Government

Hello, Have You Registered to Vote Yet?

Registering to vote is one of the most crucial responsibilities that we have as US citizens. 2019 is an off-year, but if you live in Kentucky, Mississippi, or Louisiana, 2019 is a gubernatorial election year, so it’s still important to prepare yourself to vote come November 5. And of course, the next US presidential election will be happening on November 3, 2020. If you’re not registered to vote already, it’s good to get the registration process out of the way now! 

Vote.Election.2020.Candidates.Presidential.Register.

Voter registration can be a kind of complicated and confusing process, but there are some great online resources available to make registering to vote as simple and painless as possible! Vote.gov is an incredibly helpful website that can help you make sense of your state’s voter registration policies. All you need to do is enter in the US state or territory that you live in, and vote.gov will provide easy-to-follow instructions to help you register to vote! Currently, 38 states (plus Washington DC) allow online voter registration. If you live in one of these states, vote.gov will direct you to your state or territory’s online voter application site, where you can quickly and easily register to vote from the comfort of your own home!

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If you live in American Samoa, Guam, New Hampshire, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, or Wyoming, you’ll need to register in person at your local election office. Vote.gov provides links to the elections sites for each of these states or territories that will instruct you on how and where to register in person. If you live in Arkansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, or Texas, you can register to vote by mail. Vote.gov provides a downloadable and printable PDF of each of these states’ voter registration forms, which you can fill out and mail in to your state! Finally, if you live in North Dakota, you don’t need to register to vote at all! On Election Day, all you need to do is show up to your local polling place with a valid state ID, and you’re good to go!

Additionally, different states and territories have different registration deadlines. If you register to vote after these deadlines, you won’t be eligible to vote that year, and will have to wait until the next election year. The US Vote Foundation allows you to look up your state or territory’s registration deadlines, so you know how much time you have to submit your registration forms. If you live in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, or Washington DC, you can register to vote as late as Election Day itself. 

Although voter registration might seem like a hassle, it’s incredibly important to get it done as soon as possible to ensure that everything goes smoothly on Election Day. Voting is a civic responsibility for all US citizens, and you shouldn’t let the complicated bureaucracies of voter registration stop you from exercising your right to vote! 

GoFundMe’s Campaign to Pay Workers Affected by the Government Shutdown

On December 22, 2018, the United States’ government shutdown indefinitely. As of writing this, the government has been shutdown for 34 days, making it the longest running government shutdown in United States history. While Senators are still being paid during the halt, roughly 800,000 federal employees don’t get to share in that luck, and have been going without pay for as long as the lapse in government.

In response to this, the people behind the crowdfunding site GoFundMe have set up a campaign to help alleviate the financial burden placed on now-unpaid government workers. As of writing, the campaign has raised $343,629 set to be distributed directly to the employees affected.

“The money raised on this GoFundMe will be distributed to nonprofit organizations across the country that are offering general relief to government workers, including but not limited to, food, counseling, and housing support.” -GoFundMe

The organization plans to release a list of all of the nonprofits that they plan to distribute the funds to, but in the meantime have announced that they are partnering with the nonprofit Direct Impact Fund.

Since the federal workers affected by the government shutdown began missing paychecks, stories have been surfacing about the real world harm that an ambiguous sounding “government shutdown” is having. Stories of government employees close to eviction and struggling to purchase daily essentials are becoming commonplace. While GoFundMe’s campaign won’t pay everyone’s rent or feed every employee for the foreseeable duration, it is good to see the outpour of support for these people who are caught up in a political moment.

So far, a bill has passed the House to open the government back up and the Senate is currently working on a plan of their own. Because of the dense political gridlock surrounding the issue of the shutdown, it isn’t necessarily clear when the government will re-open. But until then, it is important to remember that there are hundreds of thousands of real people being deeply affected by what is currently a political standoff.

You can find the campaign here.

