Yet as vote tallies are finalized, it’s also clear the potency of global warming at the ballot box has its limits, for now.
A sizable chunk of voters who say they are concerned about climate change still ended up voting for President Trump anyway — even though the president often dismisses it as a “hoax.”
A two-thirds majority of voters say climate change is a “serious problem," according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Washington Post and other publications. It’s a notion backed by the vast majority of scientists who say human activity is dangerously warming the planet.
Yet among voters who said climate change is a serious problem, 68 percent voted for Biden, while 29 percent backed Trump, that same survey shows.
As is the case with so many other issues, political polarization may have locked people into voting for their own party.
Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, said his research indicates that many moderate Republicans who think climate change is real still aren’t willing to cross the aisle when deciding who should be the next president.
“They do care about the issue,” Maibach said. “But they clearly don’t care about it as a top-tier issue.”
“In a general election, especially a general election,” he added, “the question that voters are asking themselves has very little to do with the issues, and a lot more to do with their tribe.”
Economic, rather than environmental, considerations may have also been top of mind for voters wrenched by a spike in jobless rates due to the viral outbreak.
“People react to climate change with a real sense of urgency when they are prompted to consider the subject,” said Scott Segal, a lawyer at the legal and lobbying firm Bracewell, which represents refineries and other industrial interests. “But voting is a quiet task. When left to their own devices without prompting, it was hard for voters this year to let climate change break through when the pandemic, recession and policing was on their mind.”
Still, the issue of climate change was brought into relief in 2020 as California battled historic wildfires and the Atlantic and Gulf coasts weathered a record-breaking hurricane season.
The fact only one candidate sought to address what many young voters see as their generation's defining issue helped drive turnout.
“Young people care deeply about this. That was key to his victory," Gene Karpinski, head of the the League of Conservation Voters, which backed Biden, told reporters earlier this month.
"So the Trump voters," he added, “don't understand and don't care about climate. But that's not where the people who elected the new president were.”
The Environmental Voter Project, a get-out-the-vote nonprofit that doesn't endorse candidates, said its nine-month campaign texting and calling people who say they are care about the environment across a dozen states helped turn 607,000 nonvoters into voters.
That includes nearly 57,000 new voters in Arizona and 69,000 in Georgia — both well over the margin Biden beat Trump in either state.
“In elections this close, there are dozens of things that are difference makers,” Nathaniel Stinnett, head of the project, said. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that climate voters were one of them.”
The next administration
The campaign to shape Biden's team continues.
- The Sunrise Movement, an influential youth-led climate group, called appointment of Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) to the Biden White House as a senior adviser “a betrayal.” They cite his history of receiving donations from oil companies as a concern. Richmond is a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and also served as co-chair of Biden’s presidential campaign.
- Meanwhile, a coalition of 160 groups opposed to large corporate agribusiness sent a letter to Biden’s transition team on Tuesday urging against the nomination of former U.S. senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) for agriculture secretary, E&E News reports. They, too, note her donations from large oil and agriculture businesses.
- And Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, endorsed Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico for the top spot at the Interior Department. On Monday, Grijalva sent a letter to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus saying he was no longer interested in the role after it endorsed Grijalva himself for secretary. He urged members to back Halaand, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, instead. “It is well past time that an Indigenous person brings history full circle at the Department of Interior,” Grijalva wrote.
With Biden in the White House, coal-rich Australia’s refusal to sign on to climate targets makes it an international outlier.
Australia, the world’s second-largest coal exporter, could face increased pressure to combat global warming in the wake of Biden’s victory in the presidential election. With the incoming U.S. administration vowing to commit to zero emissions by 2050, Australia will soon be left as one of the only countries that has not signed on to the prevailing international climate target, A. Odysseus Patrick writes for The Post.
Australia’s conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who once brought a lump of coal to Congress, has sided with coal and natural-gas interests in refusing to set a deadline for Australia to reach net zero emissions. But Australia could face diplomatic pressure if a Biden administration moved forward with tariffs on big emitters of carbon dioxide.
Meanwhile, “Biden’s election has emboldened Australians who say their country has a moral obligation to be at the forefront of global efforts to combat climate change,” Patrick writes. “That’s placing intense political pressure on Morrison’s conservative government as the country heads into another summer, less than a year after wildfires scorched vast tracts of the country.”
Pressure increases on Bank of America to abandon Arctic drilling.
A shareholder resolution filed by Trillium Asset Management raised concern about the bank’s refusal to rule out financing for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic — making it the only major U.S. bank that has not taken a stance on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Goldman Sachs became the first U.S. bank to limit financing for Arctic drilling in 2019, and other major banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup followed suit in early 2020 in response to a concerted pressure campaign from environmental groups.
Jonas D. Kron, Trillium’s chief advocacy officer, warned of reputational harm for Bank of America investors, saying that they were “looking down the barrel of a deep and powerful vein of criticism” when it came to drilling in the Arctic.
White House says it followed proper steps in demoting Neil Chatterjee from the head of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The White House claims that it skipped announcing the demotion to avoid “embarrassing him” and denied the allegations that it did not follow proper protocol, the Washington Examiner reports. Chatterjee has claimed that he was dismissed as FERC chairman in an act of retaliation for his efforts to address climate change.
“We were trying to do Chatterjee a favor by not embarrassing him publicly with an announcement,” James Bacon, director of operations for the Presidential Personnel Office, told the Washington Examiner.
Chatterjee has raised doubts about whether the White House followed proper procedures in removing him from his position, pointing out to The Post in an interview on Friday that there was no public announcement of the change and that he had not seen any record that Trump had signed a legal designation establishing the new FERC chair.
Tesla, Uber and utility companies join forces to lobby for electric vehicles.
The electric-vehicle manufacturer and the ride-share company are joining forces with utility giant Southern Co. and other utilities, electric-vehicle-battery manufacturers and charging companies to form the Zero Emission Transportation Association, Bloomberg News reports. The group will lobby for emissions targets that enable full electrification of vehicles by 2030 and federal investment in infrastructure for electric vehicles, according to a statement.