Vote, dammit

votingbooth.jpgWhat’s the single most important thing you can do to fight climate change? Trading in your car for a bicycle is laudable. Getting a TerraPass for your home energy use is nice. These actions make a difference, and in aggregate they help to move the needle.

But if you want to make a difference, you gotta get to the ballot box on November 7.

Why is voting so important? Isn’t TerraPass a market-based mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Haven’t we written before about businesses leading the way in the fight against climate change? Aren’t the technological and economic barriers to clean energy steadily being overcome?

Yes, yes, and yes. Businesses and individuals can show leadership, but ultimately we need leadership from our government as well. The scope of the climate change problem demands coordination on a huge scale. Global warming is a vast puzzle that cuts across borders and topics ranging from energy infrastructure, urban planning, land use, agricultural policy, transportation, and the list goes on.

I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. Nor am I going to suggest that climate change is the only important issue the world faces. I will say, though, that in five years’ time many of the pressing issues of this electoral cycle will already be fading memories. And in fifty years’ time, few of today’s issues will be anything more than historical footnotes.

The same can not be said for global warming. Scientists tell us that we’ve already committed to a degree of change that will be working its way through our climate system for many decades to come. The CO2 we’ve accumulated today is enough to guarantee a steady rise in temperatures through the middle of this century. If there is any issue our descendants (and, well, our future selves) will judge us on, it is this one.

Let your candidates know that this an issue that matters to you. If you live in a district with a safe seat (and these days, most people do), consider making a donation to a candidate in a tight race who shares your views on the environment. You can also make a donation of time to a campaign, which in some ways is the most gratifying way to get involved in one of our most important civic processes.

Update: A commenter points out that it’s just as important to actually let your elected officials know that climate change is an issue you care about. A vote can be interpreted many ways, but a direct communication over this issue sends a clear message. Call, write or email — just remember to be courteous and well-reasoned (passionate never hurts either).

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  1. David yeh - October 2, 2006

    Great blog. And I support voting 100% but writing your representative is also important. It is a clearer focused message to our legislators that CC is important. One’s vote may be misconstrued as a referendum on other issues (Iraq, taxes)

  2. Anonymous - October 4, 2006

    Why don’t you suggest who we should be voting for? If you really believe that it’s the “single most important thing” we can do to effect climate change, isn’t it a cop out not to suggest which candidates or parties are doing a better or worse job managing the legislative response to climate change?

    Or, perhaps someone else is tracking that kind of thing? If so, a link or a reference would be immensely helpful.

    (I think I know the answer to who I should be voting for, but I think people need not be afraid to call a spade a spade. Or maybe I’m wrong, and an informed discussion would be terrific.)

  3. Ryan - October 4, 2006

    Though I’m all about independent investigation of the truth, I second everything Anon said.

  4. Adam Stein - October 4, 2006

    Hi folks —
    A couple of reasons we’re not telling people who to vote for:
    1) We write what we know. What we know is climate change, energy technology, energy policy, etc. About half the blogosphere is given over to political debate, and we don’t have much to add to that discussion.
    Of course, we discuss politics all the time on this blog, but generally in the context of policy discussion, not specific candidates. There are literally hundreds of races going on right now. We couldn’t name candidates in 99% of them.
    2) We believe that the partisan overtones of much of the global warming debate are greatly overblown and will eventually fade as the urgency of the problem becomes more clear.
    People who would like us to “call a spade a spade” will only be frustrated by the lack of political red meat we have to offer up. We regularly talk to people all across the political spectrum who care about climate change and have something meaningful to contribute to the solution. Not long ago, I visited a bunch of the projects that TerraPass funds, mostly in the so-called red states, and I can assure you that people there are being directly affected by climate change and are deeply concerned about it. Meanwhile Republican and Democrat governors on both coasts are busy staking out the forefront of climate change action in the U.S. So those looking to us for a simple rule to follow will be disappointed.
    No doubt some will find this stance excessively high-minded — fair enough — but those people probably know who they’re voting for anyway.
    3) I’d echo what David says above: most of us live in districts with safe seats. So just as important as voting is letting your political leaders know that climate change is an issue you care about. Now is an especially good time to write or call, as politicians are likely to be more attentive during an election cycle.
    – Adam

