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Ignoring Cancer

A new mantra in the politics of climate change is reemerging, and it’s not good. In the last few weeks, random elected officials began proclaiming “they aren’t qualified” enough to know if climate change is man-made.

This morning Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said: “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”

Earlier this week when asked if he believes in the man-made influence on climate change Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) said: “I’m not a scientist.”

Both can thank Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) for starting this mantra back in 2009 when he said “I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision.”

Although Senator Rubio has hedged a bit lately as he (or his pollsters) realize that to become President he’s going to need a big coalition of supporters, most of whom will believe climate change is in part man-made.

These kinds of statements may just be clever attempts to avoid the question, but if they mean it, we should all have concerns about whether these people are really fit for office.  After all, elected officials are decision makers who are asked to vote everyday on issues where they have no expertise.  That is why they hold hearings with experts, why they hire experienced staff that does their research, and why they should take the time to understand a topic.  I’ve never heard them say they weren’t qualified to vote on sanctions for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program because “I am not a physicist.” Or I can’t decide if the CDC should have more funding to research bird flu because “I am not a doctor.” Or I can’t weigh in on universal pre-K or the Common Core because “I don’t have a doctorate in education.”

The fact that key GOP leaders are deploying this dodge shows that the age of denial is over. The majority of voters realize that climate change is a real threat, and they want leaders to deal with it, not pretend it doesn’t exist. But the Tea Party crowd hasn’t received the memo yet, so GOP leaders who want to appeal to that base have to be coy and demur the science. And while these lawmakers may not be scientists, they can rely upon the work of the 97 percent of scientists who have concluded that climate change is caused by human activity.

Let’s follow their logic in a practical application in your own life. If a doctor told you that you have cancer and you needed to seek treatment, would you tell the doctor you’re not qualified to talk about treatment options and move on with your day?  No, you would do research, maybe get a second opinion and educate yourself so you could seek the best treatment.

Our world needs leaders who take climate change as seriously as they would a diagnosis of cancer.  It sounds dire – because it is dire.  Countries will disappear, poverty will rise, and the health of our children will suffer.  We have a moral obligation to address climate change.  Pleading ignorance is not a compelling leadership strategy. We need lawmakers who will inform themselves about the threats facing our communities and our nation.  Speaker Boehner, Governor Scott, and Senator Rubio need to become qualified to have a discussion and then lead.  That is what they were elected to do and we are running out of time to act.

 

 

Time for Candidates to Go on the Climate Offense

If something were threatening the economic, cultural, and natural lifeblood of your state, would you want your members of Congress to ignore it or address it? Representative Gary Peters realizes that most voters want leaders to actually solve problems. And so he has made tackling climate change one of the central issues of the Michigan Senate race.

Plenty of other candidates have talked about climate change on the campaign trail. But Peters is one of the first to go on the climate offense. And judging from recent polls, his leadership has boosted his odds of winning.

Peters has challenged his opponent Terri Lynn Land to clarify her position on climate change and to acknowledge that human activity causes climate change. “This is something elected officials should be talking about—we have to be concerned about it,” Peters recently told the Washington Post. “Certainly the voters would like to know where she is. It’s a major issue.”

The National Mining Association responded recently by funding $300,000-worth of radio ads defending Land, but Peters isn’t backing down. He knows climate action is right for Michigan and for America, and he isn’t letting Land or the fossil fuel industry off the hook. He will also have the support of Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate and will be one of their top featured races in their #WinOnClimate campaign.

“I can’t imagine the Koch brothers would be supporting [Land] to the tune that they are unless she agrees with their agenda,” Peters said. “A big part of their agenda is dismantling environmental regulations. Until she says otherwise, it’s safe to assume she subscribes to it.”

Peters’ approach has the makings of a winning strategy. According to the NRDC Action Fund’s analysis of the past two election cycles, the best way to appeal to voters on climate change is to be early, loud, and local. In other words, get out front of the issue before your opponent does, talk about the issue often, and connect the dots between climate change and your home state.

Making those connections isn’t hard in Michigan. The state has already experienced more frequent and more intense heat waves, destructive floods, and droughts that destroy crops. The new National Climate Assessment said these extreme events will increase in Michigan as a result of unchecked climate change. And while this year’s long brutal winter brought dense ice coverage to the Great Lakes, most years have seen a decline in ice and water levels. That trend is expected to continue, with serious consequences for communities’ water supply and for the state’s shipping industry. Glen Nekvasil, the vice president of the Lake Carriers’ Association, said recently, “Since freighters typically carry as much as they possibly can and still safely navigate the shallowest sections of their route, even a small decline in long-term levels can be costly.”

