By Beto O’Rourke

I am voting for Proposition K. While not perfect, it’s the only comprehensive plan before us to meet the challenge of climate change in our community before it’s too late. 

Beto O’Rourke

El Paso is warming faster than any other city in the United States except one. The consequences of increased heat, extreme weather and climate disasters in this country will disproportionately be borne by El Pasoans. And within our community, those already living at the margins – the poorest and the most vulnerable – will be hit the hardest. 

A recent New York Times article quoted University of California at Berkeley researchers who have found that increased heat in our community “will drive deaths that soon outpace those from car crashes or opioid overdoses. Cooling costs — already a third of some residents’ budgets — will get pricier, and warming will drive down economic output by 8 percent, perhaps making El Paso just as unlivable as the places farther south.”

There’s literally almost no other place with as much to lose should we fail to successfully confront climate change before it’s too late.

That’s why Amy and I are voting for Prop K, also known as the Climate Charter, in the current El Paso municipal elections (early voting extends through May 2; Election Day is May 6).

Young El Pasoans have watched as previous generations have refused to take meaningful action in the face of incontrovertible science – science that makes clear that the path we’re on is not sustainable. But instead of succumbing to the temptation to despair or give up, these young El Pasoans have chosen to act by leading on this charter initiative. And they’re not alone. More than 39,000 of their fellow citizens signed petitions to put this on the ballot so that we could all have a say in our future. 

Prop K will ensure that El Paso takes its responsibility to manage our natural resources (our air, water and energy) seriously. It will help to improve air quality, conserve water and transition us to greater use of solar, wind and other renewable technologies. It will also require the city government to take climate change into account in the decisions it makes and help it focus on creating more climate jobs. And it puts us in position to benefit from the unprecedented level of federal spending on climate initiatives (hundreds of billions of dollars committed to improving power and electricity grids; mitigating climate impacts on frontline communities; and clean energy solutions, for example).

The response from the most powerful in this community to this proposal and call for action from young people has been less than inspiring. The Chamber and the anti-Prop K “El Pasoans for Prosperity” PAC and a group called “Consumer Energy Alliance”  spent $1 million on fear mongering and sending outlandish claims in the form of slick mailers to our homes (nearly half of all jobs will leave El Paso; police and fire departments will be gutted; millions of dollars in new taxes; etc.). 

What might be even worse is that the Chamber and anti-charter forces don’t have a plan of their own. If Prop K is the wrong answer, then what’s the right one? The status quo is unacceptable and so is inaction.

That’s not to say that Prop K is ideal. It isn’t. Some of the language is confusing and vague and there are parts of the proposition that I disagree with (like prohibiting anyone who has worked in the fossil fuel industry from serving on the city’s Climate Commission. I’d rather we welcome the expertise of everyone who can help us reach our goals, regardless of where they’ve worked before). 

While Prop K would not require the City to buy El Paso Electric (it would require the City to explore opportunities to do that, to study it, but would not commit the City to purchase it), I can see why some have been confused by the language in that section of the proposal (and by how the Chamber and PACs incorrectly claim the purchase would be required). 

I also don’t know that the proponents have been as up front about the costs that will be associated with these proposed changes as they should be. It’s an important issue and we should walk into our decisions on climate policy with eyes wide open.

There is no way that we will meet the challenge of climate change without sacrifice and cost. In fact, the one thing that is absolutely certain is that climate change will impose a significant toll on this community. 

Our choice is whether we want to take those costs up front, and avert the worst of what’s to come, or whether we want to continue paying for small, piecemeal measures over the coming years. The latter approach would make future generations pay many times more than what’s being asked of us now, as well as endure the worst impacts of an unmitigated climate crisis. 

That’s what Prop K gets right – it lays out the important, urgent decision before us; the chance to act before it’s too late.

But if younger generations will bear the consequence of what we do (or fail to do) at this moment, they also have the power to win this election if they show up. However, with just over 19,000 votes counted in the first five days of early voting, only 818 have been cast by people under the age of 30. The urgency that so many feel on this issue must be matched by the action needed to win this election. I don’t see how Prop K passes without a major surge in young voters.

Which brings me to this: given the amount of money opponents of Prop K are spending (have we received 10 mailers? 12? I’ve lost count), their willingness to mislead and deceive the public, the somewhat confusing ballot language and the low level of young voter turnout, unless something changes in voter turnout in the next seven days, Prop K will likely fail.

I hope that young El Pasoans vote. I hope that older El Pasoans, concerned for our future and dismayed by the opposition’s tactics, vote their conscience. Enough people doing the right thing, and it could pass.

But if it does fail, what’s next? 

Climate change isn’t going away, whatever the result of the election on May 6. The message from this election cannot be that El Paso is uninterested in meeting the single greatest long-term challenge to our future. And it can’t be that we are ignoring the will of young people, who are already leaving this city faster than almost any other in America. 

But to give people – especially young people – faith in our future, we will need leadership from across the community.  That means elected leaders, community leaders and business leaders working in concert with Sunrise and other young climate activists who’ve already put in the work to bring this conversation to the forefront. It means everyday El Pasoans fully participating in our democracy, by voting, but also by showing up to City Council meetings, speaking about climate policy at neighborhood meetings, organizing around this issue to keep it at the top of our city’s priorities. 

It means ensuring that El Paso reclaims its ambition as a city of “firsts” on issues that matter most. We were the first city in the former Confederacy to desegregate places of public accommodation in 1962. We also were the first city in Texas to adopt a Clean Indoor Air Ordinance to eliminate public area smoking and have been a leader on water conservation measures. We now have a chance to become one of the first cities in Texas to lead on the most significant issue of our time. 

The first step is to do our part in deciding the outcome of this election. Seven days left to vote, seven days to do the right thing. 

Early voting polls are open until May 2. Election day is Saturday, May 6. Find the polling location and time most convenient for you, and vote. 

Beto O’Rourke represented El Paso in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013-2019, and served on El Paso City Council from 2005-2011.

Disclosure: Beto O’Rourke is a financial supporter of El Paso Matters. Financial supporters play no role in El Paso Matters’ journalism.