Civic Engagement for the Environment
“The vast majority of Americans want a greater government response to climate change, but most folks do not speak up as advocates and thus go unheard,” said Evan Raskin, National Campaign Manager & Global Climate Correspondent for EarthDay.org. Individual action simply isn’t enough to stop climate change. Meaningful environmental legislation must be part of the solution. But without an engaged electorate, governments are not going to invest in our planet.
Civics and the Environment
A lot of environmentalists think of politics as distasteful. But like sustainability, civic engagement is about taking responsibility. It is also the only way to ensure that the government acts according to the public will. Raskin said, “Historically, this movement has been non-partisan and support for the environment has come from folks of all ideologies. In reality, environmentalism is the farthest thing from political; it’s never ‘us vs. them,’ it’s a call to action for everyone to work together towards a better future for all.”
Vote for the Earth
Voting is the most obvious and effective example of civic engagement; nothing motivates a politician more than an election. According to Raskin, 13 million self-identified environmentalists don’t vote. “If this audience was mobilized, it would create a tidal wave in the electorate that would ensure candidates must take this issue seriously,” he said.
For years, EarthDay.org has advocated for civic engagement through its Vote Earth campaign that educates people about the importance of voting and streamlines voter registration through its website portal.
“We often focus on students as they are an impassioned demographic with the most to gain or lose from climate policy. But they are also among those who need the most help to get involved in the voting process,” said Raskin. Although registering to vote can be simple, it isn’t always so. Alongside students, Black and Latinx citizens (the groups most likely to vote their environmental values) also face barriers that make voting more difficult.
Beyond the Ballot
“Civic engagement doesn’t start and end with the act of voting. It’s important that as citizens we must hold our elected leaders accountable to the campaign promises made to their constituents. Advocacy is the key ingredient,” said Raskin. Anyone, regardless of voter status, can advocate for the environment to representatives in Congress and at the state level.
“The barriers to civic participation are much lower than people tend to think, and the benefits are so much higher than most imagine. Simply pick up the phone and give your elected leaders a call!” suggests Raskin. “It takes five minutes or less and makes a huge difference in making your voice heard. We especially recommend calling your mayor or city council. You represent a larger proportion of their constituency, and they don’t get many phone calls at all, so it’s guaranteed that your voice will be heard.”
EarthDay.org website’s automated systems make writing to an official easier. They use your ZIP code to send a letter using pre-drafted language (or your own) to the correct elected official.
“On Earth Day, we are working with elected leaders at all levels of government to hold town halls and other events to ensure that the public is able to provide feedback and make themselves heard on climate and other environmental issues,” said Raskin. You can find an Earth Day event (or register your own) using the interactive map.
There are many ways to engage. You could:
- Volunteer for the election campaign of a politician who supports sustainability.
- Volunteer for an environmental nonprofit that works with governments on environmental issues.
- Organize or join an environmental protest or direct action.
- Sign petitions and share them with others.
- Canvas on behalf of an environmental organization or environmental legislation.
- Run for office – even local officials make environmental decisions.
In 2023, the implementation of the Justice40 initiative for environmental justice is at the forefront of a lot of policy issues. To stay informed about federal action on environmental issues, use govtrack; subscribe to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute’s weekly roundup; or sign up for email updates from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
For environmental legislation in your own state, use the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators’ interactive map. Keep track of your county and city council actions, and even the decisions of your local school board, which will impact climate literacy for decades to come.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t do all of these things – even professionals have to specialize. Just find a form of civic engagement that you can commit to and be as consistent as you can in advocating for a more sustainable government.
Feature image by Mikhail Nilov