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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nine sustainability wins, no matter how you voted

By Dave Newport

The smoke (and mirrors) from a too-long and too-fractious election season is clearing, finally. Our nation appears evenly but deeply divided and in need of healing. But however you voted, there are significant sustainability-related wins for all of us:

1. Sustainable family time. With the carpet-bombing of political ads now over, we can stop cussing at the television or radio and getting angry. We can re-appreciate our partners and children, that puppies are still warm and cuddly, and, hopefully, that we are snug in cozy homes. Not matter how Election Day turned out for you, remember those who you love.

2. Sustainable friendships. Hopefully, you have some friends who are on the other side of the political aisle (if not, you need to get out more). Maybe you crossed swords on Facebook, or held back so as not to offend. Maybe there were words or hard feelings. OK, now it’s time to get back to what counts: people. Get your friends back. Take them to coffee, dinner, something stronger. But politics is more harmful than helpful if it divides us. We tried that in 1861 and it was awful. Remember, we are Americans. It’s a right we take for granted that we can be opinionated, strident, and even offensive. Thanks goodness for that. So, take a friend from the other side to lunch, and argue over who pays.

3. Sustainable politics. No matter who won, no matter how bleak or bright it seems right now, it will change. Politics is like the weather; whatever it is now, it will change, just wait. The political pendulum is immutable. If you are happy now, darker times will come. Sorry. If you are glum now, better days are ahead. Joy. It’s just true. This is good for sustainability because when leadership ignores us, the pressure builds. And when we have leadership the pressure helps us get more done.

4. Sustainable democracy. The US is noted for the peaceful transition or reaffirmation of power. No guns, no tanks in Tiananmen Square. The United States, for all its faults, has a pretty clean record. No coups. Only one Civil War. No de facto coups such as Putin’s disgraceful repudiation of Russia’s nascent democracy. Only one questionable election. Some voter suppression here and there. But by and large, we yell and scream and get mad, and in the end we keep the peace and move on.

5. Sustainable gridlock. OK, that sounds cynical but it’s exactly what the Founding Fathers designed. They called it checks and balances. And it survives; the Congress is split between parties. As ugly and stupid as that split appears when our federal politicians blame the other party for the latest boondoggle, it is better than a dictatorship. So no matter who is sleeping in the White House on January 20, their magic wand will have limited powers.

6. Sustainable social equity. For only the second time in US history, the winning president/vice-president ticket came from all under-represented groups, at least in terms of electoral history. Two Catholics, a Mormon and an African-American were in the field. We had the choice to elect a Mormon president for the first time in US history, or re-elect an African-American president for the first time. That has never happened before. We have had only one Catholic president, John Kennedy. Now, for only the second time, we have a Catholic vice-president. These achievements alone are hopeful signs of Americans’ improving cultural and religious tolerance--and we have a ways to go. Still waiting for our first women… but at least two have made it to their parties’ tickets.

7. Sustainable education. Despite recent anti-intellectual demagoguery emerging from various constituencies, our next president has a graduate degree from Harvard. While that alone does not prove we value education, it’s a start. Our vice-president attended good universities. Whether you agree with the team that was elected, both have achieved success as a result of their education along with hard work and ambition. That is just what our educational system is supposed to catalyze.  We hope that the next “current occupants” will remember their roots to power and continue to support others’ paths through the greatest higher educational system in the world. That starts with support and reforms for a K-12 system that needs some work—and feeds our universities. Because without excellence in education, sustainability is toast.

8. Sustainability lives! Lost during the campaign was any serious discussion of climate change, adaptation, or sustainability. Sadly, it took Hurricane Sandy to change that, but at least sustainability is back on the radar. Now the restoration of the NJ and NY areas will go for years and keep climate change, sea level rise, and adaptation in the conversation. The current occupants can’t ignore that population base so expect federal and state task forces and commissions to offer plans ranging from hurricane dams to water supply protections to carbon mitigation policies. Yes, it took an unfortunate wake up call for the pols to get it, so let’s not let them forget that Nature bats last.

9. Sustainable blessings. There are probably many people on this planet that know or care little about the US election—and they are doing just fine. But there are many more people on the planet who also know or care little about our election and for whom getting through today will be a life and death struggle. For them, survival is all that matters. We should take a few moments to count our blessings and then get back to work helping the world become a better place. 

For while we Americans have our flaws and foibles, we really are the greatest nation the world has ever seen. We got here by being an inclusive, supportive place founded by the world’s tired and poor in the name of religious freedom. We knocked out a Native American culture but have come to regret that. We fought hard to overcome slavery. We included women in the right to vote. We desegregated our schools. We made it a crime to hurt in the name of hate. We are trending towards including any loving couple as a marriage. We finally let soldiers of any sexual orientation serve their country proudly. We generally fight about equality and against oppression domestically, and in war. 

Sure, there are exceptions and ugliness and we make many mistakes. Yes, we are very divided politically right now, but we all yearn for unity. And our history confirms and compels a forward trajectory of human compassion and hope in a world where too few see either. 

Bottom line: the US has all the qualities and assets necessary to lead the world to a sustainable future—and that agenda grows stronger every day. No matter who is elected, sustainability is not easy work.  But as President John F. Kennedy said, “we chose to do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”  

So, let’s get back to work.



  1. Hi Dave, thanks for looking on the bright side here. Though I do not see much of social equity or sustainable democracy these days with the 1%, superpacs, and climate disinformation campaign. However, China just had a transition to power. My husband and I are both from there and every day we hear about free speech suppressed, activists arrested, and poor people whose property are seized by the government. The wealth gap in china is even greater than that in the US, if that can be imagined. And corruption is the way of business, you can't succeed if you don't engage in it. We have a lot to be thankful for. We should remember that a lot of the world look up to us as the standard of democracy, and we should strive to protect it.

  2. Refreshing post. Thank you!

  3. Hello Dave,
    I receive the CU Environmental Center e-magazine and was so moved by yesterday's Director's Corner column, "Nine Sustainability Wins," that I copied it and sent out to scores of my friends. It's now going viral!!! Here is one comment:
    "This is indeed beautiful - I have sent it on to many folks, including our kids.
    Amen dear brothers and sisters!"

    thank you for your words and inspiration!!!

  4. Dave,

    Thank you for your political peace offering. It is something that is needed after this election. The one thing that I would correct you on is that you state that we have had no coup d’etat events in America. That is actually not true. One occurred in Wilmington, NC in 1898 when Democratic insurrectionists overthrew the legitimately elected Republican and Populist government. See more here:

    It’s effects were to instill Jim Crow laws and racial segregation across the south for the next 60 years. We need to be vigilant in respecting both parties rights so that this doesn’t happen again.