In the 2020 Elections, Voting Isn’t Enough
We at BuildingGreen have generally avoided taking political stands. I believe that regardless of our positions on fiscal policy or a range of social issues, we can—and must—come together to protect the ecological functions that support life as we know it on planet Earth.
Whether or not our apolitical position made sense in the past, it certainly doesn’t hold for this year’s presidential election in the United States. Unfortunately, the need to address climate change, which once had bipartisan support, is very much on the ballot. Even faced with multiple simultaneous natural disasters—forest fires, hurricanes—that are exacerbated by climate change, President Trump not only ignores the scientific consensus but actively undermines public trust in it. His behavior is so extreme that the editorial board of Scientific American, which had never endorsed a candidate in its 175-year history, has come out strongly in favor of Joe Biden.
This administration hasn’t merely stymied efforts to address the U.S.’s impacts on climate change. Its posture regarding international cooperation and multilateral agreements is impeding efforts around the world. We fixed the hole in the ozone layer with unprecedented international collaboration in the 1980s and ’90s. Climate change efforts could be modeled on that success. But Trump is instead undermining those efforts with conspiracy theories about secret campaigns to create a restrictive world government.
Laws and policies affecting local and regional environmental issues are also at stake. The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other landmark environmental regulations were passed under a Republican administration. Those laws, while far from perfect, have reduced pollution and ended disasters like urban rivers that regularly caught fire. The Trump Administration’s actions, however, are guided almost entirely by short-term economic considerations, at the expense of environmental protection and safety.
But sustainability isn’t just about ecosystems and the natural environment. This year, long-term struggles for racial justice have also exploded into mainstream consciousness, as the impacts of COVID-19 ravage the lives and livelihoods of Black people and those living in poverty. There are legitimate debates to be had about the roles of government and the private sector in promoting economic well-being for all. Well-meaning conservatives and liberals will continue to disagree on fiscal policy. But when basic justice and human rights are at stake, there is no excuse for inaction.
In the past, I would have said that the best response to these crises—at least for citizens in an election year—is to vote. And that’s still critical. But now we’re seeing our democracy itself at risk. Since the dismantling of protections set up under the Voting Rights Act, there has been a systematic erosion of access to voting for underserved communities. All this is complicated by the pandemic, which is putting a lot of pressure on our ability to vote by mail, and by the threat of challenges to valid votes based on unfounded scare tactics.
But even with voting and fair counting of ballots, it’s increasingly clear that our form of representative democracy is a far cry from its one-person, one-vote ideal. Thanks to the Electoral College system, Trump was elected president with 2.9 million fewer votes than Clinton. And the popular-vote-to-elected-results discrepancy in the Senate, which greatly favors rural states that are mostly white, is much larger.
In the short term, the only way to get representation in Washington that’s serious about protecting the planet and addressing racial injustice is to win with overwhelming margins, especially in swing states, to overcome the system’s inherent biases. That means everyone who cares about these issues has to not only vote themselves but also get proactive about making a difference in those states. Organizations like Vote Forward and Spread the Vote can help make that easy.
Longer term, getting past the stranglehold of our current two-party system would be a good start. Check out FairVote.org for info on ranked-choice voting and other strategies that can help with that.
Malin, N. (2020, September 24). In the 2020 Elections, Voting Isn’t Enough. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/op-ed/2020-elections-voting-isn-t-enough