Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, Nevada is in the West, has a comparatively large number of union voters — a key Democratic constituency — and Nevada’s diverse population is more representative of the nation as a whole.
Those are the usual arguments in support of Nevada deserving the third spot on the Democratic presidential primary calendar.
Add the climate crisis to the list.
Presidential hopefuls have spent significantly less time in Nevada than in the other early primary and caucus states. Nevada has been polled less than New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina as well.
But climate change has emerged as a leading issue for Democratic voters in a race that has been tightening at the top. And Nevada — unfortunately — presents candidates with an opportunity to address not just the threat of climate change, but the consequences already being felt by vulnerable populations, particularly low-income people and people of color.
“Climate change is an issue that Democratic voters have routinely said time and time again that they are supportive of and want to see candidates act on, and Nevada is a place to talk about that,” said Nevada Conservation League Executive Director Andy Maggi.
“We are feeling the impact of climate change right now and it’s having pretty devastating impacts on our communities across the state,” Maggi said.
Hours before last week’s CNN presidential town hall on climate change, former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, on a call with reporters, characterized the climate crisis as “the greatest threat facing our planet today.” Reid emphasized Nevada is already being hit particularly hard by climate disruption, as evidenced by reports that Las Vegas is the nation’s fastest warming city, and hotter summers are leading to more heat-related deaths in Southern Nevada.
Maggi said Nevada is prime real estate for candidates who are looking to position themselves as climate leaders.
“Voters are looking at climate change and they are going to talk more about it,” Maggi said. “Candidates need to build some opportunities to talk about it and connect their plans directly to voters. Nevada is the place to do that.”
The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) launched a nationwide Change the Climate 2020 campaign earlier this summer and plan to launch digital ads later this week. Now, the Nevada Conservation League, Chispa Nevada and other local organizers are ramping up their work to connect volunteers to presidential candidates as they stump across the state.
Maggi says the goal is to have people share stories about how the climate crisis is affecting them at the community level and to demand “real commitment and bold actions” from candidates.
“It can’t be understated how important it is for Nevadans to have a strong role in the climate conversation when it comes to this presidential election,” said Matt McKnight, the LCV Change the Climate 2020 director. “We have a great story to tell in Nevada and campaigns would benefit from being part of it and campaigning on these issues and hearing from Nevadans why climate change is so important.”
According to a report by research group Climate Central, Las Vegas is the fastest-warming city in the country and has warmed 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970. That’s more than any other city in the United States.
Heat-related deaths in Clark County have significantly increased over the last few years, in large part due to the rise in extreme heat, according to a study published in April in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.
“Current climate change projections show an increased likelihood of extreme temperature events in the Las Vegas area over the next several years,” explained Erick Bandala, an assistant research professor at DRI and lead author on the study.
An analysis by NPR and the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism found both Las Vegas and North Las Vegas are among U.S. cities where lower income levels most strongly correlate with more intense heat.
The analysis reiterates the central point of the environmental justice movement: Adverse health and economic impacts of pollution are felt most intensely by a city’s most vulnerable inhabitants — the poor, and people of color.
That means the climate issue goes hand-in-hand with this election cycle’s heightened emphasis on income and wealth inequality. Income distribution in Nevada has been ranked the fourth most unequal in the nation.
High heat can actually worsen air quality, triggering respiratory ailments. In Nevada, spring is the fastest-warming time of year, resulting in extended allergy seasons, and complicating conditions for people with asthma.
During a roundtable discussion in April with Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Emily Zamora, a mother of a four-year-old boy living in North Las Vegas, held up a red and white plastic inhaler.
“I just want to show you what it’s like to have a kid with severe asthma each and every day,” she said, her voice cracking. “Something that fails a lot in the conversation of environmental justice is the intersection with health care.”
In the last two years she said her son had been in the hospital for asthma complications three times, the last one hospitalizing him for a week.
“His last attack he started off with a cough, and that lead to him going into respiratory failure and going into cardiac arrest,” said Zamora. She told Cortez Masto the lower quality of air in North Las Vegas – a city with a high rate of poverty and high concentration of minority communities – make her fear for the safety of her son.
A Colorado College poll found that Nevadans are far more likely to view climate change as a serious problem than they were in 2016, up 16 percentage points from 58 percent in 2016 to 74 percent in 2019. A June 2019 Monmouth poll asked Nevada Democrats to name the top two issues they are thinking about in choosing a presidential nominee. Though well behind the issue congressional Democrats focused on more than any other in the 2018 campaign cycle, health care (41 percent), climate was second (17 percent).
Federal, state and local officials in Nevada have shown an eagerness to push the climate change issue, something Maggi said presidential candidates should be seizing on.
“We have a role to play in making sure these candidates talk about” the climate crisis, as sell as hear from “local Nevadans who are already feeling the impacts of climate change that are happening here on the ground,” Maggie said.
At last week’s CNN forum on climate change, nearly all the candidates stressed how climate change is hurting the poor and people of color the most.
Specific mentions of Nevada, however, were mostly confined to candidates staking out customary positions against forcing Nevada to accept nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.