Only 9% of Americans Actively Deny Climate Change

According to recent findings from Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication, only 9% of Americans are actively dismissive of climate change. This is a part of a study that broke American sentiment on climate change into six Americas: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, Dismissive. Breaking down the findings of this study, the researchers found that while 9% of Americans deny climate change- 91% of Americans fall into the spectrum of either being gravely worried about climate change to aware of climate change (but not thinking it is a big problem).

Source:  Yale

Source: Yale

This is a massive revelation, because that means that 91% of the United States is either aware of the problem or at the very least able to be convinced of the problem at hand. Even more encouraging is that 72% of United States citizens fall into categories that believe climate change science, and are motivated to do something.

This is a departure from the popularized notion that climate change is strictly a party line political issue. While opinions on climate change are a strong predictor or a single person’s political beliefs, no single party in the United States has 72% of the population to count as party members. This means that there is an inherent blending of political ideology within those who are aware that climate change is happening, and are motivated to do something about it.

While the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, has been a deep enemy of environmental causes as evidenced by his willingness to gut the sizes of national parks, refusal to switch from coal to renewable energy, reintroduction of asbestos, etc., it is worth noting that his actions on the environment don’t necessarily align with the sentiments held by the rest of his party.

Source:  Yale

Source: Yale

This shows up in further graphs where researchers asked participants how they would vote if a candidate actively opposed environmental regulation. The majority of respondents in the “worried about climate change” groups indicated that they would vote against a candidate who was anti-environment. Predictably, the group that actively denies climate science indicated that they would vote in favor of a candidate who was anti-environment. Interestingly enough though, in the groups that are either “disengaged” or “doubtful,” respondents indicated that they didn’t care whether the candidate was pro or against climate action.

This means that not only do the majority of Americans believe in climate science, but even those who might not yet tapped into climate findings are still able to be convinced. Only the 9% of Americans that are actively denying climate change and would support a candidate that was anti climate action, are the ones who are holding back climate progress.

This should inform how those who are pro climate action interact with those who they perceive to be anti climate action. In our current political climate where issues are becoming polarized to the ends of a bifurcated political system, it is rare to find an issue- and one that has already been deeply polarized, that can actually serve as a neutral ground in which to have constructive conversation. According to Yale’s findings, the environment is something that is important to most people, regardless of political affiliation, and if we engage with one another from that standpoint, we might be able to make sure that the 9% of deniers don’t halt 100% of climate progress.

Hundreds of Companies Are Giving Employees Time Off to Vote

In 2014, the US experienced a record low in the number of people turning out to vote. Just 36.4% of eligible voters turned up at the polls, the lowest amount since World War II. Many of these people fail to turn up because they can’t — they are too busy working.

Rose Marcario, the CEO of outdoor clothing store Patagonia, made the decision to close all of its stores November 6th starting in 2016 so that employees would have the opportunity to vote. She made the call for other businesses to do the same.

Her call has been answered. A new campaign called, “Time to Vote,” is doing just that. The campaign was started by companies like Patagonia, and asks businesses all over the US to give their employees paid time off to vote. Almost 325 companies are giving their employees paid time off so they have the opportunity to vote in the upcoming election. This includes companies such as Pinterest, Gofundme, and change.org.

As Raina Moskowitz, the Senior VP of People, Strategy, and Member Services put it, “Voting is one of the most important ways that we can participate in our government. Election Day isn’t a national holiday, and it isn’t easy for everyone to get to the polls outside of working hours. That’s why Etsy provides employees with the option to vote during working hours if they choose to help ensure their voices can be heard.”

Not all of these businesses are closing, but all of them do work with their employees to allow them to vote as conveniently as possible. Options include taking a long lunch break, coming in late, leaving early, or not working altogether. Of these, the best option is often taking the day off, due to the length of voting lines which can sometimes be as long as a 7 hour wait.

Business support like this is essential to improving voter turn-out. Currently there are no federal laws that require businesses to give their employees time to vote. It is entirely up to the individual states whether to require time to vote or not. As of 2018, only 23 states have some sort of requirements in place to help voters turn up at the polls.

