By Maurice Carter, Sustainable Newton President
Even as a climate activist and leader of a sustainability organization, I'm still conflicted over President-Elect Joe Biden's commitment to sign an executive order on his first day in office to rejoin the US in the Paris Climate Agreement. I'm convinced we have years -- not decades -- to reverse climate change or face dire consequences, and I accept the urgent need for coordinated global action. The crisis is real. But, as a political pragmatist, I also know this back-and-forth reliance on executive action without congressional approval is ultimately getting us nowhere.
To revisit how we got here:
A political process driven by conflicted hands battling for the wheel, steering erratically, as the family screams from the backseat is no way to tackle any issue -- and certainly not a looming crisis of this magnitude.
Unfortunately, Republican candidates have sought to exploit economic anxiety over carbon reduction initiatives and climate action policies (like the New Green Deal) to persuade voters to oppose candidates with environmentally progressive platforms. We've seen that messaging broadly on local airwaves during the general election, and we'll no doubt hear it repeated in runoffs for US Senate.
As a tax-exempt charitable organization, Sustainable Newton is precluded under IRS regulations from advocating for any candidate for elected office. But, even if we could do so, a political approach to addressing Climate Change is a losing proposition. We cannot solve problems of this magnitude with a divided approach.
Casting environmental stewardship and climate action as wedge issues separating Democrats from Republicans isn't helping Americans confront a threat the majority of voters across the political spectrum acknowledge is serious. Thankfully, polling data and conservative voices are demonstrating unequivocally that Climate Change is a non-partisan issue.
Nationally and in key battleground states, polling during the November general election shows significant numbers of voters are focused on Climate Change, with 58% nationwide declaring themselves very or somewhat concerned. The pattern was also consistent across battleground states like Alaska (56%), Arizona (57%), and Florida (54%). Concerned responses skew strongly towards Biden voters vs. Trump voters, but young voters especially are more likely to rank Climate Change as a major concern, regardless of candidate or party.
Those results track closely with data from researchers at Drawdown Georgia who released their report "Georgians on Climate, COVID, and Equity" last month. They found 73% of Georgians surveyed were very or somewhat worried about Climate Change. The study also found significant numbers of respondents who were more likely to back candidates embracing climate action policies like solar farms (79% of respondents), forest protection (78%), and coastal wetlands protection (76%).
To quote California's former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, "There is no Democratic water. There is no Republican water. We all drink the same water. So don't fall for those tricks. It's not a political issue."
And, along those lines, Republican voices are advocating for climate action in both older and younger generations. The conversations below from the non-profit World War Zero, founded by former Secretary of State John Kerry, are just a couple of good examples.
As these discussions reflect, there are differing ways we can go about solving the climate crisis. But, rationalizing it away or pitting Americans against each other on this issue is foolhardy. I'm especially encouraged by the younger voices in the conservative movement who are determined to put climate front and center in their agenda.
I support President-Elect Biden in his promise to rejoin the Paris Agreement after his inauguration. But that alone only sets the stage for continued partisan warfare and reversals of course in the future. We need a leader who can bring all reasonable voices to the table: across parties, generations, and geographic regions. We need an America committed to:
Forward together. The hour is getting late.