'We Won': Saving the World Starts With Local Elections

Photo: Getty

Tuesday night was a major win for climate advocates. And it was a much-needed reminder on the power of local elections in moving forward climate policy—especially in the age of Donald Trump.

The president is doing a damn good job of destroying the environment. He’s not only begun to roll back key environmental protections, but he’s also pulled the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the only major international effort to address the climate crisis. If we thought the solution to climate change would come from the federal government, well, we were wrong.

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“To tackle the climate crisis, we need more than one piece of legislation, and we need action at every level of government,” Stephen O’Hanlon, communications director for Sunrise Movement, told Earther. “We need Green New Deal champions to be moving this policy forward at the federal level, but then also the state and local level if we’re going to turn this around.”

While the president has opted to place industry goons into positions of power at the federal administrative level, the people have the power when it comes to the Senate, the House, city councils, and all things local. In fact, local and state officials are the leaders on climate change in the U.S. They’re taking action with or without Trump. And they’ve got even more members on their team after Tuesday night.

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Virginia was probably the biggest win. Voters flipped both state chambers blue with candidates like Joshua Cole, who will be representing Virginia’s 28th district, running on the Green New Deal. Despite attempts from the GOP to smear these proposals through meat- and plane-banning propaganda, voters were able to see through the lies and elect officials who will be able to bring forth policy to protect their futures. Some data points to young voters as major contributors in the state’s instant political transformation.

None of this means that the coming years will be easy on the climate change front, though.

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“I still think there’s going to be a debate on these issues,” Lee Francis, the deputy director for the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, told Earther. “It’s still going to be a big lift. We can’t take that for granted. We can’t just sleep on a Democratic majority and expect them to do good things for the climate.”

Still, things are looking much more positive than they did even a few months ago when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced the state would produce its electricity entirely with renewable energy come 2050. Republicans have historically kept the governor from taking enough steps to address the climate crisis, but now he won’t have to worry about them. Instead, he’ll have to work with new Democrats—like Ghazala Hashmi, the state’s first Muslim-American senator.

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A major goal is for Virginia to finally join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a major carbon market that forces states in the Northeast to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from power plants while trading the allowances that remain. Speaking of the Northeast, Philadelphia also saw a major victory with the election of Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks to city council. Brooks ran on implementing a city-wide Green New Deal, and voters supported her.

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Then there’s the Boston City Council, which is—for the first time, according to the Sunrise Movement—made up of a majority people of color and women. Six of the seven candidates that Sunrise Boston endorsed won their races. Julia Mejia, the first Afro-Latina to sit on the council, has proposed shifting the city’s public buildings and facilities to renewable energy by 2025.

Kentucky saw a major win, though, with the (albeit contested) election of Democrat Andy Beshear as governor. This state is the heart of coal country, and Beshear ran on a promise to help former coal workers as the state transitions away from the dying industry. The United Mine Workers of America even endorsed the candidate, and darling Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrated his victory on Twitter, writing, “The [Green New Deal] works in coal country.”

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Meanwhile, in the West, Regina Romero became the first Latina to become mayor of Tucson, Arizona. She currently serves as the director for Latino engagement for the Center for Biological Diversity and is a “long-time environmental champion,” said Emily Samsel, the national press secretary for the League of Conservation Voters, to Earther.

“Climate change was on the ballot yesterday across the country,” she said, “and we won.”

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Saving the world won’t be easy, but this brings us one step closer to preventing a complete climate disaster.

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About the author

Yessenia Funes

I mostly write about how environmental policy and climate change intersect with race and class though I occasionally write about animals, science, and art, too. We all need an escape, right?

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