The climate candidate won — what can activists do now?

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This week, the Electoral College cast their votes and affirmed Joe Biden as president-elect, after a long race that centered the issue of climate change like never before. He and President Trump sparred in climate-focused ads, stump speeches, and debate segments. Two-thirds of Americans called the issue “very” or “somewhat” important as they decided how to cast their vote this year—a trend on the rise, according to Pew Research

The Environmental Voter Project, which works to turn out people who care about environmental issues but don’t typically vote, saw record response to their outreach. More than 600,000 of their target unlikely voters turned out for the first time and voted early. Tens of thousands of those new climate voters were in swing states.

For many of these climate voters, the choice was abundantly clear. President Trump has called climate change a hoax, whereas Joe Biden laid out detailed plans to address this global challenge. Sure enough, constituencies who are most concerned about climate change, such as young people and Latinos, chose Joe Biden by dramatic margins. He is now president-elect.

Since the race was called, the climate movement has celebrated the fact that our incoming president grasps the challenge at hand and seems willing to tackle it. And Biden’s early steps are encouraging: diplomat John Kerry will hold a new climate envoy position in Biden’s Cabinet, and carbon-tax-friendly economist Janet Yellen will head the Treasury.

But now it’s time for a sobering reminder: Having a president favorable to climate action does not mean major change will be easy to achieve. Executive actions aren’t a sure path, as Obama’s Clean Power Plan proved. Legislation is a more durable option, but a tough sell to a Congress that may be divided between a Republican Senate and a Democratic House. Every branch of government has to navigate the choppy waters of pandemic management and economic recovery, too.

So, what now? When we needed to get out the vote, millions of climate advocates met the challenge: writing postcards, sending texts, and making calls. That’s just the beginning of participating in our democracy. Now, it’s time to pull other political levers at our disposal: beating the climate drum in local media and online, organizing our communities, and lobbying our lawmakers directly.

It starts with having the conversation in your own circles. Most people don’t hear about climate change in their day-to-day life, so if you’re worried about it, bring it up. Post a Snap, a TikTok, a Fleet — whatever the kids are calling it these days. Even members of Congress are increasingly active on social media, so with a well-placed tag, your message of climate concern can get in front of people with power to legislate a solution.

You can take the discussion beyond social media and into traditional media, too. Local newspapers and public radio stations reach thousands of your neighbors every day, and your letters or listener calls will go a long way to advance the climate conversation in your community. Media outlets should be receptive: polling shows that 74 percent of Americans are interested in news stories about climate change.

The more your community hears and talks about climate change, the easier it is to organize in productive ways. Climate groups across the political spectrum, like Sunrise Movement, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and RepublicEn are connecting people and empowering them to make change. In Georgia, progressive canvassers are spreading the word about how climate change affects local air quality. In upstate New York, neighbors are working together to encourage local wineries to endorse national climate legislation. In South Carolina, folks are taking conservative lawmakers on “field trips” to see local climate impacts.

That last example is where the rubber meets the road: more climate advocates need to lobby their elected officials. We need to call them, and write to them, and actually meet with them and their staff about climate change and the solutions that exist today. Because members of Congress aren’t mind-readers. They don’t know what we want unless we tell them. In fact, they tend to wildly misunderstand what we want, so we desperately need to communicate it better and more often.

In 2021, let’s make it crystal clear to every representative and senator, from both parties, that we’re ready for them to do more on climate. This is how we’ll achieve the climate action and the healthy democracy we need. By pulling the lever in the voting booth, yes — and then by pulling every other political lever we can reach.

Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Tags carbon emission Climate change Donald Trump Global warming Greenhouse gas Janet Yellen Joe Biden John Kerry

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