Over the past year and a half, there have been bold and inspiring moves in the right direction when it comes to climate. The Obama Administration put forward the Clean Power Plan, a landmark policy that promises to move the country towards increased renewables and more efficient power generation. Just last December, over 170 nations came together at COP 21 in Paris and signed a landmark climate deal, pledging to keep global temperatures from exceeding the 2 degree threshold. Governors from California to Massachusetts have implemented ambitious new policies that are leading the way on statewide emission mandates, renewable energy goals, and even cap-and-trade programs. And in our cities, mayors have developed and implemented climate action plans that have successfully slashed fossil fuel emissions, increased energy efficiency, and improved the quality of their communities.
Each of these, and surely countless other, climate conscious decisions represent the possibilities for effecting positive environmental change at the local, state, national and international levels. They were also all developed, passed, and will be implemented by our elected leaders.
Climate Action Through Government Action
While elected representatives often get a bad rap, what is clear is that many of the greatest climate victories at all levels of government wouldn’t exist without their work. So with the 2016 election now right around the corner, it is incumbent on officials to make their commitments and achievements on sustainability known.
With the consequences of a changing climate becoming harder to deny, and more Americans being affected, the condition of our planet is now more salient than ever. For most Americans, this increased issue prominence isn’t simply about a cleaner environment, but about connecting the dots between climate solutions and better jobs, cleaner and healthier cities to live and raise a family, and economic considerations like lower energy bills.
What You Can Do
Fortunately, every year we are collectively given the opportunity to steer our cities, states, and country in a new direction by simply casting our vote. As simple a solution as this may seem, too many Americans neglect this critical component of climate action. The following are three simple ways to maximize your voice on climate through voting:
- Register to vote: election laws can be complicated and vary across states. What they all have in common though, is that you must be registered to vote before casting your ballot. In some states registration deadlines have already passed, but for most Americans there is still time. Check out your state’s laws and get registered as soon as possible.
- Get educated: this year in California there are 17 ballot initiatives, in addition to local, county, state and federal elections. Ballots can get complicated, initiatives often read like legal documents, and it is not uncommon for measures to seem unclear or misleading. Fortunately, there are some tools available to help you cast the votes that best align with your values and priorities. For instance, voter guides, like ones released by the League of Conservation Voters, can help untangle which issues or candidates best represent your views.
- Vote: once registered, and once you are familiar with the issues and candidates, be sure to get out and vote. Know where your polling location is, when the polls open and close, and whether you need any identification to cast your vote. You may also opt to vote by mail via an absentee ballot if you think that making it to your polling place may be too burdensome, impractical, or if it is simply more convenient.
Climate change and the environment are still politically divisive, and elected leaders must be aware of the potential difficulties when it comes to communicating about these issues. What is also true is that climate action is a political winner. Americans want cleaner neighborhoods. They want healthier cities where they can live and raise a family. They want stable, well paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. And they want lower energy bills and higher home values.
Mayors and elected leaders can communicate these benefits with their communities through well-researched and tested methods. Through effective communication, elected officials can benefit politically from the benefits of climate action—like a better economy, more jobs and cleaner, healthier cities.
This November 8, Americans will be given the opportunity to exercise their ability to choose the climate direction of the country. Office holders must make their positions clear, and voters must make their voices heard. So be sure to get out and vote for climate solutions!
Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University, where he focused on climate change, political communications and psychology. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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