(Article originally published on Monday, November 2nd)
Here’s a contrarian viewpoint. Regardless of who wins this election, climate activists still have a lot of work to do.
I don’t mean the nut’s and bolts work of trying to rebuild the Clean Power Plan, re-enter the Paris Accord, our launch the Green New Deal. We have to do those things anyway.
I mean the work we have to do because a large percentage of Americans voted for candidates that rolled back over 108 climate and environmental regulations, who deny science, and who use fossil fuel support to stay in power.
Why is it now OK to dump coal ash into our streams and rivers? Why is it now OK to allow more mercury pollution and air pollution from power plants? Why is it now OK to spray neurotoxins on our crops? No one wants to drink polluted water, breath polluted air, or eat toxic food. But still a large number of us sit back or disengage. Including many politicians.
Granted that the current election has absorbed our focus. GOTV, fighting voter suppression, and mobilizing are consuming our attention, as they should. No one doubts that this election is the most important of our lifetimes. But here’s the deal with elections. There’s one every two or four years. Every one seems critical. And we do the same dance for each one. We also expect the next leader to save us.
Mobilization is a short term tactic, not a strategy. We believe that if we turn out more voters for our candidates, then those candidates will get elected and go into office to implement policies we support. This seems logical and reasonable. But we can question whether it is working for us. Our country is still very divided. So even if one party should win, the loyal opposition is there to slow things down, put up roadblocks and compromise the hell out of policy.
I don’t play the age card very often. I am older than dirt and don’t have a lot of time. So you’d think that the tactic of mobilization and electing climate leaders would be at the top of my list. It is… but my single plea to environmental and climate organizations is to add more focus on the long game.
We need urgency and we need a long game. We cannot implement the kind of changes needed to save ourselves and the earth by simply electing climate champions. We need to do that. But we also need to create an ethos and activate a set of values among us that makes climate or any social justice issue easier to solve.
Imagine waking up to a new climate, environmental, or social issue. Imagine that we immediately put a group of social and physical scientists on the problem to diagnose it and come up with recommendations. What if then, there was no great disagreement on policy but we passed legislation and funding that helped solve the new problem? And we all got behind it.
The only way that this can happen is if we, as a society, agree on the same core values that we share. If our stories and world views are similar.
This happens in some countries around the world, so it’s not impossible. For example, New Zealand and a few other countries have managed to contain COVID-19. There are countries like Costa Rica that are going fossil free. There are countries that manage to provide health care for all of their inhabitants.
We fail in part because we focus too much on the short term. It is the urgency of the current moment, the current issue and winning. Every climate or social organization now needs to ask this question.
What will we do to change and engage the hearts of our fellow citizens before the next election?
If we fail to activate the values that connect us, then we are condemned to face a culture where it is OK to pollute, shoot unarmed black people, lock people up, and build walls. Sure, the real question is how do we do change? Here’s just one example from the opposition. Voter fraud.
There is no voter fraud you say. And that is the point. The Right creates an issue and then tells stories around a violation of fairness and security. The story is about how your values are being violated. The Left refutes the frame by denying it, and inadvertently reinforces it until half of Americans believe that there is voter fraud. Never mind that we have been manipulated by fear and falsehoods. Something deep inside us is activated. There are a few who are promoting a different story, one of “everyone counts, and count every vote,” but it remains to be seen if it is too little too late.
We don’t have to use the same corrupt approach of lying, fear and division as in this example. There is a quote attributed to Edmund Burke, a 19th century philosopher, that says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I believe the only thing necessary for us to triumph over climate inaction is for good men to tell better stories.
If we want to save ourselves, we will need to tell better stories. This requires having a positive vision. Inspiring others. Creating heroes and building an identity that brings in others.
The long game strategy is to activate our common values. We need to play a long game in addition to a short game. The tactic of the long game is for us to tell better stories. What stories will you tell, next week? Next year?
Thank you for what you do.
‘We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™