Reform Our Elections to Secure a Sustainable Future

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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

I work on sustainability and political reform in Washington, D.C., but I still call the Pacific Northwest “home.” That’s why I’m heartened by the critical mass of electoral reform initiatives on ballots throughout the region this fall. In Seattle, Initiative 134 would allow for a form of “approval voting” that empowers voters to choose more than one candidate per race in primary elections, preventing vote-splitting chaos in crowded primaries. Voters in Portland and various counties throughout the Pacific Northwest have opportunities to implement “ranked choice voting,” which asks voters to select their first choice, second choice, and so on down the line and determines the winner(s) through “instant runoffs.” Across the Cascadian hinterlands, Alaska conducted its first ranked choice election this August, and Nevadans will vote for statewide electoral reform in November. It’s worth understanding how these reforms improve our elections — as well as our environment. They will allow voters to better express their true preferences when choosing elected officials and discourage political hacks from gaming the system. This generally leads to better policy outcomes. In particular, ranked choice and approval voting help secure the policies necessary to build a sustainable future. Larger Winning Coalitions To understand how these reforms create better environmental outcomes, it helps to borrow some ideas from political science. “Selectorate theory” helps explain political leaders’ strategic considerations for maintaining power. According to this theory, political leaders calculate the ratio of the “winning coalition” (the number of voters needed for a candidate to win) relative to the size of the “selectorate” (all eligible voters). When this ratio is small — for example, in autocracies — leaders retain loyalty by bribing members of their small coalition with private goods financed through government coffers. When this ratio is large and democratic, leaders earn voter loyalty through providing public goods that everyone enjoys. Photo: Mark Dixon (CC BY 2.0) Environmental goods are the classic example of a broadly appreciated public good. In a 2015 paper, political scientists Xun Cao and Hugh Ward measured the relative size of winning coalitions for thousands of elections worldwide against subsequent levels of air pollution. Their analysis showed that as a democracy experienced an increase in the size of the winning coalition, sulfur dioxide and other contributors to air pollution decreased. By increasing the potential size of winning coalitions within a selectorate, electoral reforms contribute to a more sustainable future. Now consider approval voting, where voters can choose multiple candidates. In our “choose-one” voting system, a winning coalition can be 50% + 1 of all voters. Every additional voter beyond this minimum threshold is expendable, so politicians are not motivated to earn their superfluous loyalty. However, when an election uses approval voting, the size of the winning coalition equals the support of the second-place candidate plus one. For example, if 73% of voters are willing to “approve” of a popular challenger, then the incumbent needs 73% + 1 of voters to also “approve” of them to win the election. In environmental terms, the best way to win the “approval” of a sufficiently large coalition is through protecting the many from pollution instead of allowing a few to enrich themselves through polluting. By making candidates compete to be voters’ top-two or top-three pick, ranked choice voting similarly requires elected officials to pull together larger winning coalitions that prefer greener policies. When built on a preexisting foundation of voting rights and ballot access, both approval and ranked choice voting put fire under the feet of elected officials to do the right thing for the environment — or else risk being voted out. Gateway to Proportional Representation Ranked choice and approval voting make “proportional representation” feasible, such as the modernized system of government being voted on in Portland this fall. Unlike our dominant “winner-take-all” elections, winners from a proportional representation election reflect voter diversity. Photo: Phil Roeder (CC BY 2.0) Consider a hypothetical election to fill three seats, where multiple candidates from both major parties are running, and where 70% of voters prefer Republicans while only 30% prefer Democrats. In a ranked choice election for three-way representation, the threshold for winning is only 25%. Once the first-place winner — assumedly a Republican — is determined, the rankings of any voter required for that Republican to win first place are “locked” and any excess votes (in this case, more than the 25% threshold) are transferred to other candidates. The remaining votes are now 45% Republicans and 30% Democrats, meaning a Republican likely also wins the second seat. However, the remaining votes for the final seat are 20% Republicans and 30% Democrats, assuring a Democrat will win. This result, where two Republicans and one Democrat represent an electorate that is 70% Republican and 30% Democrat, is a more balanced outcome than what would be expected from a “winner take all” election, where Republicans would win all three seats. Proportional representation is a step toward environmental justice. Under our current “majoritarian” system of government, political minorities are excluded from representation, and in a racialized society like the United States they are too often synonymous with racial or ethnic minorities. The only recourse for these groups to be systematically represented are as a byproduct of gerrymandering, where minority residents are “packed” into noncompetitive districts as a supermajority, or as an accident of vote-splitting, which can also backfire against minority candidates. By contrast, proportional representation intentionally empowers minority voters with leverage to protest negative environmental conditions impacting their communities. Because environmental concerns tend to be diffuse over widespread geographic areas, proportional representation also better secures general environmental outcomes. The larger