While it is too soon to tell whether these voting campaigns will help for the 2018 elections, previous efforts seem to be working. Last year the turnout was 56%, much better than the dismal 36.4% of 2014. Unfortunately, even this improved turnout is one of the lowest in developed countries around the world. Seoul, South Korea has over 77% of its eligible population registered as voters. Mexico, Slavakia, and Estonia all have greater voter turnout than the US.

Voting is a vital part of our country. As a democracy, voting is how we decide where to go together, as a society. Everything from who our leader is, to what laws are made, all depend on the votes of the people. You can help shape the face of the country by voting, so take the time and vote November 6th.

Find a polling place near you.

Need a Ride on Election Day? Lyft and Uber Have You Covered.

This year, more attention than ever has been placed on politics. With tensions heating up for the mid-term elections, it is more important than ever that we get out and vote. Big companies have been getting in on the movement to encourage voting, including giant ride sharing firms such as Uber and Lyft.

Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi announced that on November 6th, Uber will be partnering with the campaign #VoteTogether to offer free rides to the polls. That means anyone can vote, even if they aren't able to drive, or don't have a car to get there. Last year an estimated 15 million people didn't vote because they had no transportation to do so, a huge portion of the voting population.

Often the people who don't have transportation are from the same economic background—those who are too poor to afford a car, college students, and younger people. This means that the views of these people all but disappear when it comes down to choosing new policies. It's important to have the voices of everyone in the nation voting, in order to get balanced legislation and politicians who truly reflect the needs and wants of the people. Every time a ballot isn't turned in, it makes that balanced country a little harder to obtain.

With 15 million votes missing every year due primarily to lack of transportation, that's a big hole in the voice of the people. 

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Thanks to ride sharing companies and campaigns like #VoteTogether however, that is now changing. You'll be able to get a ride where ever these companies are available, and get your vote in even if you don't own a car or are not allowed to drive for other reasons. 

If you're not sure where to vote at, Uber has also made the task of finding a polling station easier by adding a polling station button to their app available on November 6th. You can get to the nearest polling station and cast your vote easily, with just a click of a button. 

Lyft has also offered discounted and free services for those needing a ride on Election day. They made their announcement in August, with discounts of 50% to anyone going to a polling station, and free to some under served communities. Check with the company to find out which you qualify for.

Lime and Skip, services that specialize in scooters and bicycles for rent, have also offered free services in their areas to help get people mobile enough to vote. Even some of the public transportation in large cities such as Los Angeles and Indianapolis will be free on election day.

Whether you walk, bike, scoot or ride to the polls, your vote is important. Give your voice a chance to be heard by voting this election day, November 6th, 2018. Your vote is important, and it makes a difference both in your community and throughout the nation. Lend the country your voice this election day, and vote for what you believe in.

Find a polling place near you.

Win Concert Tickets on Instagram's #iVoted Campaign

Tiny stickers and a sense of civic duty aren't the only thing you can get for turning up at the polling station for this year’s midterm elections. Now, thanks to a new campaign, “#iVoted” you also have the chance to win free tickets to some of your favorite bands.

Emily White, best known for a successful career in the music industry, has taken her talents and put a positive spin on them. Tired of seeing dismal turnouts at the polls in her native Wisconcin, she decided to do something about it, and took that idea national.

Her movement, #iVoted, teams up with bands such as Iceage, Superchunk and Iron & Wine to reward voters for turning up. To have a chance at winning free tickets, all you have to do is take a picture of yourself at participating polling stations on Instagram, and tag both the venue location and @ivotedconcerts to be entered to win.

When she originally started the campaign, she was surprised by the number of artists and their managers eager to help. So far over 78 different events in 32 different states are participating. This high amount of participation is even more surprising when you consider its advertising budget--#iVoted has been spread entirely by word of mouth.

The initiative has started in swing states, but the goal is to eventually have an event in all 50 states.

