Politics: A Dirty Word?

President Nixon signing a document

If you’re like me, you were most likely taught to avoid three topics of discussion; sex, politics, and religion. For most occasions, this is sound advice. People tend to have very strong opinions on politics and religion in particular, and questioning those beliefs is considered rude. I shall leave it up to you whether you wish to discuss sex or religion with your friends and colleagues, but I hope this blog offers a different perspective on that forbidden third topic: politics, and why as an environmentalist, political advocacy is critical. Admittedly, it can certainly be uncomfortable, but if we look through our history, the greatest environmental achievements have been made through political action, utilizing our democratic rights to their fullest extent. The question then arises: how else does one start a movement if not with a discussion?

Original source of graphic is unknown.

The golden era of modern American environmentalism occurred in the 1970s, resulting in the landmark creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the codification of laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Clean Water and Air Acts of 1970 and 1972, as well as the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Keep in mind all of these acts were signed into law by the Republican icon himself, Richard Nixon. These laws have been the framework of American environmental regulation in this country since that time and have served as the grounds on which citizens are able to take businesses to court and hold them accountable. The 1970s were marked by the emphatic activism of many people across America, and most importantly, strong bipartisan support for environmental issues. In today’s climate of partisan division, even the environment has become a democrat/republican issue. A critical way to end this trend towards partisanship is conversation. If every day people would discuss these issues with one another, we would find that we have more in common than not, and maybe that way we could all defend the environment together.

 

President Richard Nixon signing the Clean Air Act into law.
Retrieved from The National Archives

You, the average environmentalist, already do a lot. You go out to clean-ups on the weekend, you have long foregone the use of most single-use plastics, you vote for the President every four years, and you’ve been known to call your representative every now and again, “what else do you want from me?” I hear you say. All of these things are wonderful, but individual action can only go so far. To see significant results, we must put a premium on collective action. If there is one thing the environmental community should learn from the current administration is the fragile nature of Executive Orders.

Many people were enthusiastic with the announcement of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), and rightfully so. President Trump then repealed the CPP within his first year in office, demonstrating how easily an Executive Order can be completely eradicated. This is where Congress comes in, and your participation in off-year elections. Although NEPA and the ESA have been attacked many times, they still remain. This is because they have been codified in law by Congress. It is clear, then, that voting pro-environmental candidates to office results in longer-lasting positive effects for environmental regulation. The League of Conservation Voters grade every member of Congress on their defense of the environment. You can find this annual report here: http://scorecard.lcv.org/.

 

Photos retrieved from link above.

If you are truly passionate about the environment, then being an active participant in our democracy is critical, given the knowledge that laws passed by Congress are the best way of ensuring environmental protection. You can do so in a number of ways but I suggest starting with something simple: a conversation. Then, on November 6, when you don’t know where your closest polling place is and you are worrying about fitting it into your long To-Do list, remember your place as the ultimate vessel of power in this country and vote! In the immortal words of Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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