Climate change has forced candidates for governor in several states to confront growing voter anxiety about the issue in their final debates.
In the wake of Hurricane Michael and toxic algae blooms, Florida’s gubernatorial candidates Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum continue to spar over climate in one of the country’s most high-profile contests. In their last matchup, Gillum faced scrutiny for his promise to hold those who are the biggest polluters accountable, even though he is good friends with Sean Pittman, who lobbies on behalf of Florida Crystals, one of the largest sugar companies in the state and a major polluter.
Gillum responded by pointing out that he has been endorsed by almost every major environmental organization. The mayor of Tallahassee also noted that the same day Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, the city broke ground on a 120-acre solar farm that tripled the amount of energy produced by the municipal utility. DeSantis chimed in that he didn’t want to be labeled as an “alarmist” when it came to climate change, and that he’s there for those affected by Hurricane Michael. (DeSantis has often expressed skepticism about climate change on the campaign trail.)
Fracking is a major concern in Colorado where Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton discussed the different possibilities for drilling locations. Proximity to buildings has become a major issue: One ballot initiative, Proposition 112 , would require drilling to take place a minimum of 2,500 feet away from occupied structures, water sources, and other vulnerable places. Asked what he thought was a reasonable distance for drilling near homes, Stapleton danced around the question. Pressed to answer, he replied “exactly where it is now,” which is 500 feet from an occupied building or 1,000 feet from high-occupancy buildings.
Polis said that he does not support 112, because it would be too divisive, and “all but ban fracking in Colorado.” However, in 2014, he supported legislation that would include a 2,000-foot setback inclusive with property rights for the owner to negotiate different setbacks with drilling companies.
In Michigan, Republican Bill Schuette and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer faced tough questions in their final debate about how they would respond to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that sounded warnings about increasing temperatures and whether they believed that the 14 governors across the country who’ve decided to independently work toward the goals of the Paris Agreement that Trump abandoned were right to do so.
Whitmer said she would bring Michigan into the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance of governors until a president is elected who will rejoin the Paris climate accords. Schuette said he believes climate change is real and that the earth is getting warmer, but other countries need to be involved too, not just the United States. (A jaw-dropping statement: There are big holdouts like Russia, but most countries have agreed to the pact.)
According to polling done by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, about 70 percent of adults believe global warming is happening, and 57 percent believe global warming is caused by humans. But an October 15 Pew Research Center poll found that Democratic voters are much more worried than Republicans: 72 percent of Democrats believe that climate change is a “very big” problem compared with just 11 percent of Republicans.
In early October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) got the world’s attention with a new report, outlining what may happen if the Earth heats up just a few degrees. Every passing year of inaction jeopardizes life on the planet. For the IPCC that means that keeping temperature increases in check is key to slowing down the ravages of climate change.
The main goal of the Paris Agreement, the treaty designed to foster an international consensus on combating climate change, is to keep global temperatures from rising any more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Human-induced global warming is no longer an “if.” The more ambitious goal is to keep future increases under 1.5 degrees Celsius since that small increase means the impacts of global warming on land, water, and humans will be much worse as temperatures continue to increase. In 2017, the Earth had already experienced a 1-degree Celsius increase above pre-industrial levels.
The process, which slowly accelerated during the Industrial Revolution, leading to increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has contributed to warmer ocean water temperatures. Marine aquaculture and fisheries are already suffering as a result of the carbon dioxide that the ocean has absorbed, resulting in ocean acidification.
At this pace, the Earth will become 1.5 degrees warmer between the years 2030 and 2052. In order to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, carbon dioxide levels need to decline by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 to reach “net zero,” when carbon dioxide emissions are non-existent or balanced out by other natural factors, such as forest carbon sinks (places in the natural environment where more carbon is stored than released).
Warmer water temperatures and acidification inhibit shell development in shrimp, oysters, corals, and some species of zooplankton—the base of the marine food chain. Some ocean species such as bass, salmon, and shad will relocate to cooler waters earlier in the year to beat the heat.
But some species like kelp and coral, which can’t migrate, will die out. Additionally, as ocean temperatures increase and the seas rise in places like the Arctic, there is a chance that those waters will be free of ice one out of every 100 summers. (If temperature increases reach 2 degrees Celsius, the chances increase to one out of every ten summers.)
Risks to health, food security, water supplies, and economic growth are projected to increase. If adaptation and mitigation efforts do not come into play in the meantime, human mortality rates from climate events like heat waves will rise. Indigenous people, the poor, and people who depend on agriculture and coastal livelihoods like fishing or tourism also will be affected.
In order to keep temperatures in check, the IPCC proposes governments work together immediately and quickly. Some regions have already implemented plans to lower greenhouse gases, but those are still not enough.
There is no definitive way to keep warming increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius, but shifting to renewable energy sources; making diet changes, such as moving away from land-intensive animal meat production; utilizing green infrastructure, such as green roofs; and implementing smart urban planning strategies could help. It’s going to take a lot of international effort to control global warming—and it’s going to need to happen quickly.
That’s Missouri State Representative Bruce Franks Jr.’s rap about his journey from protester to lawmaker. A new report by Generation Progress found that young people like Franks are severely underrepresented among legislators, even though young people are the largest voting bloc in America: 34 percent of the country’s eligible voters are 35 or younger but only 6 percent of legislators are 35 years old or younger.
He shared his experiences at a late-September Generation Progress/Center for American Progress forum. Explaining that he knows what it feels like to be underrepresented, Franks said he had only voted once before the 2016 election, for Barack Obama, simply because Obama was a candidate that looked like him. He participated in the Ferguson protests after Michael Brown’s death, and noted how that moment led him to become an activist in his community and run for office.
The panelists—State Representative Mark Cardenas of Arizona’s 19th Congressional District; Wendi Wallace, Planned Parenthood’s political outreach director; and Mayor Marita Garrett of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania—want to see young women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and LGBTQ people step up and run for office. They also stressed the importance of grassroots campaigning: knocking on people’s doors and having face-to-face conversations with voters.
Carrie Wade, a member of the audience who is young and disabled, pointed out that the survey did not offer any statistics about disabled candidates and office-holders. She wanted to know how she and people like her could run for office. Wade got a warm response from panel members who suggested utilizing social media, holding town halls, and asking volunteers to canvass neighborhoods.
Millennial office-holders have to fight misconceptions. According to the panelists, millennials are an “in-between generation,” with the baby boomers at one end of the spectrum and Generation Z coming of age at the other, and there’s typically an assumption that they don’t care. But the oldest millennials are nearly 40 years old: They’re buying houses, having kids, battling with student loan debt, and need representation at all levels of government. But it’s not enough to get a young and diverse group elected in 2018; the real challenge is getting them to run and stay in office years to come.
Wallace noted that while people are riled up about the Trump administration, something else needs to happen: Young people need to vote, to run for their state legislatures, and not be intimidated or listen to anyone who says "wait your turn."