Why A Climate Denier Can’t Win the White House in 2016

In a year dominated by economic woes and international strife, voters considered many issues when they cast their ballots. Yet more than ever before, climate change emerged as a central concern. Exit polls show that 6 out of every 10 voters view climate change as a serious problem.

The incoming GOP leadership should mark these numbers. The majority of voters have said in poll after poll they want leaders to tackle climate change. They have not given Republicans a mandate to block climate action at every turn—as new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to try to do. Dismissing the need to curb climate change pollution will alienate many voters and put the GOP’s 2016 candidates outside the national conversation.

Because times have changed. An ABC/Washington Post survey found that 70 percent of Americans see climate change as a major challenge and support federal action to reduce climate change pollution. Many campaign strategists and pundits took note and addressed the issue head on.

This focus has created an irreversible shift: climate change is now a significant part of the political conversation. Climate denial or evasion may still be viable in some regions of the country and with an off-year electorate. But it won’t work with the national electorate.

Candidates can no longer dodge the issue of climate change. And a climate denier can no longer hope to win the White House.

In the 2012 election cycle, climate change barely registered on the national stage. This year, it appeared across the campaign trail. Moderators asked questions about it in nearly every debate. Candidates wrote it into stump speeches (and even victory speeches, in the case of Senator-elect Peters). And journalists covered their positions in detail.

As the season unfolded, more polls confirmed that voters cared about the climate threat and wanted leaders to do something about it.

A poll for NBC News/The Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of Americans support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. This support reached into purple and red states like Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas: a survey conducted by Harstad Strategic Research reported that 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats say the EPA should limit carbon pollution.

Republican candidates read these polls too, and some started moderating their positions. In August, former Senator Scott Brown was asked if manmade climate change had been scientifically proven, and he replied, “Uh, no.” But by the time the debates rolled around in October, he said climate change “is a combination of manmade and natural” causes.

Some GOP hopefuls tried to appear open to climate solutions like clean energy. In an Iowa debate, Jodi Ernst exclaimed she drove a hybrid car when challenged about her ant-environmental rhetoric. And Colorado’s Cory Gardner ran a campaign ad featuring him standing in front of wind turbines.

Yet many Republican candidates tried to hedge by embracing the “I’m not a scientist” claim. This way a cynical demurral—lawmakers must have views on a wide range of issues—but it revealed the party’s recognition that straight-up climate denial is no longer a viable position. It took them too long to get here. While they spent years discounting science, the climate clock kept ticking and extreme weather intensified.

But now the political landscape has shifted and the days of denial are over. The vast majority of Americans want lawmakers to confront the climate threat. This is especially true among voting blocs critical to winning national office: women, Latinos, and young people.

Climate solutions create benefits so many Americans value, including clean air, safe drinking water, good-paying jobs, and secure energy that never runs out. The next crop of candidates—and the incoming GOP leadership—turn their back on these solutions at their own peril, because path to the White House now leads through climate action.

 

 

4 Midterm Lessons about the Politics of Climate Change

The Republican Party has taken control of the Senate after winning a handful of red states. This makes Senator Mitch McConnell the new Majority Leader, yet voters have not endorsed McConnell’s pro-polluter agenda of dirty air and unlimited climate change pollution.

All year long, poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans want to protect clean air, promote clean energy, and shield future generations from unchecked climate change.

People went into the voting booth with many issues on their minds, from the tepid economy to health care to international turmoil. They rewarded those who have led on climate issues in Congress or on the campaign trail, including Rep. Gary Peter in Michigan, Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, and Senator Susan Collins.

Yet even in races where people did not vote on climate change alone, one thing is clear: Americans have not given the GOP a mandate to let polluters foul our air and destabilize our climate.

It’s time for incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner to get the message. Thus far, they have ignored science and voters’ concerns. They’ve promised to attack safeguards for our children’s health and blocking any attempt to reign in climate change pollution.

Most voters will not welcome this overreach. Just ask Former Speaker Newt Gingrich; he learned the hard way when he tried to gut environmental protections after the 1994 midterm elections.

Here are some of the lessons we can take away from this year’s elections.

Most Voters Support Limits on Climate Change Pollution

Prolonged drought, destructive storms, toxic algae blooms, and other extreme events brought climate change home this year, and most Americans want leaders to tackle the climate threat.

