Environment

How to Figure Out Which Candidates Actually Care About the Environment

Here's a set of tools to help you understand the issues and vote in support of climate reform.
September 25, 2020, 12:00pm
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Though 2020 has made a variety of voting issues feel distinctly urgent, the hurricane and fire season have reminded us that climate change remains a critical challenge.

While it may be fairly easy to find information about the presidential candidates, climate change issues remain critical down-ballot in statewide and local elections. Particularly, if we continue with another four years without climate leadership in Washington D.C. (and, instead, continue to face actively destructive climate policies), it will be up to our state and local governments to lead the way with bold solutions. If you’re curious about the positions of candidates in your area, follow this guide to find out where they stand.

Get a sense of what the most pressing climate issues are in this election, both locally and on state and federal levels.

Familiarize yourself with legislation that will mitigate climate harms and strengthen environmental resiliency. The Green New Deal is often mentioned as a major policy proposition with the potential to do both. Aside from the GND, you may see politicians commit to uphold or reject the requirements of the Paris Agreement, an international commitment for emission reduction. While President Trump officially withdrew the US from our commitment in 2017, several cities and states have committed to uphold the responsibilities of the Paris Agreement.

Pay attention to keywords around climate change. While some politicians use fallacies that avoid making commitments—like vague statements to "protect our outdoor heritage"—certain words are almost always linked to campaign promises around climate. Here are some good ones to be aware of:

Fracking. Shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, fracking is a controversial method of drilling for natural gas that requires fracturing bedrock to release pockets of natural gas. In the process, it releases methane, an incredibly potent greenhouse gas. Similarly, candidates touting their support for new pipeline development rather than green energy should be viewed as unfriendly towards climate action.

Emissions. While emissions can refer to any type of airborne pollutant, emissions are often mentioned within the commitment to reduce them to mitigate damages to climate and public health. The word itself has such negative connotations that climate deniers will often avoid it and opt to promise to "reduce regulations that harm business."

Renewable energy. Fighting climate change requires a transition from fossil fuels to a renewable energy economy. These are sources like solar, wind, and geothermal (among others) that replenish themselves on a human scale. These may often be referred to as clean energy based on their lack of greenhouse gas emissions. Beware of proponents of fossil fuels attempting to hijack this language; "clean coal" is an excellent example of this.

Check out candidates' websites.

While not every candidate will have their stance on climate change policy clearly listed on their official website, it can give you an idea of where they stand on the issues or, at least, what issues they find most important (and those they don't consider worth mentioning). Candidates’ websites are generally fairly easy to find, though be aware that their opponents may sponsor attack ad sites that will appear before the candidate’s own site on search engines. Skip over the "sponsored" ads at the top of the search engine results. Once you're on a candidate's official site, you may be able to find an “On the Issues”–style tab or page that points you toward their policy positions.

Under normal circumstances, it would be helpful to explore candidates’ party platforms to approximate how the individuals running for office see the issues. However, while the Democratic Party adopted a new platform at their virtual convention, the Republican Party took the unusual step of avoiding adopting a new platform, choosing to center their party’s work around supporting Donald Trump’s policies. That said, you can still explore their platform from 2016.

Explore your candidate’s social media feeds.

If a candidate's website doesn't tell you much, social media might provide more context. As a rule, candidates are generally way more active on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram than they are on their websites. See what kind of information they are sharing: Are they applauding legislation that was introduced that reduces emissions or are they throwing their support behind slashing regulations at the risk of our air quality?

Additionally, check out articles about candidates from reputable news sources, especially the reporting on environmental and climate concerns. Reading information compiled by a journalist can save you a lot of time and energy learning about where your candidate stands.

Find a local chapter of a climate advocacy group.

If you’re new to climate action, it may be helpful to connect with people who have been doing this work for longer. Ask the people in climate advocacy groups what their opinions are of your local candidates. Citizens Climate Lobby, Protect Our Winters, 350.org, and Greenpeace are all national organizations that may have state or local chapters near you. Some organizations endorse candidates, like the Sunrise Movement, which makes it easy to throw your support toward them (and make phone calls to educate others about doing the same, if you so choose).

Your state is undoubtedly home to regional climate advocacy groups, as well. Search for “climate advocacy [your state]” and explore local entities that are working on climate policies. Though the operational budgets are much smaller than the national organizations, local nonprofits are better poised to direct their support at races and issues that will make a difference in your state. For example, local climate advocacy organizations can target legislative races that could be the deciding votes on ensuring your state takes the lead on emission reduction and regulations.

Don’t base your opinion on political ads—and fact-check the ones you do see.

Political ads are often intentionally misleading. To everyone’s frustration, we will be bombarded by countless political ads before November. Try to avoid committing any of the claims to memory without exploring them further. Here's a hypothetical example: If an ad claims Candidate X supports green legislation that “will destroy hundreds of jobs in your state,” check out the research on that piece of legislation. Perhaps that particular bill is expected to create a loss of 350 jobs in the coal industry, but create over 500 jobs in the solar and wind industry. Regardless of the ad’s source, you are never getting the complete story in a 30-second clip.

Directly ask your candidate or candidate’s team about their positions on climate issues.

Not finding the information you want? Send your candidate’s team a message. This can be done by calling their offices or campaign team or sending them a message on a website contact form.

When you reach out: First, TELL them that climate change issues are important to you, then ASK where they stand on specific policy proposals. If a candidate has been avoiding making a comment on environmental concerns, your note will give that candidate important insight about  which issues their constituents are looking at.

In terms of local races, the person you end up communicating with may be the candidate themselves. Building a relationship with your potential representatives ensures that they remain aware of your priorities as you continue to hold them accountable after the election.

Keep in mind the domain and responsibilities of the office a given candidate is running for and the specific legislation that they will have influence over. Congressional legislation is often more widely reported on, but your state climate action organizations can offer direction on state and local policies. (Get on those mailing lists!) The mayor of your town will not be able to vote for the Green New Deal, but they may be critical to ensuring that your city government writes and implements a Climate Action Plan. Identifying each candidates' spheres of influence will help you approach them and advocate for change.


Above all: Take time to understand the issues that are important to you, the legislation you want to see passed, and the candidates that support them. Using the tools above, you can disentangle the mess of climate policy and candidate stances. Even if none of the candidates running for office right now have committed to the policies you want, pick the choice that you consider the most swayable and keep applying pressure, even after they get elected.

Follow Mariah Gladstone on Twitter.

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