Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Jessie Buendia headshot

The Political Path Forward on Climate Change

By Jessie Buendia
us epa administrator in houston texas to announce new climate change program for rural communities

In March, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (back left) and U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan (back right) visit the 2024 Commodity Classic in Houston, Texas, the largest farmer-led annual convention in the country, to announce a new EPA office aimed at expanding engagement opportunities with agricultural and rural communities. (Credit: U.S. EPA/Flickr)

This story is part of From the Frontline, a guest-contributed column where we hear directly from climate justice advocates and those who are impacted by climate change. If you're interested in contributing your perspective to this column, please get in touch with us here

When U.S. President Joe Biden stepped up to deliver what might be his last State of the Union address last month, the growing partisan divide was hard to ignore. The indiscriminate impact of climate crises, as witnessed through record-breaking heatwavesdevastating wildfires and increased domestic climate migration, underscores that climate concerns transcend partisan lines. 

Despite the pressing nature of climate change, it often ranks lower on the list of priorities for voters globally, overshadowed by immediate economic concerns. However, here in the United States, a noteworthy shift is emerging within the conservative demographics, particularly among younger Republicans, who increasingly view climate change as a critical issue. 

This shift among younger conservatives and the consistent climate concerns from liberal voices presents an opportunity for both the Republican and Democratic parties. By working together across political and socioeconomic lines, we have an incredible chance to tackle the biggest environmental and economic challenges facing our nation.

The green transition isn’t partisan; it’s inevitable. As clean technologies become increasingly affordable and drive down costs, public and private investment in climate solutions will bring unprecedented economic benefits to red, blue and purple states. From creating well-paying green jobs to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and improving public health, these investments hold promise for creating a more resilient economy while reducing costly carbon emissions. 

Climate investments are set to skyrocket even further in 2024 with the rollout of substantial funds from the Inflation Reduction Act, like the $20 billion in climate finance awards the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last week. These awards will increase access to financing for green projects for households and businesses in communities across the country. The initial $20 billion is expected to yield more than $250 billion in combined public and private investment over the next 10 years and create 1 million direct jobs, according to a recent study. This rapid growth will create a green market that lowers energy costs, bolsters economic development, and positions the U.S. as a global economic power. 

Despite the historic economic growth that’s on the horizon, the current polarized political landscape makes common ground increasingly difficult to find.

The looming contest for the White House between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump underscores this dilemma. While Biden's campaign resonated with young climate voters in 2020, the issue has since receded from the forefront of political discourse in 2024. And that’s not all that surprising. In an early poll of young voters, only 26 percent identified climate change as one of the top three issues on the ballot, while 53 percent were concerned about the cost of living and inflation. 

However, it’s important to note that the environment and the economy go hand in hand. For young voters on both sides of the aisle, there is a vital opportunity for Democrats to educate voters about the economic opportunity that an inclusive green economy will provide, especially the imminent expansion of green bank financing. Republicans should also listen carefully to the unique concerns of green conservatives and remain curious and creative in evolving the Republican platform to be inclusive of climate issues. 

Businesses, local governments and families nationwide are showing an unprecedented appetite for climate solutions. Green technologies are now more cost-effective than fossil fuels, driving this demand. As the world continues to seek low- or zero-emission technologies, states across the political spectrum are attracting billions in clean energy and electric vehicle manufacturing, resulting in millions of new jobs. 

To ensure no one is left behind in the green transition, we need to bridge knowledge gaps, work across divisions and create a shared vision of a more equitable, sustainable future. Some communities have already started that difficult, critical work like Fresno, California.

Thanks to Inflation Reduction Act funding, diverse stakeholders in Fresno are working together to create a climate plan that reduces pollution, expands clean energy, and promotes economic growth. Representatives from both sides of the aisle and across sectors have a seat at the table to build a healthier, more sustainable roadmap for their community. As Republican Mayor of Fresno Jerry Dyer puts it, “During heat waves, Republicans and Democrats both sweat the same.”

This kind of deep, bipartisan collaboration is critical for communities like Fresno that are most impacted by climate change but least likely to be a part of the solutions. While environmental and economic injustice is often prevalent in communities of color, these same patterns of disparity are felt by poor rural communities in red states as well.

Republicans and Democrats alike need to uplift the concerns of their constituents that have been left unheard. They should also meaningfully engage communities to adequately advocate for their unique needs and address knowledge gaps. At all levels of government and across sectors, leaders should turn toward each other through unlikely partnerships and build the inclusive green economy our planet urgently needs and our communities rightly deserve. 

The opportunity for transformation doesn’t stop there, and the need for unity extends beyond Capitol Hill and our nation’s borders. In our families and communities, we should seek ways to bridge divides and find common ground on climate. This bipartisan approach to change-making is also needed at a global scale. At the 2023 United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP28), participants from across the globe emphasized the critical role of cross-sector partnerships and collaborative innovation in meeting global climate goals. 

As a Latina climate justice activist with progressive values, I believe in the importance of working with unlikely allies to create sustainable change. We can embrace our collective experiences, safeguard our planet and pursue solutions that foster a fairer, more sustainable future. If we unite and seek common ground, 2024 can mark a significant leap forward in climate action.

Jessie Buendia headshot

Jessie Buendia is Dream.Org’s Vice President of Sustainability and Green For All National Director. She works to advance proactive bipartisan climate policy, support the implementation of Biden’s Justice40 initiative, and ensure investments from the Inflation Reduction Act are directed to the communities most impacted by poverty and pollution.

Read more stories by Jessie Buendia