Climate negotiations kick off in Egypt on Sunday, while the US heads to the polls Tuesday
Next Tuesday’s midterm elections in the United States, like the recently concluded elections in Brazil, have enormous climate implications. While American voters tell pollsters the most important issues on their minds are the cost of living, abortion rights, and the future of democracy, Americans are also voting on preserving a livable climate on this planet. They just may not know it, which is where good journalism can help.
The US midterms will decide whether the government of the world’s leading climate change superpower embraces or shuns strong climate action in the decisive years immediately ahead. Which party controls Congress next year will shape whether this year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is the high-water mark for US action or a first step towards the more ambitious measures scientists say are imperative. The election results will also shape how strong a hand US president Joe Biden and his climate envoy John Kerry have during the COP27 negotiations in Egypt from November 6 to 18.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans — many of whom are climate deniers — say they believe that the US should be drilling and burning more American oil, gas, and coal. The minority of GOP members who acknowledge that human activities are warming the planet believe that market forces will take care of global warming, reports The New York Times.
While the GOP can’t repeal the IRA while Biden is in office — a presidential veto would block any such effort — they could seriously cripple its implementation. As Rebecca Leber of Vox reported, “What Republicans can do is gum up the works of the bill’s massive climate programs. In the majority, they would have additional powers to call in agency officials for hearings and issue subpoenas — all tools that could be used to disrupt the implementation of both the IRA and the bipartisan infrastructure law passed a year ago.”
So far, few US news outlets have made climate change a core theme in their election coverage. That implicitly signals to the public that climate is not very important, which helps explain why climate change does not rank highly among voters’ concerns, even though our planetary house is on fire. But there’s still time for smart reporting to make the climate connection clear to voters.
For example, Kerry and Biden could have a stronger or a weaker bargaining position at COP27, depending on how the elections unfold. Having passed the IRA should give Kerry and Biden a stronger hand to push China and other big emitters to do more. But if Republicans gain control of the House and/or the Senate, that would mean Congress has just flipped to a party that voted unanimously against that climate legislation. The rest of the world would understandably question whether the US can be the climate leader Biden wants it to be.
Brazil’s recent elections underscore how voters’ decisions in one country can carry enormous consequences for the climate future of every other country on Earth. Journalists Eliane Brum and Jonathan Watts, two co-founders of Sumaúma, a news site based in the Amazon, wrote about the climate stakes of the election in TIME: “The poll results here will not just shape national politics, but the health of the rainforest, which has a powerful knock-on effect on regional weather systems and the global climate.”
Journalists throughout the US can apply the same framing in covering the days leading up to and beyond next Tuesday’s midterm elections. Biden said Wednesday that the future of democracy is on the ballot next Tuesday. So is the future of the planet. American voters need to know that.
New COP27 reporting guide. Why are COPs so important? How can journalists tell stories about the summit that compel audiences? For coverage tips, story prompts, and a list of resources to get you started, check out Covering Climate Now’s COP27 reporting guide. Read the guide.
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