For a moment, suspend your knowledge of the continuing debate about climate change. Now consider this question: Is lessening this nation’s dependence on fossil fuels a good thing for national security? Apparently not. Otherwise, how else can one explain congressional and lobbyist attempts to derail legislation that would mandate energy efficiency as a national priority? The ongoing struggle to design our way to more sustainable communities won’t be won by appeals to virtue or the national interest. Saying it’s the so-called “right thing to do” won’t cut it because there’s much more money on the side that has a differing view.

There are only two ways to make the case for energy efficiency: economically and politically. As we enter the third revolution (the first two being the political revolution of the 18th century and the industrial revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries), we have to show that sustainability creates jobs and increases productivity—and that the money saved can be redirected to the restoration of our crumbling infrastructure. That’s a powerful argument that lots of people could get behind, from architects to economists to social scientists to engineers.

The political lever for positive change is a literal one: the ballot box. However many lobbyists are out there buttonholing our representatives or filling the airwaves with misleading information, there are still more of us interested in a sustainable future. Although the AIA is and will continue to be nonpartisan, this does not mean AIA members are blind and deaf. This election year will certainly make a difference for our futures. Become informed, attend rallies, read the literature, and ask tough questions to get a fix on where the candidates stand. Then pull that lever. There will still be political divisions, but with any luck eventually we’ll all live in a more sustainable, healthy, and productive environment.

Jeff Potter, FAIA, 2012 President