumers to try and save the planet, rather than changing their profitable practices (Time).
The problem is human civilization overall will still depend on transportation and food systems that rely on fossil fuels, so individual actions can basically be canceled out.
But there is something we can do to have a significant impact in saving the planet: we can vote and become more involved in politics.
Changes that could play a major role in saving human civilization from the disasterous consequences of climate change include government incentives for switching to renewable energy and putting a price on carbon. The price on carbon in particular could allow people to make a profit from protecting the planet by selling carbon-cutting initiatives to businesses looking to save money (Time).
The stakes for implementing initiatives like these couldn’t be higher. If we don’t elect leaders who make these and other major changes, the planet will all need for our survival will likely pay the price.
Experts predict 35 percent of the global land area in 2050 could experience more than 20 days a year of deadly heat if major economies like the U.S. continue to ignore scientific recommendations about climate change (Breakthrough - National Centre for Climate Restoration).
As the first term of the current administration winds down and campaigns for 2020 truly heat up, I’ve felt myself feeling incredibly lost and disenchanted at times.
However, I find paying more attention to the 2020 election helps me feel empowered and hopeful. Also, I believe to see the changes we’d like to see, we need to actively participate in the politics that shape our lives.
For this post, I’m going to break down the importance of staying up to date on politics, some simple things we can all do to get involved, and how we can maintain faith in the political systems set up by our Founding Fathers.
Why It Matters
Would you like to take a guess as to where the U.S. ranks in terms of its voting turnout among 32 developed countries? You’re right, it’s low. In 2016, we ranked 26th among the 32 nations. Only just over half of the nation’s eligible voters--55.7%--cast ballots (Time).
I’ve heard people say that voting, especially for the president, doesn’t matter. The electoral college system is what really decides the presidential election results. This isn’t wrong (Archives.gov). Yes, there are 538 electors and the majority of their votes decides the presidency. But guess what is involved in these electors being chosen? Voters casting their ballots in the general election (Archives.gov).
To my understanding, presidential candidates have a slate of electors you’re also voting for when you vote for the president. The winning candidate’s electors then go on to become the electors for whatever state you voted in (in most states). The names of electors may or may not appear on the ballot, depending on what state you’re in. When you vote for the president you are also telling your state which candidate you want it to vote for when its electors meet (Archives.gov).
More importantly, voting is a vital way to remind politicians who it is they really serve (Time). It’s necessary to keep our democracy healthy.
When we don’t vote, we weaken the values our democracy stands on. This makes democracy more vulnerable to attacks and negativity that further decreases voter turnout in a cycle I think we’re seeing now.
Another excuse that can be common is that no matter how one particular person might vote, a certain community, city, or state is sure to vote a certain way because it has for many years.
But I think this further weakens democracy. This leads to candidates often skipping over these areas for debates. However, history has shown that there are no guarantees for how a state will vote. Roy Moore is a Democrat who was voted to the Alabama Senate and Charlie Baker is a Republican governor of Massachusetts (Time).
Another important aspect of not voting is that it sends a message to kids. When more than 40% of all eligible voters don’t show up, what does that tell future voters?
I think a 12-year-old’s commentary to a radio station about this message is spot on: “I fear the message being planted in their brains is something like this: ‘Politicians and politics in general are corrupt and bad, so why should I take part in them anyway?’”
And honestly if for no other reason, think about the planet we may be handing over to our children when we don't vote for leaders who take action to protect it?
For instance, the current president could be allowed to continue his barrage of undoing environmental protections if there aren't enough votes for another candidate in the 2020 general election. Remember, he’s rolled back nearly 100 so far and shows no signs of slowing down (New York Times).
Many of these rollbacks are designed to make it easier for fossil fuel companies to spew gases into the atmosphere that will make the impacts of climate change ever more catastrophic.
Ways to Get Engaged
As I’ve been stressing, voting is one of the best ways to bolster our democracy and to restore faith in our political system.
Voting in primaries, which have passed or are coming up in many states, is a great way to launch into this participation.
Primaries began as a movement in the 20th century to give more power to citizens in determining the candidates for each political party (Votesmart.org).
It can be important to know whether a primary is open or closed. In open primaries, any registered voter can participate. In closed primaries, only voters registered with a particular party can vote.
The New York Times has a handy Election 2020 Calendar that lists all the primary dates in addition to other important dates regarding the election. For all my fellow New Yorkers reading this, our primary is April 28th (mark that calendar if you haven’t yet!)
However, if you do have plans that conflict with the primary dates or even the big one--Election Day 2020 on Nov. 3--most states do allow early voting in some form, which you can check out here.
