Beto O’Rourke Shows How to Talk About Climate in Red America

October 18, 2018

New Republic:

Global warming is an existential threat to human life, but most candidates aren’t talking about it. One of the few exceptions has been O’Rourke, the Democratic congressman from El Paso, who’s running a heavily covered campaign against incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

In the past, O’Rourke has focused on the potential for economic growth in fighting climate change. But in a televised debate against Cruz on Tuesday night, he tried out a new tactic: directly tying Cruz’s climate denial to negative consequences in voters’ lives. “I continue to wonder why Senator Cruz voted against more than $12 billion in FEMA preparedness knowing full well that we will see more Harveys going forward,” O’Rourke said, according to ThinkProgress. “Mind you, that was the third 500-year flood in just the last five years. We know that there will be more of these floods coming, and I want to make sure that the people of Texas, especially southeast Texas, are prepared for the next one.”

When Democrats do talk about climate change, they usually warn about the consequences in the future. O’Rourke’s attack is different. He’s framing climate change as a problem affecting voters right now. He’s also holding Cruz accountable for making the problem worse, since Texans would have been better prepared for Hurricane Harvey had Cruz and other climate-denying Republicans not ignored the scientific consensus. (Scientists found that Hurricane Harvey’s record-breaking flooding was made 50 percent worse by global warming.)

It’s true that, right now, voters don’t prioritize climate change as a political issue. But who could blame them when global warming is constantly framed as a problem for the next generation? If Democrats change that false framing, they just might convince more Americans to vote based on the most critical issue of our time.

Washington Post:

It took a giant laurel oak puncturing her roof during Hurricane Florence last month for Margie White to consider that perhaps there was some truth to all the alarm bells over global warming.

“I always thought climate change was a bunch of nonsense, but now I really do think it is happening,” said White, a 65-year-old Trump supporter, as she and her young grandson watched workers haul away downed trees and other debris lining the streets of her posh seaside neighborhood last week, just as Hurricane Michael made landfall 700 miles away in the Florida Panhandle.

Storms have grown more frequent — and more intense — over the 26 years she and her husband have lived in Wilmington, White said, each one chipping away at their skepticism. Climate change has even seeped into their morning conversations as they sip coffee — ever since the neighbor’s tree came crashing onto their home and property, coming to rest along nearly the entire length of their driveway.

While President Trump continued this week to deny the effects of climate change in the face of overwhelming scientific agreement that it is occurring — most recently noted in a landmark United Nations report that he has dismissed — a discernible shift appears to be occurring among Republican voters in North Carolina, a state pummeled by two hurricanes in two years.

The impact, say residents of this conservative congressional district, lies right before their eyes, prompting conversations among farmers, fishermen and others on how climate change has hurt the local economy and environment.

Downtown streets and parking lots along the Cape Fear River, like those surrounding tourist attractions such as the battleship USS North Carolina, flood regularly, including last week as the remnants of Michael blew through town. Flooding during Hurricane Florence cut off Wilmington from the rest of the state for days.Lagoons full of hog manure on industrial farms northwest of the city overflowed, contaminating water sources and killing fish. Toxic coal ash, too, was released into the river.

Separately, fishermen have noticed in recent years that black sea bass are migrating north because of warming ocean temperatures. Other watermen say they’re finding more saltwater fish such as flounder upriver as the sea level rises.

I’m not a scientist. I just know what I see,” said Carl Marshburn, a Republican who has operated tour boats along the Cape Fear River for three decades. He said he’s had to start coating the bottom of his river boats with antifouling paint to prevent barnacles and other marine organisms from growing amid saltwater intrusion.

No longer is the topic taboo among many conservative business owners, homeowners and voters here in New Hanover County, a swing county in a swing state, both of which Trump won by just four points in 2016.

Politicians have adopted a GOP-friendly term to discuss climate change, referring to sea level rise as “recurrent flooding,” said Rob Zapple, a Democrat in a competitive race to hang onto his New Hanover County commissioner seat.

“They can see and feel and understand the effects,” he said. “All of a sudden, we were allowed to have a conversation with our Republican counterparts.”

Although it’s unlikely to immediately change voting behavior, the shift is reflected in recent polling.

An Elon University survey taken in early October, after Hurricane Florence hit, showed that 37 percent of Republicans believe global warming is “very likely” to negatively impact North Carolina coastal communities in the next 50 years. That is nearly triple the percentage of Republicans — 13 percent — who felt that way in 2017.

3 Responses to “Beto O’Rourke Shows How to Talk About Climate in Red America”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I wince when I hear people talking about us being able to do something to save Miami. The storms and sea level haven’t even caught up with the 410+ ppm CO2 we have today. I know Beto needs to sound positive, so it’s the scientists who are stuck with the much-resented task of reporting reality.

  2. danallosso Says:

    There are more clean energy jobs in Texas than dirty. That’s a great nonpartisan point to push on.

  3. Living in South America, I rely on random cyber moments to catch up on what’s happening in the world. Your posts offer a wide range and often times provide a touch of humor that gives me a smile. Thank you!

    I first knew of Beto when I last visited the USA, and I planned to ask most everyone I knew what they thought of ‘Take a Knee’ controversy. Wanting more facts in hopes of seeing both sides well, I came across a speech Beto made in support… “Wow,” I thought, “I’m not sure where he came from, but he seems real.. he seems to have integrity; he seems to have a powerful presence, and I like what I see…”

    Thank you for this post, the video has loaded, and I’ll watch it when at home.. (They’re playing loud Latin music in the cyber!)

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