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The Climate of Climate in the 2018 election

January 29th, 2018 · No Comments

For many election cycles, those aware of the serious nature of climate change (and the opportunities acting to mitigate it will create) have advocated for greater political discussion of climate change. In the 2008 presidential election, in part due to a dedicated effort to ask questions of candidates in key primaries, ‘climate’ seemed — at least for a moment — to be a meaningful part of the political discussion.  Regretfully, ‘climate silence’ dominated the election debates — with nary a question, cycle after cycle, from journalists about it. The Village (traditional pundits) didn’t see climate change as worthy of question choosing instead, for example in 2016, to focus on far more critical issues like Clinton emails.

2018 might represent a turning point. The move to recruit (and elect) scientists (notably from 314 action: “The Pro-Science Resistance”), Donald Trump’s (and the GOP’s) decided anti-science climate denial, Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords, the growing clarity that climate change is an not a remote issue (in geography, time, and species) but a problem of today impacting all Americans, and the range of American climate catastrophes in 2016 all seem to be factors in boosting the potential that “climate” will be a campaign issue in many of the mid-term elections.

As a sign that this might be the case, when looking at (Democratic) candidate web pages, it appears that far more mention climate than might have been the case in the past.

At the recent Society of Environmental Journalist (SEJ) session at the Woodrow Wilson Center about environmental stories of 2018, the list of ‘key stories’ for 2018 didn’t mention the potential that climate and climate science would be part of the elections didn’t make the (extensive) list of potential stories (re elections, starts at 6:45 of second video here).

Are these the energy/environmental issues for reporting mid-term elections?

In light of that and of the above, I questioned (paraphrase: starts at 1 hour and 04 minutes in video here):

Do you see climate in elections as an environmental story, political, or a cross-cutting story. And, within your institutions, how do you work with other reporters on reporting this.

Three of the panelists engaged the question:

  • Brady Dennis of the Washington Post wonders how and whether climate will enter the election discussion, that it will be drown out by Trump and Russia and other stories. He commented that “I am a little perplexed about how to elevate climate in the discussion” and, in essence, asked for help in figuring out how to do so and i identifying “places where this will be a top-level issues”
  • Pat Rizzuto of Bloomberg said that there is a reporter specifically focused on identifying and reporting on campaigns where environmental issues matter.
  • Matthew Daly, AP, commented that “From the Capital, it is interesting to see that there is a bipartisan climate caucus, that there are Republicans willing to stand up and say that climate change is real. This is an underreported story … it is shocking that it is shocking.”*

A fossil fuel lobbyist (Frank Maisano) followed the above with a comment that

I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve been waiting for this (climate) to matter in the election. Even when Steyer dumped millions and millions, it didn’t matter. I don’t think it will matter this year.

Will it (climate change) matter in elections this year? Almost certainly not as much as it should, but here is another indication of what just might be a changed environment: a candidates’ climate forum in Texas 7th this past weekend with the seven candidates in the Democratic primary drew 400 people in the hall along with Facebook viewers.

As per the organizer, Professor Daniel Cohan, Rice University, (LinkedIn post w/forum material),

When voters care, candidates respond. At the first candidate forum I attended last year, I cringed at the nonsensical response I got to my question about climate. This time, asking seven more challenging questions to seven candidates, I found almost all the responses to be thoughtful and well informed.

As a professor, I could tell the candidates had done their homework. They couldn’t bluff their way to an easy A with voters who cared.

And, Cohan’s perspective on the political implication:

Whoever is elected to Congress this November, they’ll know there’s a motivated contingent of voters eager to see a more vigorous federal response to climate.

TX-07 is, of course, just one district when there are 435 Congressional races.  If climate matters there, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will elsewhere. Tough, as Cohan concluded:

And if we’ve shown that to be true in the oil patch of a red state, perhaps similar events elsewhere could provide a wake-up call to other representatives as well.

SEJ journalists, on that panel and otherwise, might wish to pay attention to Cohan and the TX-07 climate forum as it just might be an indicator that 2018 could well be the year when climate change truly does become a meaningful part of U.S. elections.


* As to Daly’s comment on the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group with an equal number of Democratic and Republican House members, there is a growing view in the climate community that this has become a path for Republicans facing difficult election prospects to boost their credentials as ‘moderate’ without actually having to commit to or take meaningful climate action. In fact, many of the Republican members have been fully on board with Trump Administration attacks on climate including one Caucus member who introduced legislation to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.  Almost as Daly made those comments, the Climate Hawks Political Action Committee released a press release about the latest GOP member of the Caucus:



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Tags: 2018 Election · climate change · politics

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