multimember districts required for proportional representation are better scaled for evaluating the consequences of an environmental decision than smaller, single-member districts. Political scientist Stephanie Rickard’s cross-national analysis of fishery subsidies gave this theory credence by showing how governments elected by proportional representation are more likely to pursue broadly appreciated environmental goods rather than serve centralized corporate interests. (One caveat: Environmental interests do poorly under proportional representation if the voters are geographically concentrated as a strictly “urban elite” or “NIMBYs.”) Better Stewardship of Resources Electoral reforms are also good news for the planet for reasons that have nothing to do with politics. By compressing multiple rounds of voting into one round, or two at most, electoral reforms reduce the environmental impact of an election while still securing the voters’ preferred candidate. This works because electoral reforms mitigate against vote-splitting, eliminating the need for runoffs to narrow the field of candidates or achieve a legally required threshold of votes. Earth Day voter registration event in Mill Valley, Calif. (Photo by Fabrice Florin, CC BY-SA 2.0) The environmental benefits are most significant when voting in-person. Every Election Day voters make an additional trip to their polling site, which often requires a fossil-fueled form of transportation, particularly in suburban and rural communities. For elections that yield hundreds of thousands of voters, citizens drive hundreds of thousands of extra miles. Mail-in ballots leave less of a carbon footprint, but there’s a non-negligible environmental impact of printing paper ballots, envelopes, and other election literature for each voter. By reducing the number of election rounds, the environmental cost of electing government officials is reduced significantly. The lesson is not that carbon-conscious voters should stay home. In fact, an analysis of the environmental outcomes of the 2019 Canadian federal election estimated that the median benefit of a pro-climate vote was equivalent to a 34.2 ton reduction in carbon dioxide, more than 14 times the reduction of choosing to live car-free for one year, and astronomically more than skipping a single trip to the polling place. Neither does this imply a need to do away with paper ballots — having a paper trail is a crucial defense against the rising authoritarianism that casts doubt on the legitimacy of our elections. Rather, the lesson is a simple one: Ranked choice and approval voting are environmentally friendly because they eliminate unnecessary rounds of voting, in turn saving resources. This matters because elections are among our most fundamental civic rituals. When we consciously decide our collective values through ballot measures and who we choose to send to elected office, we are also subconsciously internalizing other values about what we deem acceptable as a society. From a strict emissions-accounting perspective, the environmental impact of a single election is only a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of other collective activities that occur daily. But what message does it send if we shun a simple reform that drastically reduces election emissions and waste? Through eliminating unnecessary voting rounds, we uphold sustainability as a civic virtue while fulfilling our democratic duty. Thinking Ecologically about Elections None of the reasons above are partisan. I did not suggest that we should game the system to elect more Democrats. That would go against the spirit of electoral reform. My advocacy for electoral reform has roots in my work building bipartisan pro-climate coalitions, where pro-climate candidates were routinely punished at the ballot box for their courage, and others became complacent without any competition on climate. Photo: Pixabay To stop this vicious cycle, we must reform our elections to reward courage, increase competition both within and between our two major political parties, and give third parties and independent candidates a fair shot in the process. Rather than thinking in terms of “which party benefits,” it’s better to evaluate electoral reforms in terms of feedback loops and information flows. Feedback loops are the building blocks that create ecological systems — where a change in X leads to a change in Y, which in turn has either a multiplying or moderating effect back on X. As we humans change our environment, we need a steady flow of information to make sure positive or “multiplying” feedback loops are not spiraling out of control and detect any weakening of negative or “moderating” feedback loops necessary for ecological stability. Because voting is a powerful way for individuals to make known their displeasure with how their local environment is being treated, election results themselves are a form of information flow, and voting bad candidates out of office can be a corrective feedback loop. The voting methods we use during elections should acknowledge (rather than obfuscate) this ecological imperative. Of course, electoral reform alone is not enough to save the planet. There’s a lag time, sometimes years or even decades, between when environmental degradation occurs and when humans become conscious of the impact on their lives. This gap is where movements for sustainability generally, and the climate movement specifically, draw attention to the imminent catastrophes awaiting us if we do not change our ways within the next few election cycles. Without these movements, electoral reform would only have a mildly positive effect on average and occasionally even a counterproductive effect. But without these reforms, advocates within these crucial movements will grow frustrated and disenchanted with a political process that continues to fall short when addressing our ecological crisis. For the sake of these movements, our planet, and democracy, I hope voters across the Pacific Northwest and beyond will choose to embrace a politics that has been reimagined for a more sustainable and just future. The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees. Previously in The Revelator: Voter Suppression Is the New Climate Denial The post Reform Our Elections to Secure a Sustainable Future appeared first on The Revelator.