  5. Settembrini - October 4, 2006

    Yes, Adam, there are conservatives in favor of CO2 reduction, and governors like Arnold have been great leaders in the cause. But let’s get real. The GOP leadership in Washington is 100% against the types of policies needed to combat global warming. John McCain is a good man who understands the problem, but the reality is, he will vote for Mitch McConnell as leader, and the election of Republicans will allow the party of James “GW is a Hoax” Inhofe the ability to control our energy policy. In the House, the GOP leadership is even more extreme, and their continued majority will only make the situation worse.

    I understand you have a business, and you also have a goal to remain inclusive to ensure the widespread use of TerraPass. But to not advocate the Democratic party, at this time the only party ready and willing to take on our CO2 emissions, is to do a disservice to the cause.

  6. Adam Stein - October 4, 2006

    I forgot one:
    4) We have an open comment policy, and we assumed our faithful readers would chime in with their own opinions that were likely to be better considered than ours. (We also assumed we’d be skewered for even writing this post, but, hey, win some, lose some.)
    However, here’s a candidate opinion that we can agree on: James Inhofe is an ass. If you happen to be living in Oklahoma in two years time, please do what you can to rid the Senate of this blight.

  7. Maria - October 4, 2006

    There are two pieces of legislation floating around the House (H.R. 5642-the Safe Climate Act of 2006-introduced by Henry Waxman D-CA) and Senate (S. 3698- the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act- from Independent Jim Jeffords).
    These pieces of legislation call for a for a mandatory market-based cap and trade system, with the following goals and limits:
    * Average global temperatures do not increase above 3.6°F (2°C) above the preindustrial average
    * Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) do not exceed 450 parts per million
    * US CO2eq emissions are reduced by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.
    Ask your Senators and Representatives to sign on as a co-sponsor. Do this not just with an email or fax, but call on the phone and set up an appointment with your Congressionperson or Senators local office. Bring like minded friends if you can or just go by yourself. Its easier than you think and it will show that you want change. Voting is important, but showing up at your elected officials office to say that you want and expect them to take action on climate change goes even further.
    Here’s a link to more information:

  8. Walt - October 6, 2006

    Dear Adam, uh whats this about “dinner party” rules? Someone called Jim Inhofe an ass. Guess we’ll stay tuned to see how you’ll make the author look silly. Oh that was you?
    Seriously though you’ll probably get better results when dealing with ANY Politician if you don’t resort to this type of lanuage. If anything, this could backfire on you.
    No I’m not connected with Jim Inhofe.
    Take care,
    [Ed. note — Jim Inhofe isn’t invited to my dinner party.]

  9. Chad - October 8, 2006

    As a Terrapass-owning libertarian-style Republican, reading this thread got me thinking about what it is about the environmental movement that has really turned off conservatives. Obviously, everyone wants clean water and air, pretty mountains and forests to play in, and wildlife to view, regardless of political persuasion. Where along the line did environmentlism become a dirty word on the right?
    First and foremost, the biggest issue is property rights. Let me repeat that: PROPERTY RIGHTS. As one can conclude from the recent uproar and political backlash to the Kelo decision, property rights are important to people of all colors and stripes. The environmental movement only hurts itself when it sets up property rights as the enemy. Unfortunately, this is exactly what it has done. The basis of most environmental regulation is a form of seizing control of private property without compensation. Not only is this unfair to the land-owner, but it often backfires completely. In terms of unfairness, it is often pointed out by the environmental movement that the government “couldn’t afford” to pay for all the rights that, in practice, it seizes when it places environmental restrictions on land. However, as pointed out by numerous economists, this argument is bunk. The costs are not any less when the entire burden is instead dumped upon a few unlucky land-owners. If the taxpayers can’t afford it, a few unfortunate and innocent souls can’t afford it, either. Worse yet, the seizure model often backfires. There isn’t a rancher or farmer in the country that doesn’t know that the proper response to finding an endangered species on his or her property is to kill it and bury it before anyone finds out. I just read a news article about a particular woodpecker in North Carolina. Some level of government wanted to declare a certain type of tree in a particular area as habitat for the poor bird. The local landowners’ response? Over 500 people strip-cut their entire property before the debate could be finished on the matter. Both the land-owners and the birds clearly lost.
    The environmental movement needs to learn to work WITH landowners rather than AGAINST landowners. This is why I support the Nature Conservatory rather than the Sierra Club, for example. The former buys land and protects it. The latter sues everyone, trying to force people to do what the Sierra Club wishes.
    As long as the environmental movement continues to be anti-land-owner, it will always be boxing itself into an unnecessary corner.