Michigan is also in a good position to ramp up its clean energy investments both to address climate change and to build a new energy economy.  By continuing to accelerate deployment of wind, solar and energy efficiency resources, Michigan is reducing the pollution that causes climate change, keeping the electric system reliable and affordable, and putting more Michiganders to work in the energy industry.

Climate change has major consequences for Michiganders, and Peters is smart to call out Land out for failing to confront them head on. But the same lesson applies in countless other races. Climate change is leaving its mark on communities across the nation, and candidates who run on climate solutions will be viewed as leaders. They will be especially favored by pivotal young, women, and Latino voters who know climate change is one of the gravest threats of our time.

When Peters takes a stand against this threat and the polluters who cause it, he looks like a statesman who could lead us into a cleaner, more stable future. More candidates from both parties should take note and be early, loud, and local on climate change.

Rubio’s Young Voter Problem

Imagine what the past few days have looked like to a member of the millennial generation. You hear from scientists that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has started to collapse, which could lead to a 15-foot rise in sea levels and swamp cities from Miami to Boston. You hear from reporters that Senator Mitch McConnell killed a noncontroversial, bipartisan bill that would have saved energy and put more money in people’s pockets. And you hear from Senator Marco Rubio—a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination—say, “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate.”

Young people are probably starting to wonder what their future is going to look like.

These young people have grown up hearing the scientific evidence of climate change. They know their generation will pay a steep price for inaction. And while the Obama Administration is beginning to tackle this crisis, most Republican leaders considering a run for the White House would prefer to keep our nation stuck in the dirty, fossil-fueled pastRubio blog graphic

On Tuesday, Senator Rubio tried to walk back a bit from his statement on Sunday denying climate science: “The issue is not whether the climate is changing, as it always is changing. The issue is whether there is legislative proposals before us that could do anything about it.” Instead of facing facts, Rubio just keeps trying to come up with new ways to say that he doesn’t believe the scientific consensus that humans are contributing to climate change.

It’s hard to sound like a leader when you look like an ostrich.

Head-in-the-sand statements from key political leaders doesn’t help inspire confidence among a voting bloc that trusts climate science. Only 3 percent of young voters think climate change isn’t happening, according to a survey for the League of Conservation Voters that combined Democratic and Republican polling firms. Three percent!

Senator Rubio’s stunningly uninformed statements might rally those 3 percent, but the vast majority of young voters will likely question why he discounts broad scientific consensus. They might also wonder why he isn’t more concerned about what climate change is doing to his own constituents. The latest National Climate Assessment found that with just two feet of sea rise, 37,500 acres of Florida’s farmland would be lost.  Places, like Miami Beach, already experience regular flooding on clear days and it is only going to get worse—especially if we have leaders, like Rubio, failing to act.

Early declarations in a presidential bid are designed to appeal to the base, and Rubio’s comments will no doubt appeal to the Tea Party faithful as well as shadowy fossil-fuel-industry donors, who fund the so-called liberty movement, like the Koch brothers. Yet Rubio and other GOP candidates ignore millennials at their own peril.  Former Governor Mitt Romney lost young voters by 26 percentage points in the last presidential race. Compare that to the loss rate among all voters: just 4 percentage points. When you combine the GOP’s youth problem with its women and immigration problems, the path to the White House gets steeper and steeper.

Like all Americans, millennials favor leaders who understand their world. That includes facing a future with more extreme storms that could flood their homes and apartment buildings and more heat waves that make the air dirtier. They are the first American generation who expect to have a harder life than their parents. They want our nation to stay at the forefront of innovation, technological breakthroughs, and clean energy leadership, so they’ll have a better shot at the American dream. Candidates who ignore those realities look out of touch.

And candidates who offer solutions are appealing. These voters already understand that low-carbon energy can help us combat climate change. They see wind farms when they drive home from college. They have friends who work in clean tech—a sector that barely existed when I graduated high school. They know America has the know-how to tackle this challenge. The Obama Administration, for instance, is about to do the single most important thing it can to fight climate change: limit carbon pollution from power plants. This will move our nation closer to the clean energy future.

This is the millennials’ future at stake—the world they will raise their children in. Climate deniers are a part of the past. It’s leaders who will take us forward who are worth supporting.

*Graphic used by permission from Organizing for America

Keystone Politics

For several years now, the oil industry and its allies in the GOP have tried to turn the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline into a political lightning rod for Democrats. They used it in campaign ads during the 2012 election. They claimed the White House decision to postpone its final decision last month was made to help Democrats running in red states. And now they are trying to force yet another vote on the pipeline in the Senate.

