From Patagonia’s website, a message I feel is very important for all my friends who appreciate our natural resources.
Your vote affects the air you breathe, the energy you use, and the water you drink. Your candidate could determine the outcome of a bill in Congress. In the Senate in 2008, a proposal to drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge lost by only 14 votes. Your vote counts on the national level but it also affects your local environment, your own backyard. Your vote could affect the Gulf of Mexico and your favorite river, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and your neighborhood bird sanctuary.
Eighteen governorships, 10 Senate seats and 30 House seats are too close to call this year, not to mention countless other state and local races. Everyone elected will have an impact on our Earth.
Make your vote count.
- Register to vote
- Know the environmental records of your candidates
- Vote the environment on Election Day
We asked writer Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Eaarth to tell us why voting is important.
Making Your Vote Count
By Bill McKibben
Most people get to vote in this country. The trick is making your vote count for as much as possible. Unless you take steps, your vote will merely be a lonely integer in a crowded pile. It will express only one thought—I like this guy better than that guy. Barack Obama will be a better president than John McCain. Senator Barbara Boxer will make better choices than Senator Carly Fiorina. Or vice versa. That doesn’t tell Obama what you want him to do once he’s in office—it doesn’t help Boxer choose which issues to work on with real intensity. It’s like going into a restaurant and telling them you’d like dinner instead of breakfast—pretty basic guidance.
There are a couple of ways to make sure your real passions are heard.
The first is to have a very large sum of money, with which to accompany your vote. In fact, if you make a large donation, you hardly need to vote—you’ll definitely be listened to. And in truth, the numbers don’t even have to be that big. If you happen to be, say, a Hollywood mogul, $30,000 will put you on a first name basis with half of Washington. A tenth of that makes you a power broker in many states. A hundredth of that will likely get you a phone call from your Congressman. In a statewide race, a couple of thousand dollars makes you a serious player.
But let’s assume you don’t have much money to spare. Another way to exercise influence is to look around your polling place and see if you see an exit pollster—in some sense, they’re almost as important as the people who count the votes, because legislators study their results closely to see why they won or lost. If you get the chance to talk to one, don’t waste your moment telling them that ‘the economy’ was your most important issue—that’s what almost everyone says. Say something a little more specific: “the environment,” or “clean water” or “renewable energy.”
But let’s assume that you don’t have a lot of money, and you don’t run into one of the small number of exit pollsters. That’s okay—you still have a chance to make yourself understood. In the weeks and months before the election, you can join in some event that gets your passion clearly across.
Here, for instance, is what we’re planning at 350.org, the giant grassroots global warming campaign. Last year we coordinated 5200 simultaneous rallies in 181 countries, but this year we’re hosting a global work party. On 10/10/10, a few weeks before American elections (and right around Indian and Australian voting, and likely lots of other places too), people will be gathering in thousands of communities to do something constructive about climate change: put up a solar panel, dig a community garden, lay out a bike path. (In Auckland, their goal for the day will be to fix up every bike in every garage in the city!) In part we’re doing this because these plans make sense. But we know we can’t solve climate change one bike path at a time—that will take legislation that resets the price of energy.
So local organizers will be inviting all the candidates for office to attend these work parties. They’ll be handing them a shovel so they can help—but they’ll also be handing them a message. We’re getting to work: what about you? If we can climb up on the roof of the school and hammer in a solar panel, we’re seriously expecting you to climb to the floor of the Senate and hammer out some legislation.
We need to take advantage of elections for what they really are—a chance to connect with and shape the people we’re getting ready to put into power. Your ballot is useful but limited; you need to be eloquent and stubborn. It’s how it works.
Bill McKibben is the author of Eaarth and The End of Nature. He is the founder of 350.org.