As an urban planner and environmental advocate, two items in the news today have really gotten my attention: the Paris Climate Agreement and local/state elections all across the country. In my mind, the two are deeply interwoven. But how do local elections affect an international movement?
In case you haven’t been following the news around the Paris Agreement, as of this afternoon (Tuesday November 7, 2017 at 12pm), Syria has announced it will sign the Paris Agreement, leaving the United States as the only country that has not yet agreed to sign on. In fact, the United States’ presentation at the United Nations Global Warming Conference in Bonn, Germany this week promotes coal, natural gas and nuclear energy as an answer to climate change.
I would be in even more despair than I already am if it wasn’t for the United States Climate Alliance, which is a bi-partisan coalition of states committed to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The Climate Alliance is sending multiple governors to Bonn to reassure world leaders that, while the federal government is changing direction in its climate policy, multiple states are working to ensure the US meets the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. This is meaningful because if enough states join, that will make a significant impact on emissions reductions. To put things into perspective, one of these states, California, has a GDP that ranks in the top 10 of all countries. That’s why it’s so important that these states are helping to lead the charge against climate change.
Which now brings me to local/state elections. Far too many Americans only vote in presidential elections, thinking that local government doesn’t matter as much. This couldn’t be more wrong. Change often starts at the local and state level. On a micro-level, the decisions your city council, mayor, state representatives, and other elected officials make affect your life on a daily basis. Urban planners often talk about the importance of creating sustainable cities through alternative transportation, energy efficiency, storm water management, and other infrastructure and policies. These planning decisions happen at the local and state level and improve the environment that you live in every day. On a more macro-level, however, successful innovative local policies can often become state policies, which may one day even become national policies. When elected officials see public support for policies in their home states, they are more likely to support them at a national level.
That’s why it’s important that cities and states are helping to reduce emissions, even when federal actions are not. Your councilmember can approve the addition of a bike lane to your street to help reduce traffic emissions. Your mayor can mandate that buildings are built to be more energy efficient. And your governor can just maybe work with the rest of the world to ensure that the United States meets the emission-reduction targets laid out in the Paris Agreement.
All of this is to say, if you haven’t voted in your local election yet, most polls close between 6pm and 9pm. Get out there.
*To find your local polling place and ballot information, visit www.vote.org/polling-place-locator/.