The 2022 elections in the United States are more than just about control of Congress or leadership of most of the states. They are about climate change.
The results will be used to determine if the United States can fulfill its pledge to lead the fight against the most devastating effects of global warming.
Candidates elected this year will steer the direction of U.S. policy in the lead-up to 2025—a significant deadline set out in this month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That’s when the IPCC said greenhouse gas emissions need to peak if the world hopes to meet the Paris climate accord goal of holding -industrial temperature increase close to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
President Joe Biden’s first year in office has made clear that the world’s No. 1 oil and gas producer won’t be able to curb its reliance on fossil fuels without more climate leadership in Congress and at every level of government. Despite Biden’s ambitious climate goals, much of his climate agenda has been stalled in the tightly divided Senate. And he faces mounting pressure to maintain and expand fossil fuel production, both to rein in inflation and to address energy security concerns amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“I think people are really scared,” said RL Miller, co-founder and political director of the advocacy group Climate Hawks Vote. “People see that if we lose the House, as the pundits are telling us we will, and we are unable to pick up more seats in the Senate, then everything is just going to slip away. There’s going to be no more chance for climate action in a generation, and I don’t know how many more generations we’ve got left.”
Redistricting is shaking up the political landscape and 36 states have leadership positions on the ballot. This means that voters will be confronted with confusing and long lists of candidates in primary elections that start in May. How can voters increase their chances of choosing climate champions? It’s a question that Americans from across the political spectrum should be asking, with 69 percent of adults favoring steps to become carbon-neutral by 2050, including 66 percent of self-described moderate or liberal Republicans and 33 percent of conservative Republicans, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center. Liberal Democrats support such steps at 94%, while moderate Democrats support them at 88 percent.
We asked groups that focus on climate-vetting candidates how they make their decisions and how to determine if office-seekers will actually put their climate promises into action. Here’s their advice for ordinary voters who will make the difference in determining U.S. climate leadership in 2022:
What Does the Candidate Say About Himself?
Although it’s never good to judge a candidate on words alone, what he or she is (or isn’t) saying about climate is important—if only to gauge where it ranks among all the issues competing for attention of state and federal leaders.
Advocates like Karyn Srickler, founder of the Vote climate U.S. political-action committee, are concerned about missing or muted messaging on climate. “You have to make public statements that show it is a top priority,” said Strickler. “What bills do you co-sponsor? Are you a writer of op-eds What do you say in your speeches?”
Strickler wouldn’t name any particular candidates she thought were guilty of climate silence.
One example is Peter Franchot (Maryland Comptroller), who is currently leading the polls of nine Democratic candidates for governor. His website doesn’t mention climate or environmental justice in an otherwise extensive discussion of environmental protection. Franchot does have clean energy goals—including a pledge to make Maryland the nation’s first net-zero carbon state, which he has recently flagged as his top climate policy planFollow us on Twitter.
Advocates also advise poring over the candidate’s social media posts; there are several ways to search an individual Twitter account for mentions of the word “climate,” for example.
Vote Climate doesn’t weigh in on primaries, but its voter guides for the general election this fall will score the strength of the climate plans articulated by Congressional and gubernatorial candidates. No candidate in the two 2021 governors’ races (New Jersey and Virginia) had stellar plans under Vote Climate’s stringent criteria—which, for example, rewarded candidates that supported “100 percent renewables by 2030.” (In contrast, Biden’s goal is “to create a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.”)
Vote Climate Guide gives higher scores to candidates who support policies that keep fossil fuels in place (for example, ending oil-and-gas extraction on public lands and eliminating human greenhouse gas emissions by 2050).
Terms like “net zero carbon” and “carbon neutral” are red flags, said Strickler. It means the candidate plans to continue using fossil fuels, and will rely on technology that is not yet available to capture the carbon. “To me it means they are not willing to get off fossil fuels,” Strickler said. “Now, politicians are all about so-called ‘realistic’ policies. But at some point, we need to deal with the reality of the existential threat of climate change.”
Miller warns that she’s grown wary of candidates who say things to appeal to climate voters—for example, that they support the “Green New Deal”—without demonstrating that they know what’s involved or how to implement a strong climate policy. That’s why it’s important to look at actions as well as words.
What Does the Record Say About You?
A key resource for understanding where candidates stand on climate is the League of Conservation Voters’ scorecard, which keeps track of how each member of Congress votes on bills and even climate-relevant amendments and cloture motions. LCV’s website tracks recent votes and its scorecard archives date back to the 1970s. It’s an unmatched record that offers both current and lifetime scores for even the longest-serving members of Congress seeking reelection.
“This is why LCV exists, to hold incumbent members of Congress accountable, [with] lots of transparency,” said Craig Auster, LCV’s vice president for political affairs.
LCV scores are a sign that not all Republicans or Democrats agree on climate. Climate-concerned voter should not assume that party affiliation means that they will be pro- or anti climate. For example, Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, with a lifetime LCV score of 77 percent, voted in favor of pro-climate action measures like regulation of methane, climate-resilient wastewater systems and the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year, even though he—like all House Republicans—voted against Biden’s big climate spending package. With a lifetime score of 89 per cent, Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana voted in favor of two anti-climate measures, which ultimately failed to pass: to keep Keystone XL open and to ban the Environmental Protection Agency’s banning of fracking.
