How Climate Change Should Impact the 2016 Elections

Written by Sherah Ndjongo

With the November 2016 elections set to take place in about a year and a half away, can we expect political candidates to begin directly addressing the crucial issue of climate change, which has been consistently avoided almost to the point of absence in past general election debates, any time soon? First of all, it’s no secret that climate change, as well as other closely related green issues, are often viewed as highly controversial, and this is especially seen in the divide it causes between the Democratic and Republican political parties and, more specifically, between self-identified liberals and conservatives. In fact, according to polling data released last year from the Carsey Institute, the subject of climate change has been branded the most divisive political issue of today. However, this doesn’t entirely mean that climate change doesn’t have the ability to be treated seriously by both voters and candidates and recognized as a “real topic” for the rest of the election cycle.

As is often the case, politicians who are running for office have the choice to either hold a position that is compatible with their own beliefs (that may or may not be an overall unpopular stance) or they could express opinions that they assume the general population would want to hear. The latter is often used as a common explanation for the increase in the tactics of global warming skeptics, the treatment of climate change as a marginal issue in past elections, and the fact that 83 percent of Democrats are aware and accept that humans are a main contributor to global warming while only 36 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans and 23 percent of Tea Party Republicans believe the same. Nevertheless, information has been collected that weaken this reasoning. For instance, in January 2015, United States voters reported to the Pew Research Center that environmental issues were ranked number 13 in the list of priority concerns, closely trailing topics like the economy and education. Furthermore, public opinion surveys indicate that Americans are more likely going to vote for a candidate who supports policy action on climate change. Based on this data, it’s clear that the public wants environmental science issues to emerge as a serious subject and for campaigning politicians to begin examining these same topics free from any limitations. But now that we know that a certain percentage of the voting pool is ready to include climate change as an integral part of the general discussion, what role should this contentious topic play in order for it to make a large impact on the 2016 elections?

An article published in Quartz earlier this year insists that climate change will be utilized to “signal a narrative” to potential voters. The author of the article further explains that this idea is supported by the generally accepted assumption that climate change will serve as a reminder of the Democratic Party’s beliefs based on the Enlightenment and scientific verification, while its primary purpose for the Republican Party will be to further reinforce the notion that the government is using the environmental crisis as an excuse to exert more control. Politicians themselves have already demonstrated some characteristics that support this trend. For example, when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton officially entered the presidential race, John Podesta, the Chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, announce on Twitter that “tackling climate change and clean energy” would be at the top of Clinton’s campaign agenda. However, this isn’t quite a shocking revelation because even before Hillary Clinton had announced her decision to run for President, she had already openly declared that climate change is one of the country’s biggest threats. This declaration didn’t sit well with everyone as Republican Senator Rand Paul soon questioned her wisdom about climate change and dismissed the critically significant issue as a national priority in a moment fueled by strong opposition. This massive difference in individual values is actually representative of the often undeviating beliefs of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

In short, all of this matters massively for 2016.Why? For several reasons. First of all, Republican voters consistently have a heavy turn out in primary elections. To add on to this, approximately two-thirds of the Republican primary electorate in 2012 considered themselves to be conservative or very conservative, but only the remaining one-third claimed to belong to the moderate or liberal Republican group. These findings shouldn’t be brushed off especially when considering that this places two-thirds of Republican voters in a group that overwhelmingly tends to reject the idea that we should address climate change as pressing topic despite all the scientific evidence that prove it is as serious as it appears. Because of this, Republican candidates tend to incorrectly believe there is little reward for them to go out on a limb and push for more climate change action. What makes this troublesome is that in order for climate change to climb to the top of the list of priority issues, the Republican candidates and the “two-thirds” of electorates will uniformly need to accept the scientific evidence regarding climate change and discontinue playing down the importance of the subject. This reversal will not occur overnight because a candidate’s disregard for a controversial matter like climate change may attract more campaign funding even if this isn’t representative of the candidate’s own personal partisan beliefs. Still, in the best case scenario, these factors could be reversed and climate change will be able to reach its potential of “deciding the outcome of the 2016 election.” But what exactly does this mean?

This means that it is time for serious candidates to fully reassess the given situation and eventually grasp this chance to lead the United States on a sustainable path that will reap benefits and prosperity for each and every American citizen.

Near the end of July, the founder of the NextGen Climate organization, Tom Steyer, made an attempt to persuade the 2016 election candidates and current American political officials to openly discuss climate change and take courageous control of the matter by introducing solid plans to reach at least 50 percent clean or carbon-free energy by 2030. By enforcing this idea, Steyer is not only emphasizing the fact that this action will act as the minimum outset for candidates and already elected politicians to show that they are devoted to supporting the country’s conversion into a clean energy economy, but he is also proving that this will give U.S. businesses the proper resources to innovate, create, and inspire through worldwide leadership. Most importantly, this will show the public that leaders are willing to accommodate their request, which is to take this issue seriously in order to provide a better future for the next generation and later generations to come. As it was confirmed earlier, whether or not candidates are committed to addressing climate change directly will be a critical deciding factor for Americans who are choosing which candidates will gain their support at the election polls. To further strengthen this claim, a recent NextGen Climate poll discovered that 69 percent of voters in eight states were in favor of “powering America with more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and with a completely clean energy economy by 2050.”

So it’s clear that the American public is hoping for a more sustainable future just as American businesses are ready to take on the transition. This means that it is time for serious candidates to fully reassess the given situation and eventually grasp this chance to lead the United States on a sustainable path that will reap benefits and prosperity for each and every American citizen. Overall, the mere recognition that climate change is a real and dangerous dilemma by the 2016 political candidates is a huge step forward in which leaders can slowly build upon by bringing well thought out and daring plans to the table and turning the global clean energy opportunity into nationwide success.

Climate change is an issue that should resonate with every single one of us, regardless of which political party we belong to. It is one of this century’s most destabilizing forces, and it undoubtedly ranks at the top of the list of the biggest challenges the world is facing today. This means that climate change isn’t an issue we can simply ignore for the remainder of the 2016 U.S. elections. And it most definitely isn’t an issue that political contenders can put off to the side until another candidate musters up the courage to mention it for a brief moment. The people have spoken, and they have expressed the need for a clear message regarding the hot-button topic straight from potential politicians themselves. So now is the time for the political contenders to take on the responsibility of encouraging urgent action to combat Earth’s rising temperatures just as it should be the role of the voters to remember that a question of leadership on climate change is a factor they should keep in mind when choosing which candidates to support during the rest of the 2016 election cycle.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.