Emily White spoke about the event in an interview done with Billboard, "The music industry is my second family and I know how to activate them. I know people want to help and where it has converged and been really cool is we just confirmed Café Wha? in New York and that’s where Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix used to play. I got pretty emotional about that. Music and concerts and artists have always been such a force for change." 

She's not wrong. Music has had a profound impact on the world. In 1984, a music journalist named Bob Geld of created Live Aid, the first charity music concert. It raised 150,000,000 pounds—in one day. The money went to help fight world hunger, especially in Ethiopia where a famine was killing people.

Voting it is a vital part of of our lives, and is our most direct means of expressing our opinions to our government that an opportunity that too many people miss out on. Voting impacts the entire country, from who our president is, all the way down to whether or not we should have programs at a local library.

Without your vote, the country is missing an important part of a puzzle that is 327.4 million pieces. Without your opinion, that puzzle is incomplete. Your vote matters, and people like Emily White and the many artists who have put together events and offered up tickets to encourage you to vote are doing their best to encourage you to get out there and share your opinion. If you needed a reason to get to the polls this midterm, #iVoted could just be the incentive you need.

You can learn more about the campaign on their website.

Why We Need a $15 Minimum Wage

By Caroline Hsu

Though many of us don’t notice it, there’s a crisis brewing surrounding minimum wage and near-minimum wage jobs in the United States. Retail workers, food service employees, janitors, delivery drivers, and caregivers are among the lowest-paid employees in the United States, despite the fact that their work forms the backbone of modern American society. Because their jobs don’t necessarily require very much training or prior education, their labor is both undervalued and underpaid. The fight to raise the minimum wage is borne out of the idea that all employees should earn enough to support themselves and their dependents, regardless of their age, education level, or amount of job training. The work that minimum wage employees do ensures that society as we know it functions smoothly, and the least we can do as American citizens is to fight for business owners and corporations to compensate them fairly for their labor. 

In 2017, about 23.2 million people earned minimum or near-minimum wages, which fall anywhere between the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour and $10.10 an hour. Another 1.8 million people earned less than the federal minimum wage per hour. (This is possible for employees who earn tips, full-time students enrolled in work-study programs, and certain workers with disabilities.) The food service industry employs the most minimum wage, below-minimum wage, and near-minimum wage employees, but industries like sales, caregiving, administrative support, janitorial services, and transportation also employ hundreds of thousands of minimum wage employees. 

What are the overall demographics of minimum wage employees? About half of minimum wage employees in the US are aged 16 to 24. Over three-quarters of minimum wage employees are white. 20% have not finished high school. 36% have earned a high school diploma or GED. 37% have some form of college education, but have not earned a bachelor’s degree. From these statistics, we can surmise that the average minimum wage employee in the US is relatively young, white, and has not pursued any form of higher education after high school. 

The federal minimum wage in the United States has been set at $7.25 an hour since 2009. This current rate actually has less purchasing power than previous federal minimum wages. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage’s purchasing power was highest in 1968, when it was equivalent to about $8.68 per hour in 2016 dollars. Most states and territories have established legislation that sets their own minimum wages, which means that many minimum wage workers in the US are able to earn slightly more than the federal rate, ranging anywhere from $7.50 to $11.50 per hour. At first glance, this sounds like good news, but the actual state of minimum wage in the US is not quite that simple. Among countries with a comparable GDP per capita, the United States pays its minimum wage employees abnormally poorly. According to the Economist, if the federal minimum wage in the US were proportional to the federal minimum wages in similarly wealthy countries, all American minimum wage employees could expect to earn about $12 per hour. 