Both approval and ranked choice voting put fire under the feet of elected officials to do the right thing for the environment — or risk being voted out. The post Reform Our Elections to Secure a Sustainable Future appeared first on The Revelator.

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Costa Rica’s Certification of Sustainable Tourism

Nowadays, sustainability plays a huge role in deciding vacation spots, hotels, restaurants, and packages. Many businesses advertise themselves as eco-friendly or sustainable, and it can be tough to determine whether they comply with the requirements. The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) developed a certification that can help tourists identify those businesses that are, in fact, […] The post <strong>Costa Rica’s Certification of Sustainable Tourism&lt;/strong> appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

Nowadays, sustainability plays a huge role in deciding vacation spots, hotels, restaurants, and packages. Many businesses advertise themselves as eco-friendly or sustainable, and it can be tough to determine whether they comply with the requirements. The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) developed a certification that can help tourists identify those businesses that are, in fact, sustainable. The Certification of Sustainable Tourism The primary purpose of this certification is to verify that companies have effectively installed practices that positively impact the environment and the community. In addition, it is a technical tool aimed at strengthening sustainable tourism in Costa Rica. Companies receive this award as a recognition of their excellent management and work to mitigate the impacts of their operations. The certification strengthens social, cultural, environmental, economic, and development work in tourist destinations. These services are evaluated to obtain the certificate: Lodging Land transportation Water transportation Tour operation with subcontracting Rent a cars Restaurants Theme Park Institutions or organizations Coastal marine operation tour Protected areas (public or private) Direct or own operation tour Greenwashing The CST directly counteracts the now widespread “greenwashing” practice. These companies over or misuse the “eco” or “sustainable” concept. They deceive consumers into believing their products or business has a more significant positive environmental impact. With this certification, customers can have reliable information on which companies are trying to offer a sustainable tourism product and which are just trying to benefit from it. The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) has a specialized committee that evaluates each company and its practices to ensure they align with the certification standards. Why should these companies be the first choice? Using the services or consuming the products of a company that has acquired this certification means several positive things: The company avoids gas emissions and environmental damage caused by pollution or other chemicals. The corporation carries out actions for the management and conservation of nature, protecting it always. The company manages the waste it produces in a way that does not impact the environment negatively. The business uses natural, biodegradable products and recycles all that can be reused. The enterprise has a program for saving water and electricity in all its facilities. The establishment complies with regulations related to the environment, archaeological heritage, and safety. The company employs and trains residents of the community where it operates. The business promotes the traditions and customs of the country, the consumption of typical food, and national handicrafts. It is crucial to make conscious choices that lead to a better and greener planet that can be enjoyed now and in the future. The post <strong>Costa Rica’s Certification of Sustainable Tourism&lt;/strong> appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

3 Sustainable Hotels in Costa Rica that Put the Planet First

Costa Rica is known for being an eco-friendly destination, a place to be one with nature and enjoy the ‘Pura Vida’ life. The country is powered by renewable energy and has a vast number of national parks, wildlife reserves, and conservation areas. Many hotels and businesses have consciously decided to immerse into this lifestyle and […] The post 3 Sustainable Hotels in Costa Rica that Put the Planet First appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

