The First Climate Election

November 6, 2018

In a country so closely divided as the US is right now, the emergence of climate as an issue that a significant number of voters care about can be a game changer in close races.
We have seen in this cycle a number of Democratic politicians embrace climate, and more broadly, a respect for science and fact, as an issue – as well as advocating for clean energy strategies.

Prominently, Andrew Gillum in his run for the extremely important Florida Governor seat, and Beto O’Rourke in his Texas Senate race, have been fearless and out front on climate change and renewable energy.

In regions like South Florida, Rep. Carlos Curbello, a Republican, has joined a bipartisan “climate caucus” as a means of demonstrating concern about climate and the sea level rise so obvious in his district.

Regardless of today’s results, the importance of climate and clean energy as a political issue has crossed a threshold.


The industry’s dilemma is brought home by a recent bit of market research and polling done on behalf of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for utilities. It was distributed at a recent meeting of EEI board members and executives and shared with me.

The work was done by the market research firm Maslansky & Partners, which analyzed existing utility messaging, interviewed utility execs and environmentalists, ran a national opinion survey, and did a couple of three-hour sit-downs with “media informed customers” in Minneapolis and Phoenix.

The results are striking. They do a great job of laying out the public opinion landscape on renewables, showing where different groups have advantages and disadvantages.

The takeaway: Renewables are a public opinion juggernaut. Being against them is no longer an option. The industry’s best and only hope is to slow down the stampede a bit (and that’s what they plan to try).

In our polarized age, here is something we almost all agree on: Renewable energy is awesome.

Here’s the most striking slide in the presentation:


In case you don’t feel like squinting, let me draw your attention to the fact that a majority of those surveyed (51 percent) believe that 100 percent renewables is a good idea even if it raises their energy bills by 30 percent.

That is wild. As anyone who’s been in politics a while knows, Americans don’t generally like people raising their bills, much less by a third. A majority that still favors it? That is political dynamite.

Meanwhile, there are some on the climate action side who view Republicans like Rep. Curbelo as “climate peacocks”, more show than substance.

Red, Green and Blue:

Climate Hawks Vote is endorsing Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Florida’s 26th District, running against Carlos Curbelo. “Carlos Curbelo, the Republican member of Congress who does more about climate change than any other Republican in Congress?” you may be thinking. Yes. But that’s a low bar.

Let me explain what’s driving Climate Hawks Vote – our “theory of change,” in movement jargon. Simply put: the world is warming faster than Republicans are warming up to believing in climate change.The ice sheets can’t wait for Republicans to come around to accepting basic science, then debating possible solutions, and only then begin to discuss the possibility of a bipartisan bill. We have to vote them out instead.

Republicans are barely beginning to come around on climate change. Some admit that it’s real, sort of. They don’t know how much warming is caused by humans and how much is natural. They’re not scientists and heaven forbid they’d actually ask a scientist… but they know they don’t like the solution, which is to transition away from a fossil fuel powered economy toward one run on clean energy.

Carlos Curbelo tries to have it both ways:

  •  He introduced a carbon tax bill, HR 6463, which has attracted a grand total of two cosponsors.
  • He stands up against oil drilling off the Florida coast – but he’s voted for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (as part of the GOP tax “reform” bill passed last December, HR 1).
  • He’s happy to accept oil money – $10,000 each from Exxon and Chevron, $5,000 each from Valero and Marathon Petroleum, $1,000 each from American Petroleum Institute and American Gas Association, in 2017-18 alone.
  • 83% of his votes align with Donald Trump.

And he’s vulnerable. Florida’s 26th Congressional District, in Miami, is a Clinton-Republican district, meaning that one of the nation’s best opportunities to flip a Republican seat in 2018. A New York Times/Siena poll, just concluded ten days ago, has Curbelo winning 47-44, within the margin of error. Analysts generally consider it a toss-up district.

We wouldn’t endorse unless we were sure that the Democrat would be a real climate hawk:

  • Through Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s work with the Coral Restoration Foundation, she knows first-hand that inaction on climate change is not an option.
  • Debbie was an early signer of the #NoFossilFuelMoney pledge.
  • In Congress, she’ll advocate for a low-fossil fuel economy, clean energy and innovative infrastructure that will protect our front-line communities.
  • Bold climate action, not timidity, is needed in this Miami-area district, ground zero for sea level rise.

I’ve publicly labeled Carlos Curbelo the leader of the Climate Peacocks – Republicans who strut and squawk and say they want to do something on climate change, but end up voting just like all the rest of the fossil-fueled Republicans whenever climate bills come up.

It’s time to vote him out – and vote in Debbie Mucarsel-Powell instead.

Meanwhile, Curbelo attacks his Democratic opponent as, among other things, soft on “dirty coal”.

Another member of the Climate Caucus, Michigan’s Fred Upton released an ad this cycle touting his support for renewable energy.

Hands down the season’s most electrifying breakout candidates, win or lose, is Beto O’Rourke of Texas. Fearless and unapologetic in Red Texas.

One Response to “The First Climate Election”

  1. Stephen Nielsen Says:

    The Caravan is, at least partially, climate driven. There will be more. They will become more desperate. And despite the law and demagoguery, they will have little choice

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