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Tina Casey headshot

Climate Action and the Case for Voter Engagement

Now that communities in many parts of the U.S. are feeling the impacts of climate change firsthand, voting rights supporters have a new opportunity to engage voters and encourage them to choose leadership on climate action.
By Tina Casey
person holding I Voted sticker — climate action and voting trends

(Image: Phillip Goldsberry/Unsplash)

Business leaders who support voting rights face a difficult challenge. Aside from overcoming new partisan laws that make voting more difficult, they need to overcome a chronic undercurrent of voter apathy in the U.S. However, now that communities in many parts of the country are feeling the impacts of climate change firsthand, voting rights supporters have a new opportunity to engage voters and encourage them to choose leadership on climate action.

On climate action, who's elected matters

“It makes no difference who is elected president,” is the reason cited by 53 percent of voting-age adults who decided not to cast a ballot in 2020.

In terms of the climate crisis, though, the differences are all too real. Former U.S. President Donald Trump changed the game with one stroke of the pen shortly after taking office when he summarily pulled the U.S. out of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change.

U.S. business leaders quickly allied with labor unions to advocate for the Paris Agreement and reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Ongoing federal programs also continued to support progress on decarbonization, despite the efforts of Trump appointees to the contrary.

Still, without strong White House support for climate action, the U.S. lost a key opportunity to provide global leadership at a time of looming crisis.

“While the US now represents around 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it remains the world's biggest and most powerful economy,” BBC environment correspondent Matt McGrath observed in November of 2020. “So, when it becomes the only country to withdraw from a global solution to a global problem, it raises questions of trust.”

The leadership pendulum swings both ways

That trust cannot be restored in a single election cycle, but the current administration took a giant step in the right direction. Newly elected President Joe Biden took office in 2021 with a focus on leveraging government resources and private-sector investment to accelerate decarbonization.

In a new analysis, Carbon Brief credits President Biden with implementing new policies that bring the U.S. closer to meeting its near-term goal to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, highlighted by climate provisions in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act

In the analysis dated March 6, Carbon Brief notes that the Joe Biden administration has brought the country “close to meeting its 2030 target range.” If Biden is reelected in 2024, "emissions would fall to around 43 percent below 2005 levels” by 2030, Carbon Brief projects, though existing policies fall short of where the country needs to be to reach net-zero two decades later. 

Conversely, the alternative — a second term in office for Trump — would once again turn back the clock: “In total, the analysis suggests that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would fall to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 if Trump secures a second term and rolls back Biden’s policies — far short of the 50 to 52 percent target."

By way of visualizing the difference, Carbon Brief projects that Trump’s second term in office would wipe “all of the [emissions] savings from deploying wind, solar and other clean technologies around the world over the past five years” off the books, twice over.

Rolling back the Inflation Reduction Act would have catastrophic consequences 

Though advising that other variables may impact the actual results, Carbon Brief anticipates a negative outcome for a second Trump term based largely on his pledge to roll back the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

“The IRA accounts for the most significant part of the emissions reductions expected as a result of Biden’s climate policies to date,” Carbon Brief authors led by deputy and policy editor Simon Evans explained. “This has been called the largest package of domestic climate measures in U.S. history.”

“It offers incentives covering a broad swathe of the economy from low-carbon manufacturing to clean energy, electric vehicles, ‘climate-smart’ agriculture and low-carbon hydrogen,” they added. “Regardless of the precise impact, a second Trump term that successfully dismantles Biden’s climate legacy would likely end any global hopes of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius."

The shield of apathy may be cracking

A newly published study from the University of Colorado at Boulder indicates that climate change already impacts voter behavior, providing some basis to believe that the Inflation Reduction Act — and President Biden — will prevail for another four years.

“We find that climate change opinion has had a significant and growing effect on voting that favors the Democrats and is large enough to be pivotal to the outcomes of close elections,” the researchers concluded. “We project that climate change opinion probably cost Republicans the 2020 presidential election, all else being equal."

Signs of growing voter engagement emerged in the 2022 midterm elections as well.  Business leaders who value both the environmental and the bottom-line benefits of the IRA can help make sure that it survives into 2025 and beyond by seizing the momentum, building on their voter registration programs, and keeping climate action front and center in the national conversation as Election Day comes closer.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey