As wildfires rage, voters still divided on climate

Wildfires are burning out of control in the western United States, cities are choking on toxic air, and Hurricane Laura battered the Gulf Coast just weeks ago. So why isn’t the threat of global warming dominating the election contest between President Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden?
Climate change has in fact risen near the top of Democrat voters’ concerns since surveys first began two decades ago, but remains anchored to the bottom of Republicans’ priorities, meaning that the candidates don’t need to spend much time sparring over the issue.
Talking about it helps Biden connect with his party — but this year green issues have been partly crowded out by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, as well as racial justice protests, experts say.
Jon Krosnick, a professor of political science at Stanford University, said that while the absolute number of people concerned by climate change was at its highest ever, it remained only one of several concerns.
“If he talks only about climate, he’s hurting himself because he has to talk about other issues,” he said.
Trump, a famous climate-denier, has been silent on the issue. There is little point in him using the issue to try to appeal to California, the state worst-hit by the fires, because it is so solidly Democratic.
If Biden has to weigh how much time he spends on climate change against other issues, and balance how an aggressive green agenda might turn off swing state voters in places like the Midwest, other Democratic lawmakers are more willing to go on the offence. “It is just a fact that the Trump administration has the worst environmental record in history,” New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, who is among the most green lawmakers in Congress, said.
“The Trump administration stands with the special interests at the expense of everyone else,” he continued, citing the president’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement and axing of numerous environmental and wildlife regulations. One group of voters who are particularly charged by climate issues is the left of the Democratic party, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Among Democrats who call themselves liberal, it is now the second most highly ranked issue, while it’s the eighth for moderate Democrats, according to Yale’s latest survey published in April.
That’s why every Democratic candidate in the primaries had to make a climate pitch during the party’s primaries and vowed to re-enter the Paris accord. Indeed, the Biden campaign’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 would have been considered a radical idea when he himself was vice-president, just five years ago.
Paul Bledsoe, a lecturer at the Center for Environmental Policy at American University, said it was notable that when Biden invokes the climate, he does so through the lens of economic opportunity. — AFP