Many climate voters see 2020 as a turning point.
Scientists have made it abundantly clear that in the next decade there needs to be significant decreases in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions while making sizable changes in domestic and foreign policies in order to effectively deal with the worsening climate crisis.
The upcoming election, many voters and climate groups argue, is the last real chance to elect someone to implement solutions.
While climate change is a growing concern among voters, what role will the climate crisis and environmental justice play in the Democratic presidential contest, where polling regularly finds voters asserting they will back a candidate who is not aligned with their priorities so long as they think the candidate can beat Donald Trump?
Speaking Sunday to a packed room at the Springs Preserve on environmental justice, billionaire businessman and philanthropist Tom Steyer thinks the issue is going to not just heavily motivate voters but also give candidates who offer substantial proposals for dealing with the climate crisis a boost.
Steyer, who clocked in at about 12 percent in one Nevada poll, has made addressing the climate crisis central to his campaign, saying he would declare a state of emergency on his first day in office if he was elected.
“If climate change is not your number one priority there is a very good chance it will never get done,” he said. “I will use the emergency powers of the presidency to get the ball rolling. I’m saying that because I know that’s what the situation requires.”
But implementing changes, Steyer noted, is also going to require congressional action in funding solutions and adopting bold policies.
Candidates have unveiled lengthy climate proposals that feature items like combating corruption the prevents legislation from being passed, fighting against the fossil fuel industry, banning offshore drilling, taxing carbon and aiming for 100 percent clean energy.
Steyer has hosted multiple climate and environmental events in Nevada, such as the one Sunday, as a way to excite voters about his proposals.
In an interview, Patrick Donnelly, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity Action, said it’s specific and detailed plans that are going to grab the attention of Nevada voters.
“I think the platitudes of rejoining the Paris Accord might fly in Iowa and New Hampshire, but it’s not going to work in Nevada,” he said. “Nevada voters need to hear about intersectional climate justice, not the same old boiler plate policy measure that someone came up with in a wine cave somewhere.”
According to a Monmouth University poll from 2019, climate change is the second highest priority for Nevada Democratic voters, but well behind health care.
Another recent poll from the Reno Gazette Journal had 14 percent of voters citing climate change as their top issue, again behind health care.
‘Nevada is the place to talk about it’
Chispa Nevada, a program within the League of Conservation Voters that stresses the importance of clean air and water policies within the Latino community, hosted a caucus training for climate voters on Saturday.
“When we talk about climate change, Nevada is the place to talk about it,” said Andy Maggi, the executive director of the Nevada Conservation League. “That’s for good reasons and bad reasons. Unfortunately, we are on the front line in the fight for climate change. We are getting hotter. We are getting dryer. Las Vegas and Reno are two of the fastest-warming cities in the entire country … Nevada is feeling the impact of climate change. If you’re a person of color in Nevada or live in a low income community, you are experiencing it at a rate that is significantly higher than the rest of us.”
Maggi also reminded the audience that Nevada’s green priorities have already paid off in legislative wins.
“We’ve shown that candidates who run on this issue in Nevada, win on this issue,” he added pointing to fellow panelists state Sen. Chris Brooks and Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones as examples.
Climate change isn’t some ethereal concept, but rather intersects with racial justice, health care and housing. Black and brown people, along with tribal communities, are the ones who take the brunt of failed policies and more often are the ones living in neighborhoods with higher asthma rates or lack clean water.
“(The Latino) community is facing the consequences of climate change whether it’s increased hurricanes in Puerto Rico or droughts and fires in California or floods in Houston,” said Felipe Benitez, a climate activist who introduced Steyer at the event. “Our communities suffer but also our communities are the key to making changes.”
Steyer noted the importance of focusing on Black and brown communities. “If you start with leadership in those communities, what I’ve found is you’ll solve the climate issue, get the policies and do it in a just and fair way with leadership where it should be coming from — the most affected communities,” he said.
Despite many panelists acknowledging the overlap of climate change and environmental racism, as well as the importance of Black and brown communities leading in solutions, Sunday’s event featured majority white speakers and not representatives from those communities.
Climate change solutions, as some of the candidates have noted, also connect with other pressing issues such as strengthening the economy.
Steyer told the crowd embracing policies also means committing to rebuilding America’s infrastructure that could also result in creating millions of “good-paying, union jobs.”
“We actually have to rebuild the United States of America on an accelerated basis for suitability,” Steyer said. “… What it means economically is the biggest union work program in the history of the United States.”