Policy, Policy, Policy!

I’ve posted a little bit lately about some of the more fun, story-like topics, and a few editorial things. So, I’m about to dive a little bit deeper into more of a nitty gritty topic: policy.

I think of policy and I think of sticking it to the man, legally-blonde style. The people coming together to dismantle the establishment… from within! Changing the system! All that good stuff. However, a lot of people don’t necessarily think that way. They think of policy and they think of stodgy folks in suits, lawyers, and numbers and paperwork. Don’t get me wrong, I’m finding out slowly as I get more involved in the EC3 (the environmental committee and commission coalition, more on what that is in a bit), that policy is very detailed oriented and gets down to the nitty-gritty with details, facts, figures, and yes, a lot of bureaucracy.

However, despite all that, it’s very, very, very important. Why is that, you ask? Because you cannot fix something without going to the root of the problem. We can urge people to recycle, we can urge people to compost, but that’s not as effective as getting the city to provide for those needs because they have understand that the environment is a priority. And our governments will never accept environmental issues as a priority unless we a) show them that it is, b) push through that kind of legislation that makes environmental change possible or environmentally harming action against the law or c) if it’s too late.

I’m going to address each of these pieces in a little bit more detail. So, let’s start with the first. How can we show our governments that the environment is a priority for us? Well, the easiest way is to vote for it. When you see environmental legislation on your local ballot, or green party candidates, you can vote for them. You can also lobby your legislators through email, phone, and showing up at their door. Then, there’s always peaceful protest. Remaining silent on the issues that matter to you is the worst thing you can do. Legislators are paid to speak for their constituents, and they can’t do that unless you, the constituent, are speaking up and letting them know what’s important!

The next thing you can do is to push through the kind of legislation that makes environmental action possible or the kind of legislation that makes hurting the environment illegal. I’ll give an example of both: the first would be pushing your government to allocate budget dollars for better public transportation. Better public transportation makes it easier for people to make a sound environmental choice. In all honesty, we live in a society that is not built for sustainable living. We go to the grocery store in cars to buy food that’s mass produced, we get our exercise by driving to the gym, we have very limited public transportation options (at least where I live), our recycling options confuse people, and there’s no government funded compost system, and we have outdated technology that relies on dirty power. Places that prioritize environmental action from the top down on a policy level have much more success for many reasons: the choices are more available, people are more educated, or it’s illegal not to choose the environmentally sound choice. That leads me to the kind of legislation that makes hurting the environment illegal. One example is that in Illinois, it is illegal to put electronic waste in landfills. This makes people search for other ways to responsibly dispose of their electronic waste, or think twice before getting rid of it and upgrading to something new.

So, how do we achieve pushing through legislation? Well, the hands-off way is by lobbying your legislators, as mentioned above. The second is getting involved in local government. Many cities have what is generally known as an environmental commission. (It may go by some other name in your community). An environmental commission or committee is a group of people (volunteers or city staff) who come together to address the environmental problems in their community. They advise community boards on how they can make a difference to protect the health of the environment and the citizens.

The EC3, the group whose meeting I attended Saturday morning at 10 am (praise coffee! Who am I kidding, I’m up everyday by 7:30 anyway) is a group organized by Sustain DuPage, a local nonprofit, which gives members of each of the environmental commissions in DuPage county a venue in which to meet and discuss any issues they are having or any priorities they are working on. It is a learning group, a group where people can discuss their frustrations, and also a group which provides strength in numbers. This is the hands-on approach. You join a committee. You run for office. You do the dang thing whole hog.

I’m not on an environmental commission or committee. However, I care about the policies that are enacted for environmental health on a local level. If this sounds like you, I might advise getting involved in policy in one of the ways I outlined above. Honestly, even though it’s not always as glamorous as Elle Woods makes it seem, (think two hours on a Saturday morning or as Sustain DuPage’s founder says, tension headaches and late nights staring at a computer), it is empowering. It is empowering because you know you are taking direct impact at the root of the problem.

It’s the unfortunate truth. Until society is structured in such a way as to make sustainable communities a priority, we cannot have the strongest chance to defeat human-caused climate change. That does NOT mean, however, that you get to throw up your hands and say, “THAT BLOGGER SAID IT’S IMPOSSIBLE”. Because that’s not what I said. What I said, is that we need to get involved in policy. Yes, you. You sitting there on your computer. You can do it from where you’re sitting right now. Open up your local government’s webpage, email your local representative, and tell them you want a more sustainable community.

I believe in you.

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