Yet despite all the effort to defeat opponents of the pipeline, they have come up empty handed.

Early in the 2012 election cycle, the American Petroleum Institute warned that opposition to Keystone XL would bear huge political consequences. Pro-Keystone candidates and their supporters spent $11 million on campaign ads in eighteen races. They lost all of them. Eight of these were in tough Senate races in Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and New Mexico. Every Senator who cast a vote against Keystone XL was reelected.

The upcoming Senate vote isn’t likely to provide much help to Republican candidates in 2014 either. Intensity is everything in politics, and all the intensity is on the anti-pipeline side. Many major donors and grassroots activists are adamantly opposed to Keystone XL. They know it will fuel climate change, and many view it as a fundamental reason to reject a candidate running for office.

For other voters, the pipeline is unlikely to play much of a role. For average voters in states like North Carolina, New Hampshire, Alaska, or Arkansas, the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t local and probably won’t be their deciding factor in November.

But the dedicated base can make a difference, especially in midterm elections.

Passionate voters are the ones who volunteer for campaigns and help rally and energize others to cast ballots. And the party faithful are the voters most likely to turn out in midterm elections. They are the ones who take time off work or run across town with the kids in the car in order to vote even when there is no presidential candidate on the ticket.

Recent electoral experience shows that climate voters make especially motivated volunteers. Just ask President Obama. Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Obama’s 2012 election, often talks about the number one reason people signed on to help the campaign was they believed President Obama would address climate change.

Anti-Keystone voters know the stakes are high, and that’s why they are mobilized and engaged. They have helped create an environment in which the political risk associated with the pipeline comes from supporting it, not opposing it.

The Administration announcement that it put off a decision on Keystone pending the development of a new route through Nebraska hasn’t dampened the energy of anti-Keystone voters. Thousands of ranchers and Native Americans gathered in Washington, DC last month to protest the project. And major donors continue to call on candidates to reject the pipeline. Their enthusiasm should make the difference come November.

A Way to Win

The fight against climate change just got a powerful new ally: LeadingGreen. The NRDC Action Fund and the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) formed this alliance to galvanize influential leaders in business, media, and research to call for climate action in Congress. And it will help elect and support environmental champions across America.

As Juliet Eilperin wrote in the Washington Post on Monday, this is a breakthrough in the conservation movement.

LeadingGreen is the first environmental initiative to make a full-throttled commitment to building political will for climate action. The LBGT community and women’s organizations have used similar strategies to expand their reach. Now the NRDC Action Fund and LCV are strengthening our ability to advocate for cleaner air and a more stable climate.

Let’s face it: in a divided political landscape dripping with money from fossil fuel companies, we have to work hard to be heard. LeadingGreen will amplify our voices in the halls of Congress and in districts around the country. And it will help us build the environmental majority across both parties.

We launched LeadingGreen because the stakes are so high. Last month’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the world’s top experts on climate science—confirmed once again that climate change is having sweeping effects on our communities.  I live in California, where the worst drought on record is drying up reservoirs and pushing farmers to the brink. I don’t want to leave my son and daughter to deal with even more destructive weather and costly damages.

The single most important thing we can do to combat climate change is to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants—the source of 40 percent of all US carbon pollution. The Obama Administration will propose carbon limits in June. Poll after poll shows that most American voters welcome these limits, but dirty polluters and their allies in Congress are attacking them. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already vowed to block the Environmental Protection Agency from putting carbon limits in place.

Now these obstructionists will have to contend with LeadingGreen. We will activate our advocates—clean tech entrepreneurs, Latino business owners, public health experts, media executives—who have relationships with members of Congress. Together we will deliver a coordinated message on the Hill, on the fundraising circuit, and on the campaign trail: vote for climate action, not for dirty polluters.

And we will continue to deploy our LeadingGreen strategy until our nation has addressed the climate crisis. We will encourage people to Give Green: support candidates who champion clean energy and low-carbon solutions. We will encourage them to Meet Green: connect with an active network of influential leaders working toward the same goal. And we will encourage them to Speak Green: raise their voices at the right time with the right lawmakers to promote smart climate policies.

We want to let environmental champions know that voters and donors have their back. This isn’t an easy time to be a lawmaker. They are under constant pressure to raise money in the age of Citizens United, and many have to stave off primary challenges from the right. LeadingGreen will show them there is a movement behind them—a movement to shield future generations from the threat of climate change. And with the support of the American people and the combined force of the NRDC Action Fund and LCV, we will win.