An ABC/Washington Post survey found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem and support federal action to reduce greenhouse gases. A poll for NBC News/The Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of Americans support the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. And a Bloomberg News poll found that 62 percent of Americans were even willing to pay more for energy if it meant reducing carbon pollution. Most people want to protect the country from dirty air and extreme weather. They aren’t asking for Senator McConnell’s plan to make life easier for polluters.

Climate Change Gained New Prominence in This Cycle

During the 2012 election, climate change received little national attention. This time around, more Americans have felt the brunt of climate change in their own lives, and voters, debate moderators, and journalists wanted to know where candidates stood on the issue.  Nearly 40 percent of voters in battleground states heard candidates’ positions on climate change, and majorities heard their views on energy, according to a poll conducted for the NRDC Action Fund. Many candidates made climate change and clean energy a central part of their platform. Even Tea Party favorite Cory Gardner felt compelled to travel to a Colorado wind farm for one of his TV ads.

It Was a Tough Map for Climate Champions

Polluters eager to gut environmental standards and allow unlimited carbon pollution always had the upper hand this cycle. Most of their preferred candidates were trying to recapture Republican strongholds—indeed pundits started forecasting how tough this race would be back in 2008 when several Democrats won traditionally red states. Climate champions also faced an added challenge of history: as Politico’s Charlie Cook points out, the president’s party has suffered in five out of six midterm elections since the end of World War II, averaging just six Senate and 29 House seats.

A Climate Denier Can Not Win the White House in 2016

GOP strategists read the same polls environmentalists do, and they are starting to realize most voters care about climate change and want leaders to do something about it. Voters are tired of candidates who deny or ignore global warming and they view this ignorance as a sign of being out of touch. This includes members of important voting blocs: By margins of 20 to 22 percentage points, independents, women and younger voters describe themselves as less likely to vote for their Republican candidate after learning of his or her views on energy, the environment and climate change. Many GOP candidates have walked back from extreme denial by embracing the new “I am not a scientist” rhetoric. Even they recognize that voters will no longer elect a president who ignores the biggest economic, public health, and environmental threat of our time.

There is much to fight for in the next two years. No matter who holds the gavel in Congress, climate change is accelerating and Americans are growing alarmed. It’s time for lawmakers of both parties to act.

 

Brownley Running Clean and Green on California Coast

Her name may have “brown” in it, but Julia Brownley’s record is pure green. Brownley is the incumbent representing California’s 26th district in the US House of Representatives. As a member of Congress and previously as a member of the California state assembly, Brownley has established a long track record of Running Clean, voting clean and leading the charge on action to protect the environment.

Julia Brownley

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From her perch as a member of both the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) and the Safe Climate Caucus, Representative Brownley has established herself as one of the leaders in Congress when it comes to taking action to address climate change. Brownley supports comprehensive action on climate change and has said:

For our economic security and our environmental security and the future of our country, I believe we must address climate change by investing in innovation regarding conservation, renewable energies of the future, and reducing the levels of pollution released by human activity.

Brownley has earned a 93 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters and previously earned a 99 percent score from California LCV for her votes in the state assembly.

Julia Brownly tweet

In contrast to Brownley’s consistent and strong support, her opponent, Jeff Gorell, has a mixed record. We’ll give credit where due: Gorell is not a climate denier. He believes that “human activity affects climate change” and has stated support for “incentives to expand the use of clean energy technologies”. However, Gorell’s bad votes outweigh his good ones. He’s earned a disappointing score of just 26 percent from CLCV for his votes in the state legislature, where he has taken anti-environment votes on fracking, smart growth, cleaning up diesel vehicles, and to undermine the environmental review process for a large solar project. Gorell misunderstand’s the nature of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, calling it a “Draconian cap-and-trade law” and erroneously claiming that it will “put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work”. He needs to do his homework because the Clean Power Plan gives states flexibility to reduce carbon pollution from power plants in their state and could actually create clean energy jobs.  Brownley gets this and had been a consistent advocate for clean air.

For Ventura County voters looking to protect their coastal community from the effects of climate change, it’s clear that Brown(ley) is the green choice. She’s running clean.

Polluters Try to Make Something Out of Nothing

Climate change polluters don’t have a lot to work with this election season. Since the vast majority of American voters have repeatedly said they support limiting the carbon pollution from power plants, fossil fuel companies and their allies are left trying to make even the weakest numbers sound good.

