Two weeks ago, Defend Our Future, our supporters, and our progressive allies stood in shock as the values we had fought so hard to protect this election season lost out to the ideologies we fear most, but hadn’t dared consider. Many of us found ourselves feeling confused and discouraged both professionally and personally at the thought of battling an administration so hostile to the environment and dismissive of the fight against climate change.
It’s fair to say that advocates at Defend Our Future and our parent organization, the Environmental Defense Fund, had a true identity crisis.
Lucky for us, the political team was presented with a much-needed opportunity to reflect on and learn from the results of this divisive election – in the form of a retreat to Charleston, South Carolina.
This trip, which we had assumed would be a celebration of success, had become a necessity for strengthening our morale and reshaping our strategy – and could not have come at a better time. 45 members from across Defend, EDF, and Moms Clean Air Force – a team comprised of lobbyists, campaigners, activists, communications specialists, policy makers, fundraisers, and scientists (to name a few) – gathered with a sense of urgency prepared to face hard questions and develop solutions to this new political reality.
First we asked ourselves: What lessons can we learn from the results of this election? While initial outcomes appeared dismal, there were some silver linings: the majority of Americans, millennials in particular, believe in a clean energy future, and the popular vote reflects that value. In some states, such as Nevada, polling indicated that many voters made their decision based on solar energy.
However, we came to the difficult realization that we had failed to get out of our DC “bubble” and imbed the concerns of working-class Americans into our solutions. Without explicitly tying action on climate to jobs, we can’t hope for these voters to prioritize our issues in the face of economic hardship.
Perhaps the more difficult question we asked was: How are we going to defend our nation’s most crucial environmental policies while also maintaining an offensive stance on climate change under the Trump Administration?
We made plans to immediately combat the negative statements on climate science and crucial environmental regulations coming from Trump’s EPA transition lead, Myron Ebell. We also developed strategies to defend the Paris Agreement on climate – and to help the administration and all Americans realize its environmental and economic potential for our country.
On climate action, we recognized the need to continue working with bipartisan allies in Congress in order to make climate a priority in infrastructure and tax reform. And, importantly, we affirmed the need to tell real stories of those who have been affected by climate change and other environmental issues.
Our trip to Charleston also provided an opportunity for reflection on our purpose as environmental advocates. On a boat ride through the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, we took in breathtaking coastal views and spotted unique birds, dolphins, and even alligators, while our guide Chris earnestly explained the devastating effects of climate change on the refuge, including five feet of sea level rise. At such a time of soul-searching and questioning ourselves, he emphasized that our work now is more important than ever.
Our team at Defend Our Future and EDF emerged from this retreat stronger than ever and prepared for the fight of our lives. While more discouraging environmental rhetoric emerges every day, we have the resolve and renewed energy to continue pushing for climate action and strengthening our country’s environmental protections.