How to turn climate change into a wedge issue

Posted on July 27, 2022

The short answer is—talk about it, for heaven’s sake. At the federal, state and local levels, climate change can energize progressives, especially young voters, and force conservatives to defend an indefensible position.

Climate change is a powerful, motivating issue

More than 70 percent of Americans believe in global warming, and only about 10 percent believe it’s not happening. So, as a political issue, climate change is not really a matter of persuading people, it’s a matter of activating our side. (Besides, there’s no downside using the issue because climate change deniers are not persuadable voters.)

Not only do Americans believe, but according to a July 2022 Pew Research Center poll, more than 70 percent of Americans say that their own community has experienced extreme weather in the past year, such as floods or intense storms, unusually long-lasting hot weather, droughts or water shortages, major wildfires, or rising sea levels that erode shorelines.

That’s useful to know because the most powerful way to speak to voters about any environmental issue is to explain how they are directly affected. Like this:

Say . . .
Climate change is real and it’s already affecting our community. [Give an example of heat, wildfire, or floods in recent years.] We’ve got to do everything we can to stop this disaster, but frankly, Republicans in Congress and the state legislature—and even on the Supreme Court—are almost universally blocking efforts to preserve our health and safety, and our quality of life.

Why . . .

First, agree with your audience that climate change is real. Make the issue personal by talking about “our community,” and using values like “our health,” “our safety,” and/or “our quality of life.” And then, crucially, point out that conservatives are acting as climate change deniers. That’s how it becomes a wedge issue.

Climate change is one of the top issues (along with abortion rights and the preservation of democracy) that can energize younger Americans and get them to vote. There’s no long-term issue that’s more critical; it’s their world that’s burning to a crisp.

Finally, if you get into a back-and-forth about climate policy on the national level, sure, you can blame Joe Manchin (or not, if the new compromise passes). But don’t say it in a way that lets Republicans off the hook. All along, it would have taken only a single Republican Senator to replace Manchin’s vote and enact federal climate solutions. The real reason why no such policy has passed thus far is that every single Republican Senator opposes it, even the moderates like Susan Collins. Among GOP Members of Congress and candidates for President, not one has even a plausible plan. All of them are accomplices, willing to devastate the world’s future for what they believe is short-term political gain.

States and localities can and must address climate change

Frankly, even without a solution, just speaking out on climate change is popular. No one expects you to solve the problem and, of course, it can only be solved by worldwide cooperation. But you’re not powerless either. Every state and locality has the ability to enact legislation that moves our climate in the right direction. Here are some options:

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act – This model sets timelines for reducing damage from state or local electricity generation and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Divestment from Fossil Fuels Act – This legislation directs states and localities to stop investing in companies that trade in fossil fuels.

Solar Power Purchase Agreement Act – This model prevents electric utilities from standing in the way of customers who want to install solar panels and lease back on-site solar energy.

Green Buildings Act – This bill requires that future public buildings be energy efficient, meeting LEED standards for construction or renovation.

Climate Change Impact Assessment Act – This legislation creates a commission or task force to study the direct effects of global climate change on a given state or locality’s economy and natural resources. This bill is not about stopping climate change, it’s planning for the damage.