How Can US Politicians Be Green?
By Zella Milfred
There is a reason climate change is discussed time and time again in political debates and interviews. It is because our political leaders make up a system that has the power to mitigate the effects of climate change and play a role in preventing its progress as a whole.
“State government is often where the rubber meets the road when it comes to environmental protection. The federal government often sets expectations and standards that are then enforced by the states,” Representative Jimmy Anderson explained. Anderson is a Wisconsin legislator who represents many La Follette students and is a part of the Committee on Environment. He explained that Wisconsin’s state government has recently been focused on water quality. “There are countless things, big and small, that we can be doing as a state, whether it is supporting renewable energies, moving towards more sustainable farming practices, or even supporting public transportation, all of these ideas can help save our future from the debilitating effects of climate change,” Anderson added.
One action we see taken more recently around the United States is the ban of single-use plastics. These create an immense amount of waste in our streets, landfills, and oceans. In early March, New York banned plastic bags from all businesses and will be charging consumers 5 cents for every paper bag they use. This encourages the use of reusable bags, eliminates much of the litter found in the city’s streets, and responds to the challenge that recycling plants face of plastic bags getting stuck in their machinery.
Aside from banning plastic products, the government has the power to make many other regulations including ones on air and water pollution, the drilling of fossil fuels, animal protections, and the construction of oil pipelines. In years to come, political leaders will also likely have to make decisions on how to deal with the increasing flow of climate refugees or people who are forced to leave their homes because of sudden or long-term changes to their local environment.
Aviaja Mikkelsen (11) is an exchange student from Denmark attending La Follette this year. Because Denmark is one of the leading countries fighting climate change, she sees how the United States is taking a very different role in this movement. In Denmark, every household separates their recyclables by plastics, paper, glass, and metal which reduces a lot of what is thrown into the trash, and she would love to see this implemented in other countries. In many cases, recyclable bottles and containers can also be taken to stores in exchange for money, which creates an incentive for consumers.
It can take a long time to pass environmental regulations, and elected officials can easily take them away. Politically charged plans like the Green New Deal can face roadblocks because taking action on climate change is not a bipartisan issue.
According to the New York Times, 95 environmental rules have been rolled back under President Donald Trump’s administration. He has taken measures to block an individual state’s ability to set emission standards, negate policies that limit environmental pollution, and jeopardize natural land.
In response to changes like these, we have seen the power that the public has when they speak up. Last year, the Youth Climate Action Team (YCAT) began in Madison and has since become the largest youth-run organization in Wisconsin committed to fighting the climate crisis.
“I feel like politicians are already ignoring our efforts, and as young people, we are often the ones overlooked, and so having a different representation of people within strikes and in political positions was so important. So since day one, YCAT has been like we got to get political,” Stephanie Salgado said. Salgado is a freshman at UW Madison and is the Executive Director of Outreach for this group. She believes that the best way to solve the climate crisis is to take political action, and strongly values uplifting minorities when doing so. “We believe that environmental issues are everybody’s issues and that racial injustice really ties back to climate injustice,” Salgado said. This group, with the help of multiple La Follette students, has organized all recent climate strikes and is in the midst of planning a large-scale event for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
How our country treats the environment depends greatly on who we elect. Not only will the 2020 General Election reveal our next President, but also multiple state officials who will have a direct impact on our local community. For many, climate justice is a leading factor in how they vote. What will be yours?