Kid Rock and Sean Penn Preach Unity. Environmentalists Should Listen.

Americans screen grab photoAmericans/Video screen capture

This election, I find myself voting for a lesser of two evils. Neither main candidate is exactly bending over backwards when it comes to tackling climate change—one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation, and as a species.

The Lazy Allure of Us Versus Them
And yet despite my disappointment in both parties, I still found myself occasionally sucked in to partisan hostilities and angry rhetoric. Luckily, we have a shining example of getting above such frays—and it comes from a collaboration between hyper-partisan celebrities Kid Rock and Sean Penn. The pair created a video last month that's been making the rounds of the internet, depicting a light-hearted coming together between Rock and Penn in which the former ends up buying a Prius, the latter ends up sporting a Nascar t-shirt.

And it's a perfect message for what comes next.

Division is Divisive
Perhaps it's just part of the election season, but it is important for us all to remember that angry words can have lasting effects. Take a look at any article about the election online, and the chances are the comments will be full of Conservatives blast "urban elites", and liberals ridiculing "Midwestern hicks and white trash".

Let's Take Responsibility For Our Words
Disagreeing, even vehemently, on points of substance is central to a functioning democracy. But discounting people based on their background, where they come from, or which demographic they belong to is simply a road to more of the same partisanship and gridlock that is getting us nowhere. I can't do much about what the "other side" does in the political sphere, but I am hereby making a commitment to watch myself for signs of prejudice or unnecessarily divisive rhetoric, and to call out others when I see them doing the same. (While I am in awe of many of fellow TreeHugger Brian's substantive missives, for example, I confess I was not a fan of his cheap "Hitler and Romney have the same energy policy" line of attack.)

Can Environmentalism Be a Healer?
While environmentalism has often been used as a wedge in politics ("jobs" versus "owls", "science" versus "faith"), the fact is that care for our planet has the potential to be a truly uniting issue. Time and again, we see that people overwhelmingly support clean energy and investing in renewables.

The folks devastated by Sandy were Republicans, they were Democrats, they were communists, they were anarchists, they were fascists, they were libertarians, and they were none of the above. And none of their ideologies did them much good when it came to fighting back the flood waters. What did do them good was a coming together of community. A banding together to pull everybody up out of the mess. (Including a surprisingly refreshing display of bipartisanship between former political foes.)

Similarly, in the small towns devastated by outsourcing of jobs, or dealing with the toxic legacies of fossil fuel extraction, there are armies of people ready for a different vision. But they are never going to accept that vision (nor should they) if they feel that the people pushing it look down on them for who they are.

Evidence-Based Environmental Policy is Non-Negotiable
Yes, let's keep pushing for evidence-based decision making on environmental challenges. (Mayor Bloomberg's endorsement of Obama showed that Republicans can and should support such an approach.) Yes, let's challenge politicians when they fail to take adequate action on the threats we face. Yes, let's continue to take non-violent direct action when necessary.

We Need a Larger Narrative
But as James Murray recently argued in his case for a new environmentalism, we must also craft a grander vision—a vision that is big enough to bring everyone along for the ride.

If Kid Rock is game, then I am.

Kid Rock and Sean Penn Preach Unity. Environmentalists Should Listen.
Kid Rock buys a Prius. Sean Penn sports a Nascar shirt. Is there hope for us all?

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