600,000 new environmental voters

Plus, an interview with Biden climate advisor Tom Steyer, and week 6 book club information.

Activist signs during the "Fire Drill Fridays" climate change protest and rally outside on Capital Hill on December 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Since the election, a lot of ink has been spilled about youth voter turnout, which increased about 8 percent compared to 2016. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the climate movement. The Sunrise Movement reached approximately 3.5 million unique young voters with their get-out-the-vote efforts during the 2020 general election. NextGen America, a group by billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, also dedicated $45 million to mobilizing youth turnout for Biden.

But not all climate-related get-out-the-vote efforts were focused on people under the age of 35. At least one of was focused on people who simply care about the environment, no matter their age. And that effort could have played a big role in flipping key states for Biden.

The Environmental Voter Project, a non-partisan get-out-the-vote group, tells HEATED it spent $2.05 million this year targeting 1.8 million self-identified environmentalists who had never voted before in 12 states, including the critical battlegrounds of Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Of those 1.8 million environmentalists targeted by Environmental Voter Project, more than 600,000—or about 33 percent—voted early. It’s “a truly astounding number when you consider that these are almost all first-time voters,” said Nathaniel Stinnett, EVP’s president.

It’s also astounding when you consider that, in many cases, those voters outnumber the margin between Trump and Biden in key battleground states.

For example:

Of course, these aren’t necessarily votes for Biden. EVP only encourages environmentalists to vote; it doesn’t say who they should vote for. But given the environmental hellscape of Trump’s presidency, it’s safe to assume many, if not most of those votes did not go in his direction.

In addition, these are only early vote numbers, and therefore only show part of EVP’s impact. The group will know its full impact in February or March when states release their final voter lists.

Above all, EVP’s results only constitute one part of the climate movement’s broader impact on voter turnout and fundraising in the 2020 election. To learn more about both fronts, HEATED spoke to Tom Steyer, who led Biden’s campaign initiative to mobilize voters who prioritize climate change and environmental justice, and was also a major Biden campaign bundler.

Tom Steyer addresses a crowd during a presidential primary election night party in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images.

Emily Atkin: I just published a preliminary look at the landscape of people fundraising for Biden on behalf of climate interests. I know you were doing a lot of that, so I thought maybe we could start by just describing the climate-motivated fundraising effort and what that looked like.

Tom Steyer: Well, let me just preface this by saying I did do climate fundraising, but it was only part of what I was doing in terms of work. I was part of the group of people, Climate Leaders for Biden, which did a series of events with both president-elect Biden and one with Kamala Harris.

That was an attempt to make sure that donors from across the climate community come together to support the vice president and Senator Harris. We raised about $17 million altogether, and you know, that's a lot of money. And obviously, the Biden campaign made a huge commitment to climate.

EA: How has this year compared to other years, other presidential cycles, in terms of climate-motivated fundraising?

TS: It was the strongest. Biden had the strongest climate policy platform ever, of any presidential nominee. And the campaign talked about it. I think every debate, they ran ads on it. If you listen to Joe Biden, he's really passionate and knowledgeable and committed. It was much more central than it's ever been in any national campaign before. No question.

EA: Is it just because of that, though? Joe Biden's platform was obviously more aggressive and stronger than Hillary Clinton's was, but the stakes were similarly high, and we didn't see this much donor activity, at least surrounding climate change. Why is that?

TS: Well, that's why I tried to help organize people to work together, to speak up on behalf of it and advocate for support. But I think also the stakes are not similarly high. The stakes are higher in 2020, because we're further down the path to crisis. I don't think in 2016 we had the kinds of fires or storms that we've had in the United States this year. I don't think that the situation, the polls was equivalent to where they are today.

But I also think in terms of politics, I think it's important to remember that the majority of Republicans want a clean energy economy. It's not just Democrats; a majority of Republicans want to do this. And so I think that it's really changed politically.

EA: That raises an interesting question, too, because when I'm looking at this new sort of climate donor class, I'm wondering what the differences are in terms of what type of bang for their buck they’re looking for. Is everyone united behind the Biden climate plan, or are we dealing with a very broad range of ideologies?

TS: Well, I think that at this point, the Biden-Harris administration has committed to working on climate, and they ran on a platform that I think people were very excited about. And fulfilling that mandate is something that I think we're all really excited about.

EA: Can you briefly tell me just a bit about the other work that you were doing other than the fundraising?