If you are feeling brave and you have some spare time, you can reach out to volunteer with a political campaign. They might just have you do work that seems unimportant at first, like registering voters or making phone calls, but eventually you could work your way up to more important tasks (ThoughtCo).
You can even run for a local office yourself--you don’t need to be rich or know everything. In fact, NPR has a helpful guide that recommends mainly knowing to ask a lot of questions and building a strong campaign staff.
If you are more of an introvert, there are still ways you can play an important part in the political realm. Staying engaged and educated in what candidates are advocating for through trustworthy sources is a great start.
The key is making sure sources are accurate and truthful, especially with the current “wild west” standards of the internet (ThoughtCo).
Some important ways to make sure an online source is honest and trustworthy include:
• Looking for a credible organization it represents (the best are long-standing institutions such as colleges, universities, non-profits, or government agencies
• Making sure websites specialize in a topic they are providing information about
• Keeping an eye out for old publication dates
• Staying clear of anonymous authors, and perhaps most importantly...
• Being wary of political bias--such as a website only reporting liberal news or vice-versa
If you’d like something more active, you can write letters to potential voters in swing states or states with critical elections (Votefwd.org). While this may not seem like much, many randomized trials have shown this really works!
Finally for my fellow Western New Yorkers, please consider checking out an event to talk about politics in a nonjudgmental, supportive, and open setting on March 24th starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Spot coffee in downtown Buffalo (the corner of Delaware and West Chippewa). You can learn more about it by checking out this Facebook event.
Believing Things Can and Will Get Better
If you're like me, you’ve probably been pumping your brain full of media coverage of the campaigns and the current administration’s wrongdoings.
But I think it’s important to keep things in historical perspective. If you paid attention in history class, you probably know the nation has been more divided--like that time when the south literally almost became its own country during the Civil War.
Our brains are simply hardwired to always believe we are at a pivotal moment in history because this is a form of social assertion that it rewards with a serotonin boost (WomenWorking.com). This is also why people may “dig in their heels” to support particular parties or candidates--it makes us feel more important in these particular spheres.
Of course that doesn’t mean we don’t have huge issues at stake for the upcoming election. I’m just offering a reason to maybe feel a bit less overwhelmed by it all--democracy has been messy before, but it’s persevered because people have supported and believed in it.
Worldwide, democracy is continuing to gain strength. At the end of 2017, globally nearly 60% of all countries with a population more than 500,000 were some kind of democracy (Pewresearch.org). Democracy has been on the rise since the end of the Cold War. In fact, more than a third of the 75 countries considered autocracise in 1987 became democracies by 2019 (Pewresearch.org).
Unfortunately, the planet’s health hasn’t been so lucky. We are living in the midst of the Earth’s 6th mass extinction, and it’s as bad as it sounds: a United Nations report found 1 million species on Earth are threatened with extinction (Business Insider). More dire, in just a few human lifetimes, 75 percent of the world’s species could be extinct (Business Insider).
Think this might not include you? Consider this: the species that are very at risk include pollinators like bees which are crucial for growing the food we eat. About $557 billion in crops are at risk from the declines in wild bee populations, the UN reports.
As you can imagine, tackling the extinction crisis and climate change are going to take massive efforts on major scales.
Luckily most of the candidates running for president in the 2020 election have extensive plans to take on these threats, with everything from creating 20 million new jobs to reconstruct the nation’s energy system to run on entirely renewable sources (BernieSanders.com) to creating tax credits for capturing and storing carbon (Vox).
Both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar support this carbon capture and storage (CSS), which involves catching carbon dioxide emissions before they can go into the atmosphere and storing them deep underground. Many experts agree this can be a game-changing way to significantly cut emissions from major industrial and carbon-dependent practices like creating steel, cement, and fertilizer (weforum.org).
If you are interested in learning more about these initiatives to save the planet that the current democratic candidates have planned, I’ve got blogs in the works about policies that involve CSS and more that the candidates have proposed. So stay tuned!
And please, try to stay hopeful. I know it’s difficult if you, like me, are incredibly concerned for our beautiful planet that seems to be wilting before our eyes.
But I passionately believe in the words of Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” (LifeHacker).
If we elect the right leaders, we can rise above the challenges before us and preserve our planet. Hopefully, we can save it in all its splendor for not only our golden years, but for the later years of those bright-eyed babies alive today and the children learning about the massive challenges they may face to maintain the most basic of human rights: a livable planet.
https://time.com/5434387/nancy-gibbs-vote-matters/ (U.S. voter turnout)
https://www.archives.gov/electoral-college/about (electoral college)