Even if the US were to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, which is highly unlikely due to current Republican control of Congress, those wages still would not be enough to allow many employees to support themselves and their families. MIT economics professor Amy Glasmeier runs a US living wage calculator, which estimates the minimum income that a family with two working parents and two children would need to survive in the US without relying on public assistance or holding multiple jobs. This calculation takes into account housing, food, medical care, childcare, and transportation. As of 2015, the living wage in the United States for a family of four is $15.12 per hour, which is significantly higher than even the most generous of state minimum wages. In order for a single parent with two children working a federal minimum wage job to survive without public assistance, they would have to work 139 hours per week. Just for comparison, the standard for full-time employment in the United States is 40 hours per week. 

Because many hourly-wage jobs just don’t pay enough to support families, a significant number of hourly employees are forced to take on multiple jobs. In September of 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that approximately 7.7 million workers held multiple jobs, an alarmingly high rate that hasn’t been seen since the mid-1990s. However, the actual number of multiple job-holders is likely even higher than the statistics reported by the Department of Labor. Though they may not realize it, wage or salary employees who also run a part-time, self-employed business also count as multiple job holders. An indeterminate number of multiple job holders may be withholding that information from the federal government so that their secondary income remains untaxed. 

Clearly, the state of the American minimum wage is so dire that many hourly employees are forced to rely on public assistance or additional jobs just to make ends meet. However, there is progress being made on state, local, and corporate levels. In early 2018, 18 different states began to increase minimum wage rates by about $1 per hour, including Maine, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington state. Additionally, the state of California and New York City have both announced that they will be raising their minimum wages to $15 over the next 5 years. Finally, companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Target have recently announced increases in their corporate minimum wage regulations for part-time, full-time, and seasonal employees. Important progress is definitely being made in the fight for a higher minimum wage on both the political and corporate level, but many skeptics still oppose the raising of wage floors. 

Although the debate surrounding minimum wage is incredibly multifaceted, with factors including national employment rates, commodity prices, economic vitality, inflation, racial and gender equality, and tax rates, the heart of the argument for a higher minimum wage is empathy. There is an intense stigma against minimum wage jobs and the people who work them. For many people, entry-level, minimum wage jobs are generally considered to have little societal value. Minimum wage jobs are often characterized as temporary summer work for young high school or college students looking to earn a little spending money. Otherwise, they’re considered to be bottom-of-the-barrel employment for the lazy, unintelligent, and unmotivated. These generalizations do a disservice to the vast majority of minimum wage employees, who are just as diligent and hardworking as any salary-earner. 

Anyone who has ever worked a minimum wage job, even temporarily, can tell you that the daily demands of the food service, retail, caregiving, janitorial, and transportation industries are just as demanding, if not more taxing, than a 9-to-5 office job. Minimum wage employees are often asked to work 6 to 14-hour shifts every day of the week, with little or no opportunities for a break. For the duration of their shifts, cashiers, food service workers, and retail associates are frequently forbidden from sitting down, which means that they must remain on their feet for hours on end. Minimum wage workers endure verbal abuse and harassment from entitled customers, physically uncomfortable working environments with insufficient heating or air conditioning, and exposure to unclean or unsanitary substances on a day-to-day basis. Their work is the foundation for the fast food industry, the movie business, the brick-and-mortar retail industry. Minimum wage workers clean up after our messes, deliver our packages, care for our children and elders, and prepare our food. And yet, despite the fact these jobs form the backbone of our society, the people who hold them are not even paid a living wage.  

If you’re interested in joining the fight for a $15 minimum wage, even if you’re not a minimum wage employee yourself, there are several ways you can get involved. First, do your research into political candidates at the local, state, and federal levels who support increasing the minimum wage. If you’re able, donate or volunteer for their campaigns. At the very least, do your civic duty and vote! Additionally, try to support small businesses and larger companies that have demonstrated a sustained commitment to paying their employees fairly. Look into the wage policies of the businesses you frequent. If possible, try to support as many businesses that pay a living wage as you can. Although these steps might seem small and ineffectual, they can make a huge difference in convincing corporations and legislators to start paying hourly employees fairly!

