By: Tommy Furlong
Climate change is one of the most important issues of this generation and scientists warn that the country faces drastic implications if the nation and world do not begin to confront the issue soon. Those who vote for the environment, especially young voters, have the power to swing this election in numbers, but their demographic turnouts a surprisingly low number of voters.
The Environmental Voter Project (EVP), a get out the vote organization targeting environmental voters, collects data on their target audience in order to mobilize them in the future. Their research found in the 2016 presidential election only 10 million of the approximately 20 million “super-environmentalists” voted. A super-environmentalist is defined by EVP as someone who lists the environment as a top two issue.
In the 2014 midterm election, 15.8 million super-environmentalists failed to vote. Founder of EVP, Nathaniel Stinnett, calls these voters “a silent green majority” on their website. And since 2016, that silent majority has only grown, expanding from a range of 2 to 6% of polled voters with environment as a top issue, to 14% in 2020, EVP’s research shows.
Rachel Ornstein, a super-environmentalist herself, believes the events of 2020 are leaving the environment as an afterthought. “I think it’s not really on people’s minds right now,” she said.
Instead of voters making policy minded decisions, she said, “I think it’s a lot of Trump versus Biden in terms of like, how they are, like as individuals and how they conduct themselves as public leaders.”
But she doesn’t mean voters aren’t noticing what’s going on with climate change, they simply aren’t prioritizing it right now.
Yet, the U.S. is currently on track for the second warmest year in record, California and Colorado have already set records for acres burned in wildfires and a record number of named hurricanes are expected to hit this year.
“It’s sad … environmental issues are really, really important to address like right now,” Ornstein, a registered Democrat voting for the first time at 21, said.
Furthermore, under the Trump administration, there have been massive environmental rollbacks with 163 regulations removed and more in progress, according to Columbia University research.
This past Saturday, Joe Biden joined “Pod Save America,” a political podcast, and discussed climate change, saying, “it’s the number one issue facing humanity and it’s the number one issue for me.”
But is that how his ticket presents the issue?
During the Vice-Presidential debate Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris (D-CA), was asked what their stance on fracking would be, and she made it clear that Joe Biden would not ban fracking.
“Saying we will not ban fracking is catering to the older audience, like the white moderates who are not necessarily completely for a green revolution, and the new age,” said Ornstein. “And I don’t think that they’re really catering to our generation.”
Eric Schildge, a registered Democrat in New Hampshire, acknowledged the fracking stance portrays a gap between progressive hopes and the current ticket’s platform. But, he said, “when it comes to my frustration with that language it’s not around the policy per se, it’s around the messaging.”
“Democrats are so willing to allow the republicans to set the message and agenda for our conversations about environmentalism,” Schildge, age 32 said, “when it’s an issue that our voters care about more so than ever before.” Rather than saying what they will do, Republicans have Democrats discussing what they won’t do.
Joe Biden’s environmental plan is very progressive in comparison to previous platforms and offers a simplified version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ed Markey’s (D-MA) proposed Green New Deal.
He would set a deadline of 2050 to reach net-zero emissions and a 100% clean energy economy. Funding for these goals would be spread over the period of a decade reaching $1.7 trillion in federal investments.
Instead of hearing this, Biden and Harris are forced to talk about how they will be sure not to ban fracking, further distancing the party from progressive Democrats and environmentalists.
A June 2020 poll conducted by PEW Research found that 65% of Americans think too little is being done to address climate change and 68% of Democrats list climate change as a “top priority.”
“So, it’s a winning, winning, winning, issue for Democrats to run on,” said Schildge. Democrats just don’t know how to run on it.
Ornstein said it’s not only that, but also “people don’t want to look to politics to solve environmental issues, even though that’s one of the biggest ways we could.”
Both Ornstein and Schildge have already voted for the Biden-Harris ticket, but neither of them felt Biden reflected the environmental strategy they hoped for.
It’s disappointing said Schildge, because “Democrats could win environmentalists if they chose to fight on that issue right.”