Voters want—and need—climate debate questions

Ahead of tomorrow night’s debate, new polling shared exclusively with HEATED shows where Georgia voters are at on climate.

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Guys, I’m so sorry. Yesterday was Monday, and I forgot to remind you to drink water.

This was a grave error, one I deeply regret. It is so important to kick-start your week with a boost of sweet, sweet hydration—and because of my absentmindedness, it’s possible that some of you may have forgotten. I acknowledge my failure in this regard, and hope you might one day forgive me.

On that note, did you know that bananas are the most heavily-consumed fruit in America? I didn’t, but it makes sense! They are delicious and full of essential nutrients. Perhaps consider eating one this morning with your glass of water. If you’re feeling really good, do 10 push-ups or sit-ups. I bet you will feel energized.

OK. News time.

Will there be climate questions at tomorrow’s Democratic debate?

There freakin’ better be.

The CNN journalists who moderated last month’s Democratic presidential debate didn’t ask a single climate-related question during the entire three-hour event. It was a real shame. Climate change was a top priority among Democratic voters nationwide at the time—not to mention one of the most urgent, consequential issues facing humanity.

Neither of those facts have changed heading into Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate. Voters still want and need climate change questions—particularly in Georgia, where the debate will take place.

The good news: Georgia voters want climate questions

There’s some evidence that Georgia voters want climate questions, courtesy of a new poll of likely Democratic voters in the state released today by Climate Nexus, the Yale Program on Climate Communication and George Mason University. The polling was shared exclusively with HEATED.

Here’s the relevant evidence:

  • 71 percent of likely Georgia Democratic voters said they want candidates to talk about climate change during tomorrow’s debate.

  • 64 percent are either very worried or somewhat worried about climate change.

  • 70 percent think the federal government should be doing more to fight climate change.

  • 11 percent of Georgia Democratic voters picked climate change as one of the top two issues that will inform their decision on who to vote for in 2020. That’s more than education, abortion, foreign policy, the opioid epidemic, or the Supreme Court.

The bad news: Georgia voters want other questions more than climate questions

Though they care about the issue, most Georgia Democrats don’t actually consider climate change their top priority.

Only 6 percent of likely voters said the climate crisis was the issue they most wanted to hear about during tomorrow’s debate, according to Climate Nexus’s poll. The economy ranked highest, with 24 percent of the vote, followed by health care at 22 percent and immigration at 16 percent.

Health care, immigration, and the economy were also the top issues cited by Georgia voters when asked to pick two issues that will inform their decision on who to vote for in 2020. 36 percent of voters chose health care; 31 percent chose the economy; and 19 percent chose immigration.

The good news: If you want economy, health care, and immigration questions, that actually means you want climate questions

At first glance, Georgia voters’ priorities might not seem in line with environmentalists’ desire to see more climate questions at Democratic presidential debates.

But they actually line up pretty well, considering how badly the climate crisis stands to affect the economy, health care and immigration if carbon pollution is not adequately dealt with by the next administration.

For example, here are some sentences I found in various studies about how climate change might affect Georgia’s economy:

  • “Agriculture, the single biggest industry in Georgia and which in 2015 contributed $74.9 billion in output (8 percent of Georgia’s $917.6 billion economy) is particularly at risk. … Researchers predict that if climate change triggers an additional crop shortage of 5 percent, the economic impacts could cost nearly $110 million annually.” (Source) (Source)

  • “In 2004, Hurricane Ivan caused $68.8 million in property damage in Georgia, and it is projected that the cumulative cost of sand for protecting Georgia’s coastline from another hurricane could cost as much $1.3 billion by 2100.” (Source)

Georgia’s healthcare sector also stands to get hit hard by climate change. Some sentences:

  • “Hot days can be unhealthy—even dangerous. Certain people are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor. … Seventy years from now, most of Georgia is likely to have 45 to 75 days per year with temperatures above 95°F, compared with about 15 to 30 such days today.” (Source)

  • “Global climate change may produce an environment in the southeastern United States that could foster dangerous extreme heat events, more high-ozone pollution days in urban areas, and the potential for the growth of tropical diseases by the mid-21st century, Georgia State University School of Public Health researchers have projected.” (Source)

Georgia also may be on the front lines of climate-related migration. According to a study published in 2017:

  • “When Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005, cities inland saw an influx of evacuees escaping the storm and its aftermath. Now, a new University of Georgia study predicts that this could happen again as a result of sea-level rise.

    In a paper published today in Nature Climate Change, researchers estimate that approximately 13.1 million people could be displaced by rising ocean waters, with Atlanta, Houston and Phoenix as top destinations for those forced to relocate.” (Source).

The bad news: Georgia voters don’t yet seem to understand their vulnerability to climate change

The Climate Nexus poll released today indicates that Democratic voters in Georgia see environmental degradation around them. Only 14 percent think the state’s environmental quality will be better for the next generation than it is right now.

Voters don’t yet appear to grasp, however, how a degradation in environmental quality can affect the other issues they care about.

Only 23 percent think climate change is having a large effect on the state’s economy. Thirty one percent think the climate crisis is having some effect on the economy, and 21 percent think it’s having no effect at all.

There are similar numbers for healthcare. Only 27 percent of Democratic voters in the state think climate change is affecting Georgians’ health, and 20 percent think it’s not affecting Georgians’ health at all.

The poll did not ask about immigration.

The good news: By asking climate questions, the debate moderators can help solve this problem

The purpose of journalism is to create an informed citizenry—that is, a citizenry equipped with enough knowledge to solve society’s biggest, baddest problems. Climate change is society’s biggest, baddest problem. Other than nuclear war, it’s the only one that threatens the economy, the healthcare system, the immigration system, and the livability of the entire planet all at once.

The moderators of tomorrow night’s debate have a great opportunity to inform the public about how climate change might affect all the issues they care about most, by holding candidates accountable on their understanding of these problems.

But if journalists aren’t asking questions about climate change in a presidential debate, they’re not living up to their purpose. After all, in a democracy, voting is the mechanism by which the citizenry solves problems—and presidential debates are the main venue where citizens are exposed to their choices.

So yeah. Hopefully tomorrow doesn’t suck!

(Sorry, I can’t end all of these eloquently.)

HOT ACTION: A complicated (but potentially useful?) flow chart for climate action

Welcome to HOT ACTION, a place where readers can suggest actions individuals can take to help solve the climate crisis. I intentionally don't vet the suggestions very much, because it's a place for conversation among readers. Think of it as a well-monitored comment section. Suggestions? Email action@heated.world.

Josephine Ferorelli is a HEATED reader. She’s also the co-founder of Conceivable Future, a self-described “women-led network bringing awareness to the threat climate change poses to reproductive justice, and demanding an end to U.S. fossil fuel subsidies.”

Ferorelli e-mailed me to share a flow chart she made last year when she was “getting tired of fielding friends' inquiries” about how they could take action to fight the climate crisis. She intended it as “a helpful resource for anyone who doesn’t know where to start.”

The flowchart is embedded as a JPEG below, but you can find a clearer PDF version with clickable links HERE.

Thoughts on the chart? Suggestions about other ways people can take action to fight the climate crisis? E-mail them to action@heated.world.

A very HEATED meme (maybe NSFW???)

I don’t know what your workplace is like. But today’s meme is a re-upped classic from HEATED’s editorial memeist, @climemechange.

There’s kind of a butt in it, so you know. Use your discretion.

(Insert climate joke about how “it’s getting hot in here.”)

Have a good Tuesday!

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See you tomorrow!