Diversity Becomes Her: The 2018 Midterm Candidates Bring Change

The 2018 midterm elections have already set a record number of female candidates, a result of women being driven to run for office after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and within the context of the #MeToo movement whose roots took hold a little less than a year ago. As voters move to the polls on November 6 haunted by the recent testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the narrow confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, more women stand to be elected in 2018 than in 1992’s “Year of the Woman,” where an unprecedented number of women were elected to Congress, buoyed by women energized to vote after witnessing Anita Hill’s testimony accusing Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. With a record-breaking 255 women contending for congressional seats as major party candidates, this year’s elections may see up to 40 new women entering the House -- nearly double the record set in 1992. This year’s midterm elections are not only historical in terms of the number of female candidates running, but also in terms of the diversity of the candidates, with the potential for Congress in 2019 to break diversity records. At a time when civil rights are threatened and racism pervades society under the Trump administration and as the #MeToo movement fosters an environment of supporting and empowering women, these trailblazing candidates of the midterm elections represent progress by providing an important voice for women and minorities at a particularly fraught period. Ultimately, through the diverse female candidates of the 2018 midterm elections, there is hope for those who have long been forced to stay silent to finally have a voice.

Already this year, certain history-making candidates are nearly guaranteed election after having won their primaries, now running unopposed in the midterms. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American woman from Michigan, is set to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. She will be filling the vacancy left by John Conyers, the longest-serving Democratic House representative, who, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. In a stunning upset victory, political superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, toppled Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and now stands to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Ayanna Pressley, after also beating 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in another upset primary, will be the first African American woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. Other noteworthy candidates include Sharice Davids, who, if elected, could become the first Native American woman elected to Congress as well as the the first LGBTQ representative for Kansas; Jahana Hayes, the recipient of the 2016 Teacher of the Year award who, if elected, will become the first black woman in Congress from Connecticut, and who is also running to fill the seat of Rep. Elizabeth Esty who decided not to seek re-election after it was revealed that she protected an abusive male staff member; and Lauren Underwood, who, at 31 years old, is the youngest black woman running for Congress, and, if she wins, will be the first African American as well as the first woman to represent her district. 

In terms of gubernatorial elections, a record number of female candidates from a major party was set this year, with twelve new women running for governor alongside four incumbents who are up for re-election, and with four out of eight of the Democratic candidates being women of color. As the highest executive office in the country after the presidency, the possibility of women of color filling the seat of governorship is important not only symbolically, but also in terms of the experiences they would bring to the table as members of marginalized parts of society, as well as their policies which would directly and specifically benefit women and minorities.

In Georgia, a state where all previous governors have been white men, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams has already made history by being the first African American woman to run for governor. With a law degree from Yale, a master’s in public policy from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as having served as the minority leader of the House of Representatives of the Georgia General Assembly between 2011 and 2017, Abrams’ platform includes criminal justice reform, protection of abortion rights, and overcoming voter suppression and the disenfranchisement of minorities. The potential election of Abrams would be particularly symbolic in the Republican-leaning deep south state whose capital is known as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. 

The gubernatorial race in Texas has made history through Lupe Valdez, the first openly gay Latina candidate of a major party to run for governor of Texas. Valdez broke down barriers in 2004 when she was elected as sheriff of Dallas, becoming the country’s first openly gay Latina sheriff, and was subsequently re-elected three times before entering the race for governor. Open about her experiences overcoming discrimination as a lesbian and a woman of color, Valdez runs on a platform that seeks to protect immigrant and LGBTQ communities in a state where immigration and border security have been top concerns among voters and where discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is still legal.

In Vermont, Christine Hallquist is the country’s first openly transgender gubernatorial candidate of a major party. Formerly the CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, Hallquist was driven to run for office after the election of Donald Trump and the “resurgence of racism and white supremacy.” Hallquist’s platform plans to increase supplies of renewable energy and tackle climate change as well as civil rights issues.

