This Was a Climate Election

A gray-haired woman holds up a sticker that reads, “I voted.”
A gray-haired woman holds up a sticker that reads, “I voted.”
Photo by iStockphoto.com/adamkaz

Joe Biden ran on the strongest climate and environmental-justice platform of any major party nominee in history. And climate played a historically large role in his campaign: Biden brought up climate in debate after debate, and closed out his campaign with climate-focused ads.

But the presidential race was far from the only one where climate was at play. Across the country, voters weighed in on environmental propositions and environmentally focused candidates. They expressed record levels of concern over the climate crisis: According to the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of adults now view climate change as a major threat to the country’s well-being. Polling from the radical left-wing outlet Fox News found that 72 percent of voters were concerned about climate change, and nearly the same percentage wanted the federal government to invest more heavily in clean energy.

Thanks to this rising tide of concern, as well as the tireless work of volunteers from the Sierra Club and our movement allies, we managed to secure some victories even in epicenters of oil and gas production. In state houses, county commissions, and city councils, we have the chance to implement groundbreaking environmental legislation and prove its viability to the rest of the country. And that’s a reason to be optimistic about what’s possible over these next four years.

Here are some of the local victories I’m most excited about:

Congress welcomes back its staunchest climate champions — and gains a few new ones.

Some of the House’s most vocal proponents of climate action, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), are headed back to Congress after sweeping their districts. An analysis by Earther found that all but one House cosponsor of the Green New Deal won reelection. And this time around, the squad of climate champions is even bigger: Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Marie Newman (D-IL), and Cori Bush (D-MO), all of whom made the Green New Deal and environmental justice central planks of their campaigns, are joining its ranks.

The Senate will also welcome two new environmental voices. Former astronaut Mark Kelly ousted Arizona Republican senator Martha McSally, who earned a spot on the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen” for her closeness with extractive industries. And in Colorado, John Hickenlooper ran on a transition to 100% renewable energy and investments in green jobs — beating out pro-fossil fuel incumbent Cory Gardner.

In Ohio, voters in two cities chose to power their future with 100% clean energy.

In Columbus, Ohio’s largest city, and in solidly Republican Grove City, voters approved initiatives to power their communities with 100 percent renewable energy. This represented the culmination of years of work by the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 teams in Ohio.

With the passage of these initiatives, Grove City and Columbus have kickstarted an enormous reduction in their cities’ levels of air and carbon pollution, equivalent to taking 275,000 cars off the road. They’ve also helped grow Ohio’s renewable energy economy: Columbus’s energy supply will come from all-new projects constructed in the state.

Voters welcomed gray wolves back into Colorado in a historic vote.

Gray wolves are a keystone species, critical to the health of Colorado ecosystems. But they were hunted to extinction in the state by the 1940s. Thanks to the passage of Proposition 114, wolves will be making a comeback in the state by 2024.

We flipped two county commissions in Colorado.

In Colorado, county commissions have the power to fine polluters and institute protective setbacks between drilling and the places where people live, work, and play. This year, we flipped the county commissions of Larimer and Arapahoe — which means we’ll have a much better shot at curbing dangerous, polluting oil and gas projects in the state.

We opened a path to environmental ambition in the New Mexico Senate.

This year, Chevron spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the New Mexico primaries to protect incumbents who stood in the way of environmental protection. But they failed to fend off four Sierra Club-backed State Senate challengers who are expected to seek more robust environmental protections, and set a more ambitious timeline for the state to run on carbon-neutral electricity.

We reelected representatives who are ready to take on corporate polluters in the Texas State House.

Like freshman Representative Erin Zwiener, who was facing a tough reelection battle in Texas Hill Country. An author, educator, and conservationist, Zwiener won her first race by just over a thousand votes — and risked her reelection by using a technicality to kill a bill that would have allowed corporate polluters to dump toxins into streams and rivers in her district. But Zwiener’s record worked in her favor: Her constituents sent her back to the state house to keep protecting their clean air and water.

Arizona utilities are moving toward a sunnier future.

The state has more days of sunshine a year than almost any other. But the Arizona Corporation Commission, which decides how much solar and wind power the state’s utilities must use, has been slow to embrace solar and other forms of renewable energy. As a consequence, Arizona’s renewable energy goals lag far behind sunny neighbors like California. But that might be starting to change: Anna Tovar, who ran as part of “Solar Team 2020,” just won a seat on the commission.

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