LCV and other advocacy groups conduct research on candidates and their records. Voters can also look at the past and speak with advocates. Give Green, a joint project of LCV Victory Fund (an affiliate to Natural Resources Defense Council), offers information on potential candidates it considers strong in climate. For example, its biography of Stacy Abrams, the Democrats’ leading candidate for Georgia governor, includes details like the senior thesis on environmental justice she wrote while at Spelman College, her membership on climate advisory boards and her work in pioneering a climate strategy as executive director of the Southern Economic Advancement Project.
Miller said some of the strongest climate candidates she’s seen in recent election cycles don’t have a political record at all. “They’re in the clean tech industry, or on the climate science side of things—somehow involved, not as activists, but in what I would call the fact-based, as opposed to the emotion-based end of things,” said Miller. For example, in the scramble among eight Democratic candidates vying for North Carolina’s open 4th Congressional district, Climate Hawks Vote has endorsed Ashley Ward, a Ph.D. in geography and water policy associate at Duke University who previously was a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helping communities plan for climate extremes.
How about Fossil Fuel Money Money
You can see the top recipients of oil-and-gas money in Congress in 2022 from the Center for Responsive Politics to see why climate voters should pay attention to the money before making any decisions. At the top of the list by a large margin is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who’s not even running for re-election this year, but has played a central role in blocking Biden’s climate agenda. Manchin has expressed interest in reviving Biden’s Build Back Better bill—but only if it contains support for oil and gas production as well as climate investments.
“How much money candidates have taken from fossil fuel interests is something we’re regularly drawing attention to,” says LCV spokeswoman Emily Samsel. “Especially right now, when gas prices are a big part of the conversation, it’s not surprising to see candidates who’ve taken a lot of money from oil and gas suggesting that the answer to high gas prices is more oil and gas production in the United States, when we know that the real answer is to energy independence in the long term is clean energy.”
The Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website is especially useful because it categorizes the voluminous data on donations that federal candidates report to show the breakdown, industry by industry.
Who are the Heroes and Hawks of the Universe?
With Republicans in Congress so unified in opposition to Biden’s climate agenda, and the president’s own party mostly in support—with some key exceptions like Manchin—it might look like choosing climate champions is as easy as voting Democratic. This is often true in the general elections. But while climate advocacy groups acknowledge the real partisan divide that has developed over action on global warming, they stress the importance of looking beyond party in the primary season and focusing on putting true climate leaders on the ballot.
Vote Climate’s 117th Congress scorecard reveals distinctions among Democrats in its separate scores on “leadership,” and whether the candidate supports a carbon fee or related policy to reflect the social costs of carbon in the price of fossil fuels. Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland, scores 100 percent because of his climate plan, leadership and support for a carbon tax. But Raskin’s fellow Maryland Democrat, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, scores only 87.5 percent because of weaker leadership and carbon fee scores than Raskin.
“Steny Hoyer could make a big difference as a leader if he did make climate a top priority,” said Strickler. “We can see from his website that he is an advocate of climate action, but it’s clearly not a top priority for him.”
Strickler said it’s important to make such distinctions and to push for the candidates her organization describes as “climate heroes” because having a simple Democratic majority in Congress clearly has been insufficient. “We don’t have a climate action majority,” she said. “Democrats are not good enough on this issue.”
Climate Hawks Vote produces a shorter list of endorsements than many other advocacy groups, because it aims only to weigh in on candidates who’ve distinguished themselves as climate leaders. “We do not endorse mediocre Democrats, no matter how vehemently a Republican opponent may deny climate science,” the group says.
Where Do They Stand on Democracy
For all voters—not just those focused on climate change—a shadow hangs over the 2022 campaign as the first national election after the unprecedented and violent attempt by former President Donald Trump’s supporters to overturn the 2020 election result. According to Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states have passed legislation restricting voting access in the time that has passed since then.
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Environmental advocates are encouraging voters concerned about climate to ask their candidates where they stand on voting rights and removing dark money and corporate cash from politics. The LCV, for instance, used to score officeholders based on their votes on environmental legislation. However, it now scores them on issues such as voting rights and campaign finance reform. Environmental advocates have been fighting against gerrymandered areas in Ohio and North Carolina. They argue that the same forces that have suppressed representation in urban and minority communities have contributed to the difficulty of getting a proclimate action majority in Congress.
“Increasingly, we’re talking as an organization about these connections,” said Auster of LCV. “There’s a connection between having a strong, equitable democracy and being able to have voters elect candidates that reflect their values, including on protecting the environment and addressing climate change.”
Don’t Forget Candidates for State and Local Office
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and others have concluded it is possible for the United States to achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030—Biden’s goal under the Paris climate accord. However, almost all analyses show that this will require federal action as well state and local government action. In fact, states and cities have been the leaders in setting renewable energy policies and encouraging electric vehicle adoption.
Campaign finance data on candidates for state races is compiled at the Follow the Money website, operated by the National Institute on Money in Politics in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets project. LCV has a network that includes 30 state affiliate organisations, many of whom have their own scorecards that track the environmental voting records of state legislators. Climate Cabinet Action, a nonprofit that has been operating for four years, has been scoring state legislators in climate issues in more than 20 US states.
In the coming weeks, Strickler said her group plans to announce a partnership with Climate Cabinet Action so that both groups’ scores will be available on the Vote Climate website. She hopes that having climate scores available for Congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative candidates will encourage more voters and more candidates who are climate champions.
“If used as intended, we think our voters’ guide could revolutionize the politics of climate change,” Strickler said. “We know voters are increasingly prioritizing climate, and this gives them a tool to do that. That’s how we’re going to get a majority big enough to pass the climate legislation we’ve never seen in this country and that we desperately need.”
Source: Inside Climate News