Toward a More Perfect Representation

Come January, America will have a new set of female leaders in government who are poised to make progress on climate and the environment for all Americans.
Representative-elect Ilhan Omar greeted by her mother-in-law after appearing at her midterm election party in Minneapolis
Credit: Eric Miller/Reuters

Come January, America will have a new set of female leaders in government who are poised to make progress on climate and the environment for all Americans.

Earlier this year, I noted that women were rising up as a response to President Trump’s first year in office in the most impressive ways. Now, after last week’s historic midterm elections—with a record-breaking 123 women elected to congressional and gubernatorial seats so far—I’m happy to officially mark 2018 as the Year of the Women.

This is huge. We now have more women in government than ever before—101 in the House of Representatives, 13 in the Senate, and 9 in governors’ seats. And many women of color are marking pathbreaking firsts, especially in Congress: Sharice Davids (KS 3) and Deb Haaland (NM 1), the first two indigenous women elected (Davids is also the first Native-American lesbian); Rashida Tlaib (MI 13) and Ilhan Omar (MN 5), the first two Muslim-American women elected; Veronica Escobar (TX 16) and Sylvia Garcia (TX 29), the first two Latina women elected from Texas; and Ayanna Pressley (MA 7), the first African-American woman elected from Massachusetts. We should all take a second to mark the magnitude of these results, because America can only get stronger with broader representation.

Broader representation means different opinions, voices, and perspectives. Broader representation means a diverse group of people at the table making key policy decisions that benefit more Americans. Broader representation means we have better inclusion and a truer reflection of what it means to be a part of modern-day America.

With these women in office, I’m excited and hopeful that their actions will usher in the urgently needed policies to protect our collective future. We know from polls that more women than men are concerned about climate change. They understand on many levels what’s at stake and want their elected officials to lead the charge.

And now, a new group of strong female leaders is poised to take up the most difficult challenge of our time. In addition to the women I mentioned here, Davids, Haaland, Tlaib, Omar, Escobar, Garcia, and Pressley all campaigned on platforms that underscored climate action. Janet Mills, Maine’s governor-elect, has a proven track record of protecting the environment and a plan for climate adaptation. Kyrsten Sinema, who was announced earlier this week as the winner of the Senate race in Arizona—the first woman senator from the state and the first openly bisexual member of the Senate—also supports reducing climate pollution and developing her state’s rich solar potential.

This election was also a win for science, with many scientists and STEM professionals taking congressional seats. Representative-elect Sarah Peters (NV 24) is an environmental engineer who understands the dire need for action, as does Anne Claflin (MN 54A), a research scientist who specializes in climate change policy. In addition, Michelle Beckley (TX 65), who has a degree in biomedical sciences, promises to advance the state’s renewable portfolio. It’s refreshing and welcome, after almost two years of attacks on science (most notably the recent disappearance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s page on climate change), that these women will bring back respect for data and respect for the laws of science that cannot be broken.

While this is a proud moment, my hope is that it’s only the beginning of real, lasting change. Even with these impressive results, research shows that representation is not proportional to what women need and deserve. Women constitute only about 20 percent of government, although we make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population. There’s also so much more work to do in diversifying the government with not only more women, but also more racial and ethnic groups and LGBTQ people, to more accurately reflect our country and democracy.

The next couple of years won’t be easy in the vacuum of federal action on climate, in addition to the Trump administration’s relentless attacks on the environment. It won’t be easy in the next 12 years during which we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in unprecedented, dramatic ways. But the promise of these phenomenal women taking their seats in office signals to me that we’re headed in the right direction—forward, toward progress for all Americans.