September 29, 2016: Litmus, Lines, Lenses

It’s election season, and for many of us this is a time to consider candidates at many levels. From local select boards and councils to the state legislature, from statewide offices to the U.S. Congress, and all the way to the Presidency, for those of us who vote (does that include you?) it is a time of weighing the plusses and minuses of the candidates and coming up with what you think is the best (or at least better) choice.

And in our decision making calculus, we generally look at the candidates and their policies through a variety of lenses. What is their overall philosophy about the role of government? What are their stances regarding the economy? What do they propose for healthcare? Education? Immigration policy? Foreign policy? And so on down your list.

Some of us will have so-called litmus tests (from the chemical test using litmus paper to determine whether a substance is acid or base): for example, voting for or against someone based solely on their position for or against abortion rights, or for or against gun control laws.

Another way of framing this is the phrase “drawing a lines in the sand”: we have issues that if a candidate is on our side of the line we can support them and if they are on the other side of the line we just can’t give them our vote (no matter how much we may agree with them on a host of other issues).

I am writing today to suggest/beg/ implore that as each of us makes our choices that we include energy and climate policy at least one of the lenses we use to choose our elected leaders. Of course I know that energy and climate are not the only issues of the day, and of course I know that they might not even be in your top three or top five or even exist on your radar screen. But I firmly believe that these issues DO belong on everyone’s radar screens.

Our collective use of energy, especially fossil fuels, over the past century has created perhaps the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced: the specter of significant climate disruption and all the hardships and devastating impacts that will follow. No one will be untouched, and the world’s most vulnerable peoples will suffer the most.

To face this challenge, the people of the world will need to collaboratively make significant changes to the kinds of energy sources we use, to how efficiently we use them, and to how we can conserve and cut back on the energy services we demand. Changes will have to be made at every level, from individual and family practices to local energy policies to state/national/global energy policies and programs.

And that is why I think it is critical to elect officials at all levels – from the local to the global – who “get it.” We can no longer afford to choose candidates who deny what science shows us to be true. We can no longer afford to have leaders who are beholden to economic interests that have us sacrifice future sustainability for short term profits. We can no longer develop social and economic and foreign policies that make sense if we don’t factor energy and climate realities into those policies.

This isn’t to say that developing energy and climate policies will be easy and clear cut. We can see this here in Vermont and our ongoing debates about renewable energy sources and fossil fuel infrastructure.

A lot of discourse and good science will be needed to fine tune what each locality needs to do. The point is, these debates and this discourse need to be an important part of how we govern ourselves.

So come voting time, do your homework and insist that the candidates explain their energy and climate positions. This may not be your litmus test or your line in the sand, but it is an issue that demands the serious attention of all of us. Let’s at least make it one of the lenses we look through this election season.