The 2018 midterm elections provide an opportunity to confront the ills of society that have crawled out of the woodwork under the Trump administration. As sexual aggressors are still being put in positions of power, as white supremacy is becoming normalized, and as the small gains in LGBTQ rights are actively being rolled back, it is important now more than ever to elect candidates that will best protect and advance civil rights, justice, and equality. The number of diverse female candidates who stand to be elected in November means there will be a better chance to address the issues and concerns faced by women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community; there will be a better chance of breaking down barriers enforced and perpetuated by the Washington political elite; and there will be a better chance of setting the stage to create positive and lasting change in the country. Already, some of the midterm candidates are setting precedents by simply running for office, normalizing for the future what is considered to be novel in the present, laboriously and courageously paving the path to greater tolerance and acceptance, with liberty and justice for all.

Have your say: vote in the midterm elections on November 6.

California Set to Become 100 Percent Carbon Neutral

California has made history with S.B. 100, a bill that requires all retail energy to come from renewable resources by 2045. This bill will make California only the second state to do so, but as as the fifth largest economy in the world and the United States’ most populous state, it is a landmark step in the fight against climate change.

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While over 70% of Californians agree with the bill, it came with some push back from utility companies and energy intensive industries such as agriculture. Those who were against the bill cited concerns about job loss during the transition, and what renewable energy may hold for big business.

Despite these concerns, S.B. 100 passed by a small majority, 44-33 in favor of the bill. Right now California gets about a third of its energy from renewable resources. This includes solar and wind powered installations as well as geothermal generation sites. California also generates about 9% of its energy from nuclear power plants, which is a somewhat debated source of clean energy. About half of its energy comes from natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, but is actually potentially more damaging to the environment due to the amount of methane that natural gas emits.

Governor Brown signed SB 100 into law just before the Global Climate Action Summit. The bill helped bring concrete action to the climate movement, and is exactly what needs to be done in order to stop greenhouse gases from warming our planet even more. At the same time he also issued executive order B-55-18, calling for California to become completely carbon neutral over the same period of time.

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The executive order isn't law, but it is a strong statement confirming California’s commitment to climate action. These moves come in stark contrast to the White House, which has dismissed climate change and sought to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Through this bill and the executive order, California will seek to become completely carbon neutral, which is in line with the ambitions of the Paris Climate Accord.

These actions are more possible than claiming that California will be a zero carbon state. Carbon neutral means that carbon offsets, such as putting money into forest land or companies that actively reduce the carbon emissions available, are an option for businesses and individuals. This makes the executive order a lot more likely to be successful, and legitimizes the efforts of any states that would like to follow.

“This bill and the executive order put California on a path to meet the goals of Paris and beyond. It will not be easy. It will not be immediate. But it must be done,” Jerry Brown said at the signing.

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It's not yet clear how the bill will be put into action. While SB 100 gives lawmakers and businesses a very clear direction to go in, it doesn't provide any instructions on how to get there. California already has several similar bills in place, all of which are less ambitious, but many of them aren't on track to complete on time. 

Critics are concerned that the bill will harm Californians and exists only to please politicians. The bill has been stalled over the last 2 years over concerns of the cost and feasibility of putting an ambitious plan such as this one into action. 

California has long been a pioneer in forward thinking laws, and the success or failure of this bill will determine whether other states will follow. If it succeeds, it will show that even a large economy such as California can still be successful without harming the planet. It's a worthwhile goal, and one that can not only have a positive local impact for Californians but set a progressive prescient for climate action.

Costa Rica Becomes the First Nation to Ban Fossil Fuels

Sustainability has become the focus of the world over the last decade, and many countries have made great strides in their efforts to combat climate change. Japan has achieved nearly zero waste in select towns, and over 40% of Denmark's citizens commute by bicycle to work. 

Today, Costa Rica took steps to eclipsing even these amazing countries in terms of sustainability. President Carlos Alvarado announced they would be banning fossil based fuels altogether. This makes Costa Rica the first country in the world to completely decarbonize.

“Getting rid of fossil fuels is a big idea coming from a small country. This is an idea that’s starting to gain international support with the rise of new technologies,” Costa Rican economist Monica Araya said.