  10. greenfuture - October 11, 2006

    I own the land I live on, and I like to control what goes on, on ‘my’ property, but I also recognize that the land will be here much longer than I (I’m not immortal, are you?), so I don’t get too excited about “property rights”.

  11. Tina - October 11, 2006

    Chad’s comment about the proper response to finding an endangered species is exactly what’s wrong with the vast majority of Republicans AND Libertarians. The proper response is to treasure the opportunity to make an impact–a POSITIVE, life-affirming impact, that is, on the Earth for all it’s inhabitants instead of thinking only of your own greed. The proper reponse is to re-think your development plans and consider a more altruistic path than lining your own pockets. YOUR money is not more important than everybody and everything else’s well-being. And yes, I am also a landowner, and I would be thrilled to find something like an endangered speces on my property so that I could feel that I made a difference by protecting it for future generations. But I don’t look at my small piece of land as a cash cow, I think of it as my home, my son’s home, my pets’ home, the toads and snakes and bunnies and deer and every other wild thing that comes to visit’s home. It’s precious to me, but not for it’s cash value.

  12. trese - October 11, 2006

    With regards to the cost of compensation when enforcing the Endangered Species Act, the costs are not equal if you consider that tax payers are going to be asked to put up real dollars, but the “money” the landowner loses, under the current law, is “potential profit.” Let’s say, I ask for 1 million dollars because I had intended to build a hotel on my land, and now the ESA has taken that opportunity away. Tax payers would have to pay that, although the “loss” to me, the landowner, is in reality a loss of potential income, but that is not the same as saying it cost me “out of pocket” dollars. Furthermore, I still own the land and can simply adjust my plans and profit from the use of my land in some other way.

  13. Lynn - October 11, 2006

    What terra pass could do that would be very helpful is to provide links to all bills and ammendments with environmental implications.
    Here is a site that shows voting records as analysed by various groups:
    This site provides information on who paid for what vote:
    There is a lot of really interesting stuff, well documented and organized by issue.

  14. Chad - October 16, 2006

    Tina, not everyone is so fortunate that they can just absorb the government coming in and passing a regulation that devalues their property by several hundred thousand dollars – nor should they have to.
    How would you feel if the government decided that your house was prime territory for some rare frog, and decided to bulldoze it, without compensation, to build a wetland? This is obviously an extreme example, but it illustrates the point that it is unfair to do such things, whether we are talking about a $10,000 loss or a $10,000,000 loss.

  15. Maria - October 18, 2006

    Chad: with all due respect, you are talking in hypotheticals. This discussion started out on the topic of why you should vote. I realize the idea of these blogs is to let the discussion evolve and lots of times we learn interesting things from others. That is important also.
    If you have some tangible examples of government intrusion and extreme losses like someone having there house bulldozed to save a frog, please list them. You could enlighten us all. But if you want to talk in abstractions and hypotheticals to illustrate your point, you aren’t giving any validity to your argument.
    Also, painting the entire “environmental movement” as “anti-landowner”, is using a broad brush. Your whole argument sounds like one made to obfuscate the issues. Please talk in tangibles and correct me if I’m wrong.