TS: I started NextGen America, which is the largest youth voter mobilization effort in the country. And young people turned out at the highest rate ever, and went for Biden at a two-to-one rate, which is much bigger than it's ever been. So there was a huge choice by people under the age of 35 for Biden-Harris, and we were part of that.

So I was doing that, and I was also co-chair of the Climate Outreach Council for the Biden campaign. That work reflected the unique coalition that came out to support both the Biden campaign and specifically their climate plan. It included leaders of the union movement, people from the criminal justice community, as well as environmentalists and business people.

EA: What should I be looking for coming down the pipe? How soon am I going to start seeing climate-related announcements, and how close are you to the process of knowing that?

TS: I don't know the timing of that. But I never thought climate was going to be a siloed issue. I've said from the beginning, I think every appointment is going to have some relationship to climate. And so it's going to be something that I think is going to be very broad. I mean, this is going to fundamentally be an economic issue. This is going to be an issue about jobs, about rebuilding America, which is what the Build Back Better plan was about. But it's also going to be a question about international competition. So I think we're going to see climate choices made across the board.

EA: So you're saying you’re expecting to see climate-minded appointments, even say for White House economic adviser or trade adviser?

TS: Yes. Look, if you think about it, this is where the jobs are going to be created in the future. This is going to be a huge job creator for the United States government, partly in terms of the Build Back Better plan, which is millions of jobs to rebuild the infrastructure of America. Those are good union jobs. That's really what Biden inherits.

But also in terms of art that sets up the framework for American companies to compete internationally. We have to do that. If we're going to have a robust economy, we have to leave. We can't let other countries do that or we're going to know it's going to be very bad for us.

EA: Do you have any understanding of what we can expect on the on the fracking messaging now that the election is over?

TS: I believe there's no reason to think that the Biden-Harris administrations will be any different from the Biden campaign. I think that you should expect the messaging on fracking to stay the same, that they're going to be consistent. They ran on what they believed in and that's what they're going to promulgate. And they said they're not banning fracking.

EA: How do you feel about that? Because this is still something that readers are concerned about.

TS: I think that Biden's Build Back Better plan is a very aggressive climate plan, and not just the $2 trillion to rebuild infrastructure and clean right around the United States, but also setting aggressive goals for moving to clean energy, both in terms of electricity generation and clean water. Those are the most aggressive goals anyone's ever put forward. This is the framework for solving the climate crisis across the board.

EA: Has there been any talk about forming a specific office for dealing with the climate crisis, separate from the EPA?

TS: I've obviously read about that and heard about that, but I don’t really know.

EA: What does your dream cabinet look like?

TS: I just want to make sure that the Biden-Harris administration gets a chance to fulfill the mandate that they ran and were elected to do. And I'm going to do everything I can to try and help them do that.

EA: So you just sort of trust that they'll make the right appointments?

TS: I think you can see from the campaign they are really committed to this. You can see from the first speeches that the president-elect gave. But he's really committed to this. And I think you have to trust them to figure out how to do it best. And that's what I'm doing.

EA: Do you see a spot for yourself in the Biden administration?

TS: I am committed to helping them fulfill their mandate the best way I can. That's been my goal and that's going to be my goal.


Support independent journalism


All We Can Save book club: Week 6

Today’s the sixth official day of HEATED’s book club partnership with All We Can Save, an anthology of female climate wisdom edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson.

The section we’re focusing on this week is “Persist.” There could not be a better time for it.

You can learn more about all the section’s authors in the supplementary materials section below.

OPENING: 

Read 1 poem or quote from this section to open.

CHECK-IN: 

Share your name + a physical expression of what the word “persist” means to you. (Circle leader should go first and model this.)

DISCUSSION: 

Move through 3 generous questions.

  1. What do you find to be critical fuel for persistence? Where/how do you get it?

  2. What content or insight in this section stoked fire in your belly?

  3. What values do we need to bring into or nourish in this work? What values do we need to release or root out?

CLOSING: 

Read 1 poem or quote from this section to close.

SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS  

Varshini Prakash

Jacqui Patterson

Ailish Hopper

Cameron Russell

Tara Houska—Zhaabowekwe

Jane Hirshfield

Gina McCarthy

OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED! To support independent climate journalism that holds the powerful accountable—and to receive HEATED’s reporting and analysis in your inbox four days a week—become a subscriber today.

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