Care about Climate Change? Vote for Democrats. Here’s why

I’m a poster child for the Green movement, urging you to vote for Joe Biden and Democrats instead. We’re out of time.

Grant Klein
Oct 21, 2020 · 6 min read
Workers installing solar panels on a rooftop
Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

I wish I could vote for Green candidates. I identify with their policy platform, especially their focus on environmental policies. But the hard truth is that policies don’t exist in a vacuum outside the arena of politics. They require skilled politicians, in elected positions of power, at the right time. Unfortunately we don’t have enough time to get third party politicians into the White House or Congress to stop climate change.

We’re mere days away from an election that could turn the tide against this climate emergency. To do so we’ll have to vote strategically. That means voting for major party candidates who will act on climate. It’s the most effective, pragmatic, and immediate action we can take to pass climate policies right now. Green leaders like Howie Hawkins pin our hopes on maybe getting 5% of the vote to receive federal funding and be on more ballots in future elections. Ralph Nader, the most successful Green candidate, had the same goal twenty years ago but got just 2.74% of the vote. Four years ago Jill Stein achieved only 1.07%. Even if we achieved the highly unlikely 5%, then what? That’s still 0 electoral votes out of 270 needed. How many more election cycles can our planet afford? We could waste our votes on third parties and wait endlessly for the revolution. We could cling to purity tests and stay home. But should we? No. The cavalry isn’t coming — we have to save ourselves.

Presidential election results and greenhouse gas emissions plotted over time.
Presidential election results and greenhouse gas emissions plotted over time.
Greenhouse gases are rising faster than the Green Party. We’re out of time.

Before I make my case further, I want you to know I’m on your side. I’m the poster child for a would-be Green Party voter. I majored in Environmental Science and Policy in college. My bike and public transportation are my only way of getting around and I eat a plant-based diet. I carry a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, and utensils with me and I recycle and compost everything I can. I’ve spent a decade working in solar energy, dedicating my life to stopping climate change. I’m committed to non-violence. I’m frustrated by our country’s social and economic inequality and by our two-party system. I voted for Bernie Sanders and the political revolution in the primaries — twice.

The Problem

I listen to climate scientists and am gravely concerned that we now have just 7 years to reverse course on greenhouse gas emissions. Otherwise we risk catastrophic, irreversible outcomes beyond 1.5°C of warming. But I’m also a pragmatist who listened to my political science professors. Other countries have more representative electoral systems. Our winner-take-all elections predictably produce a stubborn two-party system and polarization. The current electoral system leaves no room for third parties to be successful. As expected, a Green Party candidate has never won a major election. Not President, Senate, House, Governor, or any other statewide race.

There’s nobody in power — or in spitting distance — who explicitly represents environmental goals. Voting Green or staying home are not the answers.

Electoral reform policies like ranked choice voting are badly needed. Voter participation is too low, especially among young voters who are most likely to be sympathetic to climate policies. Money distorts our democracy. However, these are difficult problems that may take years to fix. We’re out of time. We can and should work together to fix the system between elections. In an election year, though, we must vote and we must do it together if we truly care about climate change. Until we achieve systemic electoral reform, choosing to vote third party or to stay home won’t affect change.

It might feel good to protest vote or throw a Molotov cocktail, but it also blows up an environmental agenda. Case in point: environmentalists lost two of the last five presidential elections by razor-thin margins.

Man and child holding a sign that says, “Make America Think Again”
Man and child holding a sign that says, “Make America Think Again”
Photo by Jose M. on Unsplash

The loss in 2000 is fiercely debated, but more likely than not Gore could’ve been President if Nader’s Green Party voters been more strategic. Instead of Bush, we could’ve had a climate champion in the White House 20 years ago. Imagine that alternate reality!

It happened again in 2016, when Trump’s margin of victory was less than the Green Party vote in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Conservatives were pragmatic, holding their nose and voting for Trump. Their choice paid off handsomely in Supreme Court justices if nothing else. If Greens voted as strategically then Clinton and environmental priorities could’ve won. Would they have been perfect? No. Would our climate policy position be better than it is now? Absolutely. Trump has been disastrous for our climate. Trump removed the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, abdicating global leadership. Trump expanded oil and gas leasing on public lands. Trump imposed costly tariffs on solar panels, setting my industry back by several years. Trump appointed fossil fuel lobbyists to roll back environmental protections. Most of all, Trump wasted 4 years of precious time. Plus, think how much nicer these past four years could’ve been.

Ideological purity pushed us backwards. Principles are cold comfort on a rapidly warming globe.

The Solution

We must pass effective climate policies in the next few years while we still have a fighting chance. We must acknowledge that major party candidates are the only ones who can win this election and pass laws soon. For now we must work within the system we have. We can’t wish away climate change and we can’t wish away politics. I’ll be the first to vote Green under ranked choice voting. Until then the choice is clear. Planet? Or party?

Unfortunately, climate is not a bipartisan issue. There’s no doubt which major party we should vote for. Addressing climate change is a pillar of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party’s platform denies its severity and scientific consensus. Trump dismisses climate change as a “hoax” and “fake news.” Democrats are our best chance right now. We need Democrats to win the majority in the Senate and House to pass climate laws. We need Biden in the White House to sign climate laws. And we need Democrats at the State level who won’t sue the federal government’s implementation of climate laws.

Fortunately, today’s Democrats have swung left. Like the activists who worked within the system instead of against it, we can keep pushing. The Sunrise Movement, Progressives, Democratic Socialists, and others put in the work and moved the needle. Governor Inslee and Tom Steyer ran as Democrats in the primaries, forcing Climate Change onto the debate stages. Even in defeat, other candidates’ ambitious climate policies live on in the Biden Plan. Biden will inject $2 trillion into the clean energy economy, creating millions of well-paying jobs. He’s demanding Congress pass laws for 100% clean energy by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2050. He’s promising global leadership again. This would be huge! We should be excited to vote for Democrats!

Photo by Dyana Wing So on Unsplash

Is our planet your top priority? Then I’m pleading with you to join me in voting for Democrats. I’m not the only one. Trusted environmental and scientific organizations have endorsed Democrats instead of Green candidates. The Sierra Club. Greenpeace. Natural Resources Defense Council. League of Conservation Voters. Environment America. NextGen America. Scientific American. They all understand the stakes are too high.

There’s no planet B, so we must vote for these Democrats like our lives depend on it:

  • Joe Biden
  • Senate Democrats in your state like Mark Kelly of Arizona, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Sara Gideon of Maine, Cal Cunningham of North Carolina, Gary Peters of Michigan, Steve Bullock of Montana, Theresa Greenfield of Iowa, etc.
  • House Democrats
  • State level Democrats like Governors, State Senators and Representatives, Attorney Generals, Treasurers, etc.

Consider donating and volunteering if you can. I like climate-aligned election organizations like GiveGreen, Clean Energy for Biden, and Climate Changemakers.

Finally, make your plan to vote at Vote.org.

The Purple Giraffe

Dynamic insight about politics, policy, leadership, culture, social issues, and the economy.

The Purple Giraffe

The Purple Giraffe reports on what is happening today; with a dynamic insight into politics, policy, leadership, culture, social issues, and the economy.

Grant Klein

Written by

West of West Philadelphia born and raised, now I’m a solar professional living in Washington, D.C. I like biking, board games, the outdoors, and chocolate.

The Purple Giraffe

The Purple Giraffe reports on what is happening today; with a dynamic insight into politics, policy, leadership, culture, social issues, and the economy.

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