Letter from the Director: “Vote as if _______ Depends on It – Because It Does,” September 2020

As Director of the ESI, I’ve used this space to write “notes” on a number of subjects. I now take this opportunity to join the growing chorus encouraging everyone to exercise an essential individual right of our democracy – the right to VOTE.

Let me state clearly that the ESI is nonpartisan and we work across the political spectrum in the US and internationally. Our cross-partisan activities are always focused on leveraging MIT’s capacity and talents in contributing to improving people’s lives, promoting sustainable and equitable prosperity and protecting the planet.

However, being nonpartisan does not mean we are apolitical. Politics matter. Engagement in the political process matters. The ESI currently works with policymakers at the federal, state and local levels for a low carbon and equitable future. For many Americans, voting is the most powerful and accessible way to engage in our political system. And while the individual act of voting seems almost trivial in a world of massively concentrated power and wealth, voting itself holds the promise to recast everything about the political reality we live in. Seems that we Americans have not appreciated this well enough. Consider that the largest party in America is neither the Democrats nor the Republicans – it’s the party of nonvoters[1].

So, while the ESI is nonpartisan, we are deeply engaged in the consequences of our evolving political landscape and are particularly attuned to how the dynamics of governance shapes our environmental present and future. These past few years have been a sobering reminder that some political agents believe that accelerating environmental and ecological destruction, inaction on climate change, perpetuation of entrenched environmental injustice, and short-term profits for the few over long term prosperity for many are acceptable results of our political system.

I do not. Our system was conceived and engineered to serve the Right of the People, though from its origins it was deeply flawed. In fact, history has taught us that our nation’s founding ideals were false when written[2] and eventually required that the US Constitution be amended in significant ways. This work to make a more perfect union is certainly not done, and not by a long shot. How we conduct ourselves toward the environment and act on climate change will hinge on how many of us decide to vote[3].

As the US Declaration of Independence states, “… when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The abuses were those of George III. Today, abuses of our political system, assaults on our institutions, and the specter of despotism are 21st century American realities. Voting is one way to throw off such Government and provide new Guards for our future security.

So, please vote. Vote as if our democracy – and the environment, and justice, and sustained prosperity – depend on it because they most certainly do.

John E. Fernández, Director
September 24, 2020
Cambridge, Massachusetts


Below we list several resources to assist you and others in exercising your right to vote:


[1] Attributed to and paraphrased from Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration.

[2] Hannah-Jones, Nikole. “The Idea of America – The 1619 Project.” New York Times Magazine [New York City], August 14, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html   Accessed September 16, 2020.

[3] See the work of Nathaniel Stinnett and the Environmental Voter Project: https://www.environmentalvoter.org