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Voting should be 'Plan A' for fighting global warming, because there is no 'Planet B'

Voters who care about the environment are becoming a force to be reckoned with in upcoming elections. But despite the turnout there's still much more work to do in taking concerns about the future of the planet to the polls.

In many states, as the fate of oil and gas, alternative energy, and key environmental justice issues are on the ballot, climate voters are turning out in record numbers.

In fact, climate-first voters are out-voting the overall electorate in 17 states, according to a recent report by the Environmental Voter Project.

In Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, environmentalists are taking to the polls at almost twice the rate of the overall electorate. Of the 4.3 million early ballots cast across these 17 states, as of October 25, 1 million are from climate-motivated voters.

In Georgia specifically, almost a fifth of self-identifying environmental voters have voted early. Notably, populations driving the climate vote are women, voters of color, and Gen Z.

It’s no surprise that climate is galvanizing voters.

Whether it be from hope due to climate policy like the historic Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS Act, from alarm as the U.N. announces there is no viable 1.5°C plan in place, or from the specific ways climate disaster is hitting communities, climate change is running up the polls.

Still, there is more work to be done in motivating voters as a whole on global warming. While climate ranks second as a chief priority in almost half of Democratic midterm voters, it polls last when averaging across the political spectrum.

If there’s any indicator of voting’s stake in the climate crisis, it’s the election of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil.

By defeating the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, who instituted policies to escalate the deforestation of the Amazon, the rainforest may see a drop in deforestation by 90% and reinstatement of protection for the Indigenous communities who live there. While Lula’s sustainable development agenda will likely face conservative hurdles, his record in tackling past deforestation gives reason for hope.

A portrait of the Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva . A heavyset man with grey hair and a short trimmed beard.
Image Credit: Flickr/Arturo Espinoza

Decisive climate action from elected officials is possible. Back in the states, an armada of environmental organizations released midterm endorsements, including the national advocacy group League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the grassroots advocacy group Climate Hawks Vote, and the global campaigning network Greenpeace.

LCV has several local chapters with endorsement lists such as Georgia Conservation Voters, and so does the Sierra Club. Aside from national groups, state organizations like California Environmental Voters and regional/local media are great places to inform ballot measures at every level, in addition to the climate and social agendas of judicial candidates, and those running for statewide office, legislative and federal seats, like this endorsement list by the Los Angeles Times. The Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund even has handy climate voter handbooks for several key climate states.

According to The Climate Slate, an initiative of Climate Cabinet, a candidate-support organization, 500,000 state and local elected officials are responsible for making 70% of US emissions reduction targets a reality.

Within these lists, many candidates stand out, such as two of Climate Slate’s “top priority” candidates, Senator Sydney Batch and Arizona’s Corporation Commissioner Sandra Kennedy who each interviewed with FootPrint Coalition in August.

Other climate candidates to keep an eye on, regardless of your home state, include Charles Booker who is running for Kentucky's Senate.

Booker, who narrowly lost in 2020 for the Democratic nomination, previously served as the administrative services director at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and is endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, and Justice Democrats.

Between historic flooding outside of floodplains, rare winter tornadoes, and the decline of the regional coal mining industry, Kentucky is a great example of Midwestern climate issues often overlooked.

So Booker’s agenda includes creating a climate cohort to reclaim and revitalize abandoned coal mines, and allow people in the hardest hit communities to lead the way in addressing a just transition, and ensure economic survival as fossil fuels decline.

Booker is running against current Republican Senator Rand Paul, who according to Booker has “turned his back” on voters when it comes to healthcare and climate disaster.

Booker was recently featured on the Hot Take climate podcast, along with Stacey Abrams and Gary Chambers.

Abrams could be Georgia’s first Black governor. Her environmental advocacy dates back to the 90s, when she interned twice for the Environmental Protection Agency, brought attention to Louisiana's Cancer Alley, and now champions resilience, green jobs, and lower energy costs in her environmental agenda.

“I’m the only candidate who not only has a plan but has the experience to execute that plan. I didn’t discover the environment, it has been a part of who I am,” she said in an interview last week.

In focusing on the intersection between environmental justice and health, progressive senate candidate and Baton Rouge activist Gary Chambers wants to target the “sacrifice zone” of Louisiana's Cancer Alley, a district of neighborhoods historically targeted by petrochemical plants.

He is advocating to strengthen Superfund Community Involvement for cleanups in the state; increase regulatory fines for the chemical factories and oil refineries, that poison the air, water, and land of Louisiana; and limit the use of eminent domain that displace African-Americans from their homes and communities under the auspice of “public good.”

Eminent domain is an often abused doctrine in the Fifth Amendment. Traditionally meant for projects like roads or bridges, in Louisiana, it’s continuously misappropriated for the interest of oil pipelines in Black communities.

In addition to cracking down on eminent domain, Chambers is advocating for the passage of the Green New Deal, most notably in regards to green infrastructure, federal funding for public transit, and renewable energy sources.

Other state and local races could shape our climate's future. However, the majority of these are outside of big-ticket senate and governor races. As Rebecca Leber of Vox writes, “local officials have to grapple with the consequences of raging wildfires, floods, and grid failures,” and “state legislatures can push forward climate policy, or they can obstruct it.”

Vox outlines ten races that may be critical in reaching our climate goals, including the General Assembly in North Carolina, the Minnesota state Senate, and local officials in Texas. The article cites less noticed races like that of state treasures for and against clean energy investments in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and West Virginia; attorney generals who may rule on lawsuits against the oil industry in Ohio and Michigan; and state regulators who can make sure utilities are hitting clean energy targets in Arizona, Louisiana, and Texas.

In many cases, the future of oil and gas is on the ballot. In New Mexico – which is the nation’s top oil producer while remaining one of the poorest states in the country – the race between incumbent Republican Yvette Herrell and Democratic opponent Gabe Vasquez could change the level of the state’s oil dependency and polluter accountability.

In Nevada, the extremely tight senate race between Sierra Club-endorsed incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto and GOP challenger Adam Laxalt will have reverberating effects for energy policy, oil, and renewable development in the state.

State, congressional, and local midterm races like these are essential to reducing emissions and improving our odds in the climate crisis. As nearly two-thirds of Americans want more action on climate change, almost the same amount say they know little to nothing about the IRA, the largest climate investment of our time.

Almost half of Americans say it won’t make a difference in the climate crisis. But prioritizing the planet at the polls to build upon the action is one of the best ways to enable further change.

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