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Yale 62

YALE62 Op Ed: Investing in Conservation Politics

By David B. Bingham, MD
Yale ’62 (BA), Columbia ’66 (MD)

Clean air and clean water are high priorities for all of us. Getting them requires investment at all levels of society: personal, local, state and federal.

Like many of you, I am doing my personal part, minimizing consumption of goods; eating a plant-based diet; traveling less while driving a plug-in hybrid that gets its energy from panels on my barn roof; using solar-heated water; eliminating fertilizers and pesticides; growing hemp for industrial use (building materials); composting and/or recycling waste, voting, etc.

And on the local level, I have spent 40 years on my town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, providing local land use regulations and patterns that conserve wildlife and energy, minimize forest and farm fragmentation, and prevent soil erosion.

If all citizens do their part, and more are doing so in recent years, it makes a significant difference. However, without state and federal policies that conserve our natural resources, these actions are still insufficient. State and federal policy make far more difference to clean air, clean water, land conservation, wildlife protection and climate change than anything I can help with on a personal and local level.

So I have joined a number of conservation organizations, and served on a number of boards that work on conservation issues. I even ran (unsuccessfully) for the state senate and the US Congress. What I have learned is that politicians need support to do the right thing, they need education on conservation issues, and they also need oversight.

None of us can know the details of the myriad of conservation issues that affect our land, air and water. We can, however, support organizations that do so. Often, these organizations are good at the science, but weak in the political ability to effect change in state and federal policy. Science and facts are not enough.

To be effective, conservation organizations need boots on the ground in the state legislatures and in congress. If the group has a non-profit educational arm, a 501(c)(3), it can use donated dollars that are tax-deductible by donors, to educate not only on issues but on how the political system works. If it has a political arm, a 501(c)(4), it can use non-deductible dollars for legislative oversight, lobbying, and political endorsements. And if it has registered as a PAC, it can become directly involved in independent expenditures to help its favored candidates get elected.

I serve as Co-chair of the CT League of Conservation Voters (see www.ctlcv.org ), and Chair its PAC, which is where my investment in time and dollars can be used on a non-partisan basis to champion those politicians who will support wiser environmental policies and regulations to clean and protect our land, air and water, mitigate climate change and provide environmental justice to our underserved communities. We provide oversight during legislative sessions, grade state senators and representatives on their votes, and educate legislators and the public on the issues and their actions.

It is the best investment I have ever made. For instance, the cost of getting a bill through the legislative process that may save thousands of acres of forest is a fraction of the cost of saving a single large lot. Getting toxins out of our airs saves millions in health costs.

We in CT are making significant progress in having a strong conservation-oriented voting block in our legislature, and in support of the state administration. Our coalition of groups is making progress on many fronts of the complex environmental policy world (see our website for successes and failures).

There is much to be done, and the opposition is relentless. I welcome members of my class to invest along with me in support of CTLCV, and/or at the national League of Conservation Voters, or in similar organizations in many other states. Thank you for your service to our fragile planet. Mother earth needs us, and repays us many times over, in awesome and wondrous ways.

2 comments to YALE62 Op Ed: Investing in Conservation Politics

  • Chris cory

    Nice summary and call to action. personal + politcal = power, and increments you’ve shepherded matter. Nice to see some arraigned as you have. Merry and appreciative wishes.

  • David Bingham

    Thanks, Chris
    I was inspired by Sam Waterston to reach out after reading about his arrest at the Yale Bowl standing up for climate action.. Maybe we should all get arrested and have the Class of ’62 recognized in supporting him.

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