As unlikely as going carbon-free in today's modern world might seem, Costa Rica already derives 99% of its energy from renewable sources. Their biggest hurdle will be in the transportation industry, where there is very little in the way of development in that sector and demand for cars is growing.

Source:  La Nacion

Source: La Nacion

Luckily, plans are already under way to help address the issues at a cultural level. Many Costa Ricans already appreciate the benefits if renewable energy, and Hyundais (a favorite vehicle in Costa Rica) are available completely fossil fuel free. Costa Rica Limpia, an organization helping to push the decarbonization efforts, plans to have these cars available for citizens to test drive and take a look at. 

President Carlos Alvarado has set a goal of decarbonizing by 2021, which will mark 200 years of independence for Costa Rica. The goal is aggressive and may not be entirely feasible, especially with Costa Rica's current financial issues.

Costa Rica has been operating on a deficit since 2009. 22% of Costa Rica's revenue comes from taxing the auto industry, and a large portion of that goes to protection of forests and other forms of conservation. This could result in a heavy financial loss for their already strained financial situation, but rethinking how they get their money could resolve their issues over time.

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With fewer carbon emissions, they may save money in the form of reduced health care costs. Another option, which they will no doubt have to adopt at some point, is changing what they tax instead. A tax on carbon itself might help them to their goal and resolve their current financial situation as well.

Whether Costa Rica achieves its decarbonization goals on time or not, their efforts make a statement to the rest of the world. If a small country can make a huge difference to the world despite their size and lack of development, bigger countries can follow their example.

Globally, fossil fuels are the biggest threat to climate change, and a path to getting rid of them is one that all countries should make an effort to follow, regardless of size. As Araya put it in another statement, “Tackling resistance to change is one of the most important tasks we have right now.”

California Now Requires Solar Roofing on All New Housing

The California Energy Commission voted in a unanimous 5-0 vote on Wednesday to change energy efficiency standards on newly constructed homes. These new standards will require all new homes to have solar panels installed on them, effective January 2020. It is a huge step for California, which is already a leader in green energy, and has been praised as a giant step in California's efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions.

These new requirements may increase the prices on new homes in an already pricey market, but should save new home buyers overall. The new requirements are projected to cost new home buyers an extra $40 a month on their mortgage payment, but save them double that in energy costs. This means an overall benefit to home buyers, if they can handle the initial purchase or rental of solar panels.

Adding solar panels to all new homes, and all condominiums and apartments three stories or smaller, is not just a step towards efficiency, but also California's ambitious climate change goals. In 2017, state legislation was passed requiring California to cut its greenhouse emissions as much as 40% by 2030. This ambitious goal will be greatly helped by the new requirements.

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The requirements received remarkably little opposition from the building industry group which was present during the vote. The change has been expected from them for a long time, and their only negative comment was that they wished for a longer time to implement the new regulations. When asked for their opinions, the vast majority of builders and their representatives expressed their support for the new regulations.

The lack of protest most likely stems from the affordability of solar panels in California. Right now it is so cost effective compared to traditional electric, over 15,000 home owners choose solar panels as an option for their new homes anyway. As it is, California now produces so much wind and solar panel, they often have to cease production or give away energy to other states to avoid overloading the grid. Some people are concerned that requiring solar on every new home will strain the grid farther, but others see the choice as simply turning solar into an appliance rather than a utility.

Only time will tell whether or not California's efforts will be successful or not. If the new requirements end up being a boon to the economy as many people predict, California's new building requirements will serve as a model for other states to follow. Should it fail or have other problems, other states will see it and think carefully before proceeding down the same path.

Most Californian's seem to agree with the new requirements, and are happy to embrace these changes, but they still have another trial ahead of them. In order to become permanent, they need to get a final approval from California’s Building Standards Commission. It is expected to be up for review in November, and is expected to be approved and adopted into the state's building codes.