By Kermit Hovey

As we enter this new year, I grieve the sad and sickened state of two things upon which our lives and freedoms depend. One is our democracy, the other is our climate. The recent anniversary of the January 6 Capitol insurgency reminds us of the peril still confronting our system of self-government. The continuing onslaught of climate change–induced extreme weather events reminds us of the lack of sufficient action to fix the climate.

Yet you and I cannot just grieve; we can resolve in the spirit of this still-young new year to fix our democracy and fix our climate. By doing that, we can keep a broken democracy from breaking our climate and a broken climate from breaking our democracy. We can fix both if, as individuals, we act less like individuals and more like community members. As community members, we can own the challenge to work together and the responsibility to solve community-wide problems through democratic means.

A broken climate will bring extreme weather events—floods, heatwaves, wildfires, droughts, deluges, and more—that will disrupt the orderly function of our society. The very fiber and function of society will experience increasingly disabling strains. These will make the Covid-19 pandemic disruptions to commerce and government seem like minor inconveniences.

More heartbreakingly, a broken climate will increase the cynicism and disappointment of citizens and voters of all ages. All too painfully and slowly, our American experiment has expanded democratic rights and participation over the centuries. In doing so, it has incrementally addressed significant challenges and crises.

Sadly, in the present moment—despite decades of warnings, explanations, lobbying, and debate—progress on fixing the climate has not matched the size of the challenge. Instead, deception and dysfunction still carry the day despite glimmers of hope and baby steps of action. If that continues to be the case, that failure will risk destroying people’s remaining faith, trust, and hope in democracy.

To fix our climate, we need to translate the will of the majority into democratic action. Polling by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and others has shown that nationally we have majorities acknowledging the reality of the climate crisis and the need for action. Similar polling has shown that the minorities rejecting that reality and that need have been particularly exposed to deceptive and inaccurate claims.

So, how can we save our democracy? How can we save our climate?

First, we must recognize that both are threatened. The threats to our democracy and our climate are really happening, really serious, really human-caused, and we can still really do something about them!

Second, we need to act as individuals, as community members, and as citizens to save our democracy and our climate. Interestingly, we can get two wins for the price of one. We can help fix our democracy by participating in it, and by participating in our democracy, we can help fix our climate.


  • Get out and vote. Be aware that elections may be coming sooner than you think (check My Vote Wisconsin for elections in Wisconsin this February, April, and November). Vote for representatives and officials at all levels of government—from village board and city council to U.S. House and Senate—who recognize both problems and support action to address them. Inform your vote by finding out candidates’ positions on democratic access and the climate crisis.
  • Get out the vote, Encourage friends and families to recognize the importance of putting people in office who will act to preserve and protect a healthy democracy and a healthy climate.
  • Get in touch with your representatives and officials. Let them know you want a democracy and a climate that allow us freedom to thrive as individuals and communities, as a country and a world. In particular, to help fix democracy, call on Senators Baldwin and Johnson and President Biden to move quickly to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act; and to help fix our climate, call on your senators and President Biden to support a carbon price in the reconciliation bill.
  • Run for office yourself. This is not for everybody by any stretch. For those willing to try, especially at the level of municipal government, there can be surprising opportunities to win office and get important things done.
  • Get involved with groups that can help you channel your efforts, direct your concerns, educate you about issues, and target specific actions and meaningful messages (see some suggestions below.

Remember, not only should we fix our climate and fix our democracy, but by working to fix and protect the one, we work to fix and protect the other!

Among nonpartisan advocacy groups targeting the climate crisis:

  • “is building a future that’s just, prosperous, equitable and safe from the effects of the climate crisis.” Locally, we in 350 Madison “oppose pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure, work with local governments to convert society to clean renewable energy, pressure large financial institutions to stop financing fossil fuel companies, and promote changes for a healthy, sustainable environment.”
  • The Environmental Voter Project activates environmentally concerned citizens to become regular voters.
  • Citizens Climate Lobby builds the political will for a livable world with a current emphasis on putting a price on carbon through federal legislation.
  • The Climate XChange State Climate Policy Network “includes more than 15,000 advocates and policymakers across the country who are pushing for effective and equitable climate policies in their states.”

Among groups targeting voting rights and democratic access: