Sunday, October 24, 2010

Voting and Environmentalism

Last week, EcoAction was tabling in Red Square with a list of the candidates that the Sierra Club has endorsed for the upcoming midterm elections. Claire and I were “tabling” on Friday afternoon—we were actually table-less, but we managed to commandeer a bench. Because not too many students stopped to see the list, I thought I would post it here so that if you missed us last week, you can still check out the endorsements.

The overwhelming majority of the candidates are Democrats: for the House races, they are all Democrats, and for the Senate races the only exceptions are Charlie Crist (I-FL) and Tom Clemens (G-SC). The Sierra Club did not endorse any Republicans. Obviously, since the District has no seats in Congress, this list is really only relevant if you’re registered elsewhere and you have an absentee ballot.

While some students may not have been interested enough to stop, I think a good deal of them simply didn’t have the time or mental energy as they passed through Red Square between classes, and I think this same problem is at play when it comes to voting generally. Unfortunately, being registered to vote elsewhere often comes with the difficult responsibility of keeping yourself informed about local politics in a state that may be across the country from Georgetown. Georgetown students tend to be quite politically aware and involved, but for some of us the burden of classes, clubs, sports, and jobs makes it difficult to find time to read the news. If you do read the news, you might limit yourself, like I tend to do, to national issues. It’s hard to stay updated on the intricacies of local politics so far from home, and harder still to determine which candidates are truly committed to environmental issues.

We see the same problems at play when it comes to other aspects of environmentalism. I think many people feel that they have so many other obligations that it’s impossible to commit themselves to the environment as well. Sometimes this is a valid claim—for example, when it comes to money, people may have other financial obligations that prevent them from spending the extra cash on organic or local food. Informing yourself about environmental issues may be just as difficult as staying informed about local politics. In addition, you might feel like you just don’t have time to research which products and companies are truly green, and which are simply greenwashing. You might feel like it’s too much trouble to take public transportation, walk, or ride your bike when a car or cab is so much quicker. In other words, just as staying politically informed can seem impractical, being environmentally conscious can seem hopelessly inconvenient.

However—even if we put aside the question of whether we have the responsibility to take the trouble to be politically informed and environmentally conscious, even when it feels like a burden—the existence of tools like the Sierra Club’s list makes it possible to do good without sacrificing almost any of your time or resources. The Sierra Club’s list happens to enable both political and environmental choices. Other tools do one or the other. You can find lists of political endorsements for many different organizations and issues, so that you can find candidates that support or oppose abortion rights with the click of your mouse.

Tools that facilitate environmentalism are even more diverse. Reusable travel mugs and water bottles, as I wrote last week, enable you to be an environmentalist every day and save money at the same time; free public transportation, like Georgetown’s GUTS buses, do the same; the sorted recycling bins across campus takes all the effort out of sorting your trash; and countless environmental blogs like this one sift through the news and gather together the most important or relevant stories so that you don’t have to.

In short, even though it may seem like too much trouble to be either politically aware or environmentally conscious, there are countless ways to take action without ever, well, doing much of anything. And once you’ve taken that first step—once you’ve filled out your absentee ballot with the Sierra Club’s list in hand, or once you’ve skipped the cab and taken your first ride on a GUTS bus—you might find that the more active means of engagement seem easier or more pressing. You might find that it’s just not satisfying to check a box on a ballot without knowing who you’re voting for, and you might resolve to set aside a few minutes every morning to check your local newspaper online. You might find that it’s not enough to take reusable bags to the grocery store, and you might decide that you want the groceries in those bags to be good for the environment, too. Either way, you’ll probably find that making a difference can be as big or as little a commitment as you want. It’s the decision to make a difference at all that may be the most difficult part.


  1. Great article!

    Quick question: Did they ever actually distribute the recycling bins to rooms in residence halls?

  2. I don't think so. There are the recycling bins in the common rooms, but as far as I know they didn't distribute bins to individual rooms.

  3. so, according to the last sustainability action committee meeting, what they ended up doing with the bins was putting them at faculty desks and they will use the extras as a "pilot" program for the residence halls

    as far as i know, emily gates is still the only one with a recycling bin... hah!

  4. That' so depressing but not surprising in the least bit. Any interesting advancements at the meeting?