Concern for the environment has been a political issue since the first Earth Day in 1970. While there's plenty of debate about whether it receives enough attention, politicians and elected officials now discuss energy use, global warming, and even clean air and water right alongside more traditional hot button political issues like the economy, national security, health care, and education.
In fact, 73 percent of Americans say that political candidates' environmental positions are "very important" or "somewhat important," and 30 percent cite the environment as an "extremely important" factor in deciding for whom to vote. Making your pro-environment views known on the political scene—at the local, regional, and federal level—can help influence environmental policy and green your community, state, country, and, since environmental issues know no human borders, even the world at large.
Political party affiliation
No matter what your political persuasion—whether Republican, Democrat, Green Party, Libertarian, or anything in between—keeping tabs on what your elected officials are doing (or not doing, as the case may be) for the environment can help you ensure that your environmental beliefs are reflected in the policies of those who represent you.
Political parties in the US are often known for supporting or not supporting particular issues: It’s generally agreed, for example, that Democrats support policies that provide social and economic programs for those in need, while Republicans emphasize private enterprise to build a strong private sector that will make citizens less dependent on government. The Green Party is generally seen as a pro-environment and social justice organization, while Libertarians are seen as having a hands-off approach, believing that each individual should be sovereign over his or her own life with little governmental interference.
But don’t let the stereotypes sway you. While party affiliation can help you get a sense of an overall platform, individual politicians in any party may have beliefs that run counter to the majority in their party. What's more, the political philosophies of parties often evolve over time. To find out whose environmental views match your own, research the environmental records or platforms of candidates for public office.
According to Rock The Vote’s website, voting is “no harder than getting cash out of an ATM,” yet only 50.4 percent of the voting-age American public voted in the 2000 presidential election, and even fewer people vote in off-presidential year and local elections. Fifty-one percent of Americans say the US government is doing too little to protect the environment and 61 percent consider themselves active participants in or sympathizers with the environmental movement, yet many of them aren't turning out to vote.
More than 11 million Americans belong to environmental organizations, but in recent elections, these greenies haven’t voted in proportional numbers any greater than other Americans. If voter turnout among the environmentally concerned were to improve, more leaders with a heightened environmental awareness could be in office today. Voters who are concerned with the environment are many, and there is great progress to be made when large numbers of people share common concerns: Consider the fact that, in the 2000 election, the Sierra Club had more members than the margins of victory in key battleground states, meaning that Sierra Club members alone could have changed the outcome of an election for what is considered to be the most powerful position in the world.
By taking the time to research the environmental records or platforms of candidates for public office, and then voting for the ones with strong positions, you can rest assured that the people you vote for have the same environmental priorities as you.
In between elections, there are numerous ways to continue to make your voice heard. One of the easiest ways to get involved is to join an environmental advocacy organization, like the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and others. These groups lobby legislators on behalf of the environment, organize media events and gatherings, and solicit and collect messages in support of environmental legislation from members and the general public. By becoming a member of such a group, you’ll be kept up to date on environmental legislation and actions, and you’ll have a guide to help you figure out how to act on the issues that concern you.
Many of these groups also offer e-mail alerts to anyone who wishes to sign up. These alerts will appear in your inbox every so often (usually weekly or bi-weekly) asking you to send an e-mail to an elected official urging action on a particular environmental issue. You can also send e-mails or letters, or make phone calls or personal visits to your elected officials on your own. Contacting elected officials can guide policy decisions. For example, in 2006, when an estimated 4,800 Pennsylvanians commented in support of the state's proposed Clean Vehicles Program and nearly 11,000 Pennsylvanians commented in support of Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed mercury reduction rule, the Legislature dropped efforts to block implementation of the two programs. The monumental victory will reduce mercury emissions from Pennsylvania's coal-fired power plants 90 percent by 2015, and reduce annual emissions of smog-forming pollutants from cars and trucks by 10 percent by 2025.
As stated by Rep. Elizabeth Furse of Oregon's First Congressional District: "Now, more than ever, what we in Congress need is plain old grassroots pressure—letters, phone calls, and personal visits from constituents. My colleagues in Congress are not hearing enough from concerned citizens who want to promote peace and protect the environment."
For the more environmentally active, you can also enlist the help of the media when urging elected officials to support environmental policies. By writing op-eds, letters to the editor, or organizing press conferences and media events, you can call attention to the need for environmental reform in your community and beyond. Who knows? You may even inspire others to join the movement as well.
- Web Pro News - How to influence local politics
- Minnesota Daily - Environment affects student voting
- Grist - Electoral College: A special edition on elections and the environment
- Tech Crunch - New Data Confirms Growing Influence of Internet on Politics, But Not Quite Yet the Deciding Factor
- Global Neighbourhood - Why Should We Consider the Environment When We Vote?
- Grist - Whatever floats your vote: Fun facts on voters' environmental values and more
- Science Daily - Pollution Knows No Borders
- US Diplomatic Mission to Germany - US Government: Political Parties
- Green Party - About the Green Party
- Libertarian Party - National Platform of the Libertarian Party
- Rock The Vote - Voting Is So Easy
- Voting Is Healthy - Why Should I Get Involved?
- Grist - Unified Field Theory: Can a beat-Bush effort yield a progressive coalition with staying power?
- eHow.com - How to influence politics (Clothing optional
- Environment America - Global Warming Solutions News: Victory Declared On Mercury, Clean Car Rules
- Empowerment Zone - Old-fashioned Letter Writing: Why we still write letters