Voters Deserve to Know Where Candidates Stand on Climate Change and They Need the Help of Journalists to Do It

From a story on headlined “Reporting the US Midterms as a Climate Story”:

Climate survival is on the ballot in November’s US midterm elections, even if most Americans don’t know it yet. During the 61 days remaining before Election Day, journalists can help voters understand that the choices they make will profoundly influence whether today’s young people inherit a livable planet or not.

According to opinion polls, Americans say they will be voting primarily on three issues: the cost of living, abortion rights, and the future of democracy. Each of these issues will be powerfully affected by which candidates the voters choose and thus which party — Republicans or Democrats — controls one or both houses of Congress.

But the same emphatically holds true about climate change. The next Congress will shape what the US government does and does not do about the global climate emergency. As record heat, drought, and floods devastate communities from Kentucky to California and Pakistan to Somalia, the US midterms will determine whether the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a high-water mark for US action or a first step toward more ambitious reforms. Likewise, the governors, mayors, and other state and local officials whom Americans select will shape what climate action is or is not taken in cities and counties across the US — which, as the world’s largest historical source of climate pollution, bears special responsibility for defusing the climate emergency.

It is not unprofessional editorializing for news coverage to make clear the implications these elections hold for civilization’s future — it is factually accurate. Nor is it partisan to make clear that one of the US’s two main political parties has for decades refused to acknowledge the climate crisis, much less offer credible proposals for combatting it. That, too, is simply factually accurate.

Voters deserve to know where candidates stand on this life-and-death issue, and they need journalists’ help to do it. Only the media can successfully press candidates on what they will do, if elected, about climate change. Republicans on Capitol Hill voted unanimously against the recent IRA, which included $370 billion to help slash heat-trapping emissions by 2030. That is their prerogative. But what do Republicans plan to do instead about climate change? Currently, their position amounts to: Do nothing. Again, that is their right. But voters equally have a right to know that that is the Republican position.

Voters also deserve to know how investments from the IRA will play out where they live. Is their state or county likely to see new solar power installations or battery factories built? What, if any, long-standing environmental injustices might be corrected? How many jobs will be created? There are plenty of angles to explore, including the irony that some states slated to gain major benefits are led by Republican governors who vehemently opposed the IRA.

Not only do voters deserve this information, it appears that many of them would welcome it. A new study indicates that most Americans support fighting climate change. But they don’t speak out because they assume, mistakenly, that most of their fellow citizens don’t share their view — an assumption that gets reinforced if the media stays quiet. “Whenever we look around, and we see nobody talking [about climate change], it just confirms that it seems like nobody cares,” said Boston College psychologist Gregg Sparkman, lead author of the study. “[When] policy makers have the same misperception, they’re not going to do a great job representing the will of the people.”

As journalists, let’s help our audiences understand that the politicians they elect in November will influence not only the cost of living, abortion rights, and the future of democracy — as important as each of those issues are — but also the future of civilization on this planet.

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