Exercising Democracy in Environmental Decision-Making

The 2016 Presidential campaigns are in full swing, promising to be one of the more interesting elections in recent memory. The Republicans are poised to nominate a billionaire businessman seen as an outsider of the party. The Democrats, although with a strong insurgency, are close to nominating their establishment candidate. There has been a lot of rhetoric surrounding a variety of issues from equality of pay wages and protecting the middle class to immigration and international trade. With some differences, both political parties are committed quite a bit of their campaign resources on these issues. The social distractor of this election season is whether transgendered peoples should be allowed to continue using public restrooms. It seems like we are covering a lot of topics!

A dialogue that is missing, but should be a central component of this election, is the proper protection and conservation of the natural environment. Natural resources are essential to the functioning of our economy and, therefore, our livelihoods. If we cannot begin to think more long-term about some of the decisions that affect our environments and related economies, then it is possible that stronger discrepancies will emerge in the socioeconomic sphere. The ramifications of ignoring ecological issues may be fairly severe should we not adapt our decision-making quick enough to environmental realities. The effects of climate change are realities that we will have to come to terms with, especially because it will require a foundational shift from fossil fuels to other sources of energy in both the short and long-term futures. This is one reason why everyone should be better informed about the issues and their possible solutions.

There are times when dealing with our environmental issues may feel insurmountable, especially when we are first learning about them, but there are ways in which we ourselves may work toward solutions. Activism, of course, is one option. This involves protesting or some other sort of vigorous activity with the goal of changing some aspect of society. Although not discussed much, and is sometimes difficult to do for a variety of reasons, civil disobedience is another option. If you are not very interested in engaging in protests or willfully disobeying laws to make a point, then you have other options. Education and community engagement are hallmarks of the nonprofit sector. Supporting the work of a nonprofit, especially one that works locally, is a good way of becoming more involved in the environmental decision-making process.

Regardless of the ways in which you involve yourself in environmental decision-making, it is important to realize that your actions are important to the health of our democracy. We should pay close attention to the actions and behaviors of our lawmakers because we are the ones who endow them with the power to create and enforce laws over us. Said that way, why would we abstain from being involved in the decision-making process? The development of our environmental policies is greatly influenced by values that many of us may not share and are not always in our best interests. These influences are purchased with financial capital, yes, but there also is a great deal of human capital that can be expended by the general American population. That is where we come in; we have to work for the change we want to see!

Whatever your political party affiliation, it is your responsibility to hold candidates accountable for their actions. We live in a democracy and this is what living in a democracy is all about. Whether it is Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, or Gary Johnson, it is our responsibility to make our thoughts and concerns known. What do you care about? If it is the economy, then you really should care about proper use of our natural resources. If it is a social issue, then you should think about the relevance of socio-ecological relationships. Do your research, become informed, and exercise your inherent right as a free American citizen to promote positive change both in your community and the country.