Archive for November, 2009

Throughout my school years, whenever we studied government, my father would leave for work with these parting words: “Remember, whatever you do, don’t let ‘em tell you that your vote counts.”

Curiously, this message came from the same person who set his alarm an hour early on Election Day so he could be first in line when the polls opened, thereby not missing too much of his 12-14 hour work days.

My father deeply believed in the importance of voting, but he wanted his kids to be clear about the reasons; affecting the election result was not on the list.

For most elections, unless they are quite small, a single vote does not affect the outcome. Even if a large election appears to come down to one vote, the margin of error in a such an election is always greater than that single vote, rendering the result invalid. Margin of error refers to how accurately the votes can be counted.

An election in which thousands of people vote is going to have some problems: the computers may malfunction, the chads may hang, or a box of ballots might be misplaced. Even with the best of intentions, there is always some error involved. When that error is bigger than a single vote, elections cannot fairly be decided by a single vote.

There, I’ve said it in the paper: your vote doesn’t count. (Okay, Dad?)

But from this statement it does not follow that you shouldn’t go to the polls. We vote to honor the privilege of voting. We vote out of respect for our democracy and to keep it strong. We vote so we can look our kids in the eye and say that we acted on our beliefs, or at least we tried, at least some of the time.

We vote because we are citizens. We vote because it obligates us to stay informed. We vote to help inspire our neighbors to vote. We vote because we want to be part of that bigger collective voice that does indeed change outcomes.

Those are the very same reasons why we recycle our cans, put in high efficiency lights, and walk to work. No, one individual’s recycling is not going to make a difference for the planet, in just the same way that an individual vote doesn’t make a difference to most election outcomes. Although I try to minimize my environmental impact; I know that if I disappeared tomorrow and never turned on another light, it wouldn’t change the outcome.

I turn off lights because I have the privilege to do so. I do it out of respect for the environment. I do it so I can look my children in the eye and say that I acted on my beliefs, or at least I tried, at least some of the time. I do it because it obligates me to stay informed. I do it because I am a citizen of the planet, because it helps inspire my neighbors to turn off their lights, and because I want to be part of that bigger collective voice that does indeed change outcomes.

Yet there is a place where all the wonderful symbolic value contained in your single vote and your single recycled can, merges with the forces that create real change on the ground. It’s called advocacy, and at a local level it can be extremely effective. Your call to a Town Councilor or even a Maine legislator, goes a lot further than your call to the President.

Here in Brunswick, in just a few years, engaged citizens have moved the town a long way down the road to lower carbon emissions (and lower energy bills).

In 2007 a loosely organized group of residents concerned about climate change, came before Brunswick’s Town Council to request that the town sign on to the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. This agreement, which the council unanimously endorsed, commits the town to develop a plan to reduce its carbon emissions.

In 2008, the town created the Recycling and Sustainability Committee (R&S Committee) and charged it with determining how to best meet the terms of the agreement.

As a first step, the R&S Committee, with much help from town staff and Bowdoin College interns, has completed a baseline assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from public entities in the town (e.g., schools, town vehicles, street lights). This time-consuming process is critical to help determine where improvements are needed, as well as to lay the groundwork for documenting reductions in emissions and associated cost savings.

The assessment was presented to the Town Council in October of this year. The council again voted unanimously to move forward, this time pledging to work with the R&S Committee to set specific reduction goals and develop policies to meet those goals.

Data on emissions from private homes and businesses (for Brunswick and Topsham) is currently being collected by students at Bowdoin College, working with professor Phil Camill.

Next month these students will present their analysis of baseline greenhouse gas emissions in Brunswick and Topsham, along with an action plan for reducing those emissions. Please join them on Dec. 3 at the Frontier Cafe in Brunswick from 7:30-9:00 PM (see http://www.coolBrunswickTopsham.ning.com for more information).

These developments are exciting. It’s true that if the entire town of Brunswick somehow reduced its carbon emissions to zero, it wouldn’t have an appreciable effect on global climate change. On the other hand, Brunswick has a responsibility to act on its beliefs, to inspire its citizens and to be inspired by its neighbors.

We lean on each other to stay the course, to come together in changing the outcome, because change the outcome we must. The folks who say individual conservation efforts don’t make a difference are the same folks who sleep in on Election Day.

For more information about Brunswick’s Recycling and Sustainability Committee, please contact Committee Chair, Punnie Edgerton, at punnie@mac.com.

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