With the US midterm elections looming, the window for enacting meaningful climate policy may be closing. November’s elections will decide which party controls Congress, and that will have far reaching implications for the planet. Historically, the midterms have been bad news for the party in control of the White House, but the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act may have changed that calculus. Nathaniel Stinnett, Founder & Executive Director of the Environmental Voter Project, explains where he believes the races stand at the moment:
“The prospects for Republicans flipping the House remain better than even. I wouldn't call them really, really strong, but better than even. And that's for two reasons. One, incumbent presidents usually seem to lose the House. And two, we just had a round of redistricting. And in the majority of states Republicans were able to really nail down a lot of safer gerrymandered districts. But the story in the Senate is different. Six months ago…I would've said, Republicans might take back the Senate. Now, I think there's a greater likelihood that the Democrats might pick up a seat, but we're talking about a whole bunch of close elections in four or five states that could go either way. So, it's gonna be a surprise to pretty much everybody what happens in the Senate.”
So where does climate rate on the list of issues voters consider when casting their ballots? Stinnett explains, “The good news is that when we look at voters’ long-term priorities, 9% of them listed climate and the environment as their number one priority over all others. Now that might not seem like a lot...But…it was enough to put climate in the environment in third place. Right behind inflation and cost-of-living which 30% listed as their top long-term priority. And then 13% said economy and jobs. The problem is most people don't go and cast their ballot thinking about how they want to impact the world 5, 10, even 20 years from now. And when instead, we asked what people's current priorities are, we were lucky if 4% of likely voters listed climate and the environment as a top priority.”
Democrats definitely talk and do more about the climate crisis, though bills that have clean energy provisions - such as the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act - did draw some Republican votes. Chelsea Henderson, Director of Editorial Content for RepublicEN and host of the podcast EcoRight Speaks, sheds some light on how climate priorities are evolving on the right:
“If you are a Republican voter, you can expect that those candidates have some sort of position on climate change. It's really no longer cool to just say it isn't happening. We have too much anecdotal evidence, let alone all the scientific evidence. I don't think people are buying that any more. And more and more what I'm seeing is members wanting to have something they can show, whether its constituents back home who might be concerned or future voters they want to show something that they’re for.”
Another recent example of bipartisan climate action was the US Senate’s ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This is a huge deal, because enacting the amendment could reduce warming by 0.5°C, by eliminating the use of HFCs or hydrofluorocarbons.
Jean Chemnick, Climate Reporter for E&E News, explains that what enabled bipartisan support was that American industry could gain financially from the deal. “The Kigali Amendment, of course, only addresses a fairly narrow slice of the climate problem. It's just HFCs, which are used in a fairly narrow set of products. And industry wasn't just supportive of it, they were passionately supportive of it. US companies, many of which are actually in states that are sort of red states represented by Republican senators. They were the ones who held the patents to the alternatives.”