This week the Partnership for a Better Energy Future—a mining, manufacturing, and agricultural coalition that includes frequent climate deniers like the US Chamber of Commerce—released a survey claiming that 47 percent of voters in oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to reduce carbon pollution.

As if less-than-a-half was something to trumpet.

These results stand in sharp contrast to nearly every independent poll conducted this year.

  • An ABC/Washington Post survey found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem and support federal action to reduce greenhouse gases.
  • A poll conducted for NBC News/The Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of American residents support the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
  • A Bloomberg News poll even found that 62 percent of Americans were willing to pay more for energy if it mean reducing carbon pollution.
  • And a survey done by Yale University said voters are three times more likely to vote against a candidate who opposes government action to address climate change.

NRDC Action Fund got similar results when we commissioned Harstad Strategic Research to poll voters in 11 swing states with close Senate races, including Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas. More than two-thirds of those surveyed said the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants. That includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats.

Most Americans recognize that cleaning up dangerous pollution is good for their families and the economy. But that doesn’t stop dirty industries from trying to hold on to their loopholes and giveaways.

The so-called Partnership for a Better Energy Future paid to poll voters in purple states—many of them coal-heavy—and even then, they couldn’t muster a majority. It’s like a punch line. They even tried to stack the deck by posing the kind of technical questions that tend to make respondents more inclined to say no, yet they had little to show for it.

In Iowa, for instance, the survey claimed that 45 percent of Iowa residents were less likely to vote for a candidate who supports the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution. Yet a recent survey from lowa Interfaith Power & Light, meanwhile, found that 75 percent of Iowans were more likely to support a candidate who promotes clean renewable energy. Iowa, after all, gets 27 percent of its energy from wind power and has more than 43,000 Iowans working in the clean economy.

The EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution will bring the benefits of clean energy—including good-paying jobs, safer air, and greater climate stability—to more communities. That’s why so many Americans support it and that’s why smart candidates are running on clean energy and climate action. Even the polluters’ own polling shows that the numbers favor climate champions.

Simple Questions, Simple Answers for North Carolina Voters

Is Kay Hagan the Clean Choice in North Carolina? Yes.

Is climate change real? Yes.

Is Kay Hagan Running Clean? Yes.

Is Thom Tillis a Dirty Denier? Yes.

Simple questions with simple answers. Unfortunately, Thom Tillis, who is challenging incumbent Kay Hagan to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate, can’t get even a simple question right. Asked at a debate whether climate change is real, Tillis replied simply: “No.”

That one short word betrays Tillis’s true priorities: siding with the big polluters who fund his campaign rather than protecting his state from the damaging effects of climate change. It’s a familiar pattern to those who have observed Tillis during his time in the North Carolina Assembly. While Tillis originally voted in favor of the state’s renewable electricity standard, Tillis said he supported the effort to repeal the standard five years later. Tillis was the Speaker of the Assembly when it voted to forbid the state’s coastal commission from planning for the increased sea level rise that scientists are predicting will occur due to climate change. He voted to authorize hydraulic fracturing in the state and to allow fracking companies to keep their toxic chemical blends secret from the public. Tillis also sponsored legislation that would allow coal ash to be kept in uncapped pits that fail to protect communities from the toxic sludge.

In contrast, Hagan has been working to protect North Carolina’s environment and the public’s health for more than a decade. Hagan started her political career – and her record as an environmental champion- in the North Carolina state Senate. As a state senator, she was a cosponsor of the Clean Smokestacks Act, which required all the state’s coal-fired power plants to substantially reduce their smog and acid rain pollution. The law also eventually led to EPA’s action to reduce cross-state air pollution, a rule which is predicted to save at least 13,000 lives per year and which Hagan voted to protect when it came under attack in the Senate. She supported the state’s renewable electricity standard and earned a score of 85 percent from the Conservation Council of North Carolina from 2003 to 2007.

Since taking office in the U.S. Senate, Hagan has continued to be a Clean Air Hero. She has voted again and again in favor of reducing pollution including the carbon pollution responsible for climate change and she has earned a lifetime score of 84 percent  from LCV.

The questions are simple.

Is climate change real? Yes.

Must we act on climate? Yes.

Which candidate agrees? Senator Kay Hagan.