Monday, 05 Dec 2022

A renewed sense of urgency: climate on the ballot in US midterm elections

A renewed sense of urgency: climate on the ballot in US midterm elections

A renewed sense of urgency: climate on the ballot in US midterm elections

Climate is on the ballot in a big way this November, despite the fact that it is not front and center in any of the campaigns. Even when it comes to voter turnout, the mood of climate voters has been a topic of conversation among political consultants for months.

"Several months ago I was very concerned about the apathy we were seeing in young climate voters because of Democrats' failure to even talk about the successes they have had," Rania Batrice, political strategist and founder of Batrice & Associates, says. "But I do feel like there's been a little bit of a renewed sense of urgency. In Georgia, for example, early voting just started and it's already breaking all kinds of records."

Batrice says the fallout from the supreme court decision in Dobbs, which overturned the Roe v Wade precedent on abortion, is a big part of that urgency, but that the Biden administration's increased action on climate this year plays a role too.

For the campaigns she's working on this midterm cycle - Beto O'Rourke for governor of Texas, John Fetterman for Senate in Pennsylvania, Charles Booker for Senate in Kentucky and Mandela Barnes for Senate in Wisconsin - Batrice says her advice on climate is simple: "Meet people where they're at, and talk about climate in ways that relate to people's daily lives."

Jamie Henn, co-founder of and founder of the non-profit climate communications organization Fossil Free Media, echoes that advice. He says progressive candidates have been telling the right story on high gas prices - "They're set by oil and gas companies, period, not by Congress" - but that many in the Democratic party have ceded the narrative to their Republican opponents, who push a simple, false message that the price at the pump is caused by pro-environmental policies.

"Big oil has just pulled off one of the biggest heists in American history and no one is talking about it," Henn says, referring to the $70bn in profits that just six oil companies booked in the past 90 days. "Those profits just came out of the pockets of average people. It's a major transfer of wealth, and people should be just as pissed at Exxon as they were at Wall Street during the financial crisis."

Henn points to candidates like Fetterman, who has been leaning into the idea of accountability for fossil fuel executives, rather than a fracking ban in Pennsylvania, as striking the right note. "Even in the general election two years ago the conventional wisdom was you can't say anything about fracking in Pennsylvania and get elected," Henn says. Now you have both Fetterman and the attorney general, Josh Shapiro, who is running for governor in the state, talking about holding fracking companies accountable for poisoning water and land. "In both cases they're saying we won't shut it down immediately but we will hold these guys accountable for poisoning your water. That's a really interesting turn in Pennsylvania," Henn added.

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