I'm in neither camp.
Though I still canvas, and phone bank, and vote for candidates I support, I've come to terms with the limitations our political system imposes on any candidate who is "lucky" enough to be elected. The reality is, we live in a polarized world run by people who are convinced that creating more polarization is more important than creating civil society or protecting the planet. Yes, it would be grand if our political leaders could collaborate and compromise, not in the name of power, but in the name of the people. But is that going to happen? As we have been reminded, ironically, ever since the last major "candidate for change" was elected two years ago — and repudiated yesterday — not any time soon.
Nevertheless, we are not helpless. If anything, yesterday's elections have reinforced how important it is for you and me to continue to make meaningful changes that offer direct and measurable benefits. I'm talking about turning off our own lights, or insulating our own homes, or buying products that save energy or contain no toxic chemicals, actions which may seem insignificant, but are not.
Can we make a difference, even if our elected officials don't?
In a 2009 interview with National Public Radio, Harvard University Professor Michael Vanderbergh reported that the individual actions we take, like weatherizing our houses, changing the way we drive, moderating thermostat settings, and focusing purchasing on the greenest products available, can significantly help reduce climate change.
The co-author of "Household Actions Can Provide a Behavioral Wedge to Rapidly Reduce U.S. Carbon Emissions," Prof. Vanderbergh noted, "Household behavior in the U.S. makes up about eight percent of the world share of greenhouse gas emissions. It's larger than any country other than China. We estimate that [consumer behavior changes] could reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 123 million metric tons or seven percent within 10 years…That's equivalent to the total emissions of France. It's also equivalent to the emissions of the petroleum refining, iron and steel and aluminum industries combined.
"One of the largest problems we face is getting over the presumption … that individual behavior or household behavior doesn't matter. But when you aggregate it across 300 million individuals and 100 million households, it has a very large impact on total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions."
In other words, whether politicians take action or not, what we do matters, and in a big way.
Don't get me wrong. I would love to see Congress pass sweeping climate change legislation and the Safe Kids Act while building more mass transit systems and transferring agricultural subsidies to organic farmers rather than those who douse their fields with pesticides. And I'll continue to lobby my Congressional Representative and Senators to tow those lines.
But on a grand scale? If significant legislative achievements didn't happen when a sympathetic political party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, they're sure not going to happen now.
I'm going to keep doing the things I can do because I know they make a difference to me, my family, and my community.
I hope you will, too.