Costa Rica is known for being an eco-friendly destination, a place to be one with nature and enjoy the ‘Pura Vida’ life. The country is powered by renewable energy and has a vast number of national parks, wildlife reserves, and conservation areas. Many hotels and businesses have consciously decided to immerse into this lifestyle and thrive as sustainable destinations. They offer top-notch amenities while actively protecting the environment and generating social impact in their communities. What does it mean to be a Sustainable Hotel? Sustainable hotels are hotels that strive to minimize their impact on the environment and local community, while also providing a high level of service to their guests. This can include a variety of practices, such as using renewable energy sources, conserving water, reducing waste, sourcing locally grown and produced food and products, protecting local wildlife and ecosystems, and supporting local economic development. Many sustainable hotels also focus on cultural sensitivity and providing education and awareness about sustainability to their guests. The goal of sustainable hotels is to operate in a way that is socially and environmentally responsible, while also meeting the needs of their guests. Why does Costa Rica need Sustainable Hotels?  There are a number of reasons why sustainable hotels in Costa Rica are important: Environmental protection: By operating in a sustainable manner, hotels can reduce their impact on the environment, including air and water pollution, waste generation, and resource consumption. Social responsibility: Sustainable hotels often focus on supporting and benefiting the local community, including through economic development, cultural preservation, and social justice. Guest experience: Many travelers are looking for environmentally and socially responsible travel options, and sustainable hotels can provide a unique and fulfilling experience for these guests. Cost savings: Sustainability practices can also lead to cost savings for hotels, through reduced resource consumption and waste generation. Overall, sustainable hotels can play a role in creating a more sustainable and responsible travel industry, and in promoting environmental and social responsibility more broadly. 3 Sustainable Hotels that Prioritize the Planet To help direct you towards more sustainable stays, we are highlighting 3 innovative and Nature approved properties that prioritize the planet, so you can vacation at ease, knowing you are keeping your footprint small. 1. Hotel Finca Rosa Blanca Finca Rosa Blanca combines luxury accommodations, a sustainable forest coffee plantation, and a cuisine that creatively respects the culinary traditions of the coffee highlands. It’s conveniently located near San José for those looking to spend some relaxing days without driving far. This hotel has focused on the highest quality of service in the hospitality industry, combined with authentic experiences and the local flavor of Costa Rican culture. Here, guests will be able to enjoy vibrant art, farm-to-table food, positive cultural exchanges, and terrific amenities. This is where the combination of a sustainable and luxurious boutique hotel and a coffee plantation in the beautiful mountains of Costa Rica comes to life. As part of its offer, it organizes cultural tours, coffee tours, adventure activities such as rafting, sightseeing of Costa Rica’s volcanoes, bird watching, or the possibility of relaxing at one of the best hotels. Visit: https://fincarosablanca.com for more information. 2. Senda Monteverde Mountain Lodge Senda Monteverde is based in the beautiful cloud forest and is perfect for enjoying adventures in Monteverde.  It was built as a modern mountain lodge with the comfort and elegance of a luxury hotel. It has 24 perfectly designed rooms to enjoy peace and quiet while overlooking the area’s lush vegetation. The hotel strives to operate in harmony with its natural surroundings and positively impact local communities. Respecting the environment is in the hotel’s DNA, and they hope to improve each day. Policies such as no plastic, green design, biodegradable cleaning products, and home-grown food are part of the actions they’ve implemented. More information at: https://www.sendamonteverde.com/ 3. El Silencio Lodge & Spa El Silencio Lodge & Spa encompasses a 500-acre private cloud forest reserve with a mystical rainforest and waterfalls. It is located in Bajos del Toro, Alajuela, and is flanked by two national parks. The amenities and services are extraordinary, allowing a wellness and relaxation experience like no other. It’s a place that offers luxury and natural immersion. Visitors are guaranteed a lovely stay with farm-to-table cuisine, a wellness spa, and an adventure park. Rappelling, horseback riding, waterfall hiking, oxcart painting, and Tico cooking lessons are some of the beautiful experiences guests can have. The rooms are on a mountainside and offer views of the mountains, the river, and the forest. The hotel has a Hummingbird Garden and our new Meliponary to fuel the proliferation of the planet’s tiniest birds and local stingless honeybees. It also obtained awards for River Basin Management, Climate Change Mitigation, and Biodiversity Protection.   Further details can be found at: https://www.elsilenciolodge.com/ At these three beautiful places, visitors are guaranteed a lovely stay and the opportunity to experience nature like never before.   The post 3 Sustainable Hotels in Costa Rica that Put the Planet First appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

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