Quantcast

Why Environmentalists Can’t Afford to Wait Until 2018

By Nathaniel Stinnett

2017 has been a devastating year for the millions of Americans who care about the environment.

Since Donald Trump took office in January, his administration has made fracking easier on public lands, paused regulations that keep power plants from pouring arsenic and mercury into waterways, proposed cutting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, started planning to strip protections from national monuments, and pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord.


As a result, many despondent environmentalists are turning their focus to the 2018 midterms as their only chance to get a seat at the policy-making table.

That is a big mistake. By focusing on 2018, we're ignoring elections that will have an enormous impact on climate change and the environment—the 2017 mayoral elections.

We are an urban nation—71 percent of Americans live in cities of more than 50,000 people—and this fall, 390 cities will hold mayoral elections, from New York and Boston, to Cleveland and Atlanta. With the powers at their disposal, environmentally-friendly mayors can quite literally save the planet. And in contrast to the federal government, mayors can act quickly and decisively.

So what can mayors do to save the planet? For starters, green buildings. The buildings we live and work in account for almost 40 percent of national CO2 emissions. Many cities are already taking action by adopting green building codes, which require sustainable building materials and strict energy-efficiency standards. San Francisco is even requiring new buildings to incorporate solar or living roofs, which could reduce as much carbon emissions as taking 5,400 cars off the city's streets.

After buildings, mayors can turn to cars—specifically, America's addiction to limitless, free parking. There are currently two billion parking spots in the U.S., roughly equal to eight spaces for every vehicle. This glut of parking spots increases traffic and effectively subsidizes carbon-intensive cars over environmentally-friendly public transportation. In response, cities from Richmond to San Francisco are experimenting with everything from demand-responsive parking (which adjusts parking rates to reduce congestion), to imposing maximum (instead of minimum) parking requirements on new buildings.

Finally, perhaps the easiest way for city halls to go green is by getting their own houses in order. London has retrofit more than 660 public buildings, resulting in CO2 reductions equal to the emissions of 40,000 homes, and Chicago is transitioning all public buildings to 100 percent renewable energy by 2025.

This fall, voters in 390 cities can elect mayors with the power to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions, fossil fuel consumption and air pollution. If environmentalists show up to vote, cities can save the planet with their own municipal toolkit, regardless of the damage done by President Trump.

Unfortunately, that's a big "if." In most mayoral elections, fewer than 15 percent of registered voters show up; and according to Environmental Voter Project research, environmentalists have even lower turnout rates than the general public. Although discouraging, this environmental turnout problem does pose an extraordinary opportunity: nothing motivates a politician more than the prospect of winning an election, so even a small surge of environmental voters could easily prompt mayors to lead on climate change and other environmental issues.

Finally—even if your gaze remains on 2018—voting in 2017 is the environmental movement's first bite at the 2018 midterm apple.

How this works is simple, yet not widely appreciated. Shortly after this fall's mayoral elections, public voter files will be updated to show who voted, and who didn't. Soon thereafter, every politician running for Congress, Senate and Governor will begin polling good voters (but only good voters) to determine what issues those voters care about. It is these issues that will be at the top of the agenda in 2018, and environmentalists won't be heard unless they've already established a robust voting record in 2017.

In other words, a vote in 2017 will not only lead to decisive action to protect our environment, it will also get you a seat at the table in 2018. And, right now, environmentalists desperately need a seat at that table.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

In tea, food, or just on your windowsill, embrace the fragrance and fantastic healing potential of herbs.

Read More Show Less

By Ana Santos Rutschman

The world of food and drug regulation was rocked earlier this month by the news of a change in leadership at the Food and Drug Administration. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned and will step down in early April. His temporary replacement is Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
MartinPrescott / iStock / Getty Images

On Wednesday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first 20 chemicals it plans to prioritize as "high priority" for assessment under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Given the EPA's record of malfeasance on chemicals policy over the past two years, it is clear that these are chemicals that EPA is prioritizing to ensure that they are not properly evaluated or regulated.

Read More Show Less
Strawberries top the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list of U.S. produce most contaminated with pesticides. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP / Getty Images

Which conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables in the U.S. are most contaminated with pesticides? That's the question that the Environmental Working Group answers every year with its "Dirty Dozen" list of produce with the highest concentration of pesticides after being washed or peeled.

Read More Show Less
A drilling rig in a Wyoming natural gas field. William Campbell / Corbis via Getty Images

A U.S. federal judge temporarily blocked oil and gas drilling on 300,000 acres of federal leases in Wyoming Tuesday, arguing that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) "did not sufficiently consider climate change" when auctioning off the land, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mizina / iStock / Getty Images

By Ryan Raman, MS, RD

Oats are widely regarded as one of the healthiest grains you can eat, as they're packed with many important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Read More Show Less
JPMorgan Chase building in New York City. Ben Sutherland / CC BY 2.0

By Sharon Kelly

A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Sriram Madhusoodanan of Corporate Accountability speaking on conflict of interest demand of the People's Demands at a defining action launching the Demands at COP24. Corporate Accountability

By Patti Lynn

2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."

Read More Show Less