What the Midterm Results Mean for Climate Change Solutions
Midterm elections are always a strenuous time for the American people as we wonder who will be representing us in Congress, what issues are going to be focused on, and how candidates stack up on the ones we care about most. It’s often seen as a period of contention where friends and family tiptoe around one another while viewers are bombarded by ads on television. However, to some people, they may be viewed as an opportunity to fight for a better future.
If anything, the 2022 Midterms were absolutely unprecedented. Conservative lawmakers, pundits, and commentators were all touting what was predicted to be a red wave that would sweep both chambers of Congress as a referendum of the Biden Administration’s policies. Inflation was the number one greatest concern among voters as many viewed the recent laws on climate change as major contributors to soaring gas prices, groceries, and other essential goods/services. The Inflation Reduction Act was immediately attacked for not only its price tag but as a bill that would fail to actually reduce inflation for the near term despite predicting to lower deficits by $264 billion in the 10-year budget window (Senate-Passed Inflation Reduction Act: Estimates of Budgetary and Macroeconomic Effects — Penn Wharton Budget Model (upenn.edu)).
Despite the disdain shared by conservatives, the IRA puts us on track to cut 40% of emissions by 2030 while offering other benefits such as lowering prescription drug costs, healthcare expenses, energy costs, air pollution, the deficit, strengthening the development of alternative energy, and reforming the tax code (BY THE NUMBERS: The Inflation Reduction Act | The White House). The legislative battle see sawed back and forth between the parties as each side argued over the provisions included, forcing the Biden Administration to accept that not everything they wanted to pass in the original Build Back Better Act would come to fruition. The urgency in which the Democrats have treated climate change is not without justification. Scientists have warned us about the dangerous tipping points that may occur if we continue burning fossil fuels. From melting polar ice caps and permafrost, extreme heat belts, worsening storm systems, catastrophic displacement, and more biodiversity loss, these are just a few of what to expect.
The 2022 Midterms were viewed as an opportunity for Democrats to expand their Senate majority and hopefully retain the House of Representatives, clearing the way for easier paths to pass more robust legislation that would bring the nation closer to mitigating the climate crisis. Even gubernatorial candidates like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer have been outspoken voices for climate solutions. On the other hand, certain individuals showed that they neither had the knowledge nor the solutions to address the crisis. Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker led a dumpster fire campaign that was filled with bizarre statements regarding various topics, one of them dealing with air pollution. He stated, “Since we don’t control the air our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then now we got to clean that back up.” It was a gaffe that led to sharp criticism (Herschel Walker’s ‘bad air’ comments the latest in series of policy gaffes | Georgia Public Broadcasting (gpb.org)).
On election night, there were some surprising developments that allowed Democrats to maintain the Senate like John Fetterman’s win over Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s slim victory in Nevada. Two new Democratic governorships and a slew of other gains in various state legislatures added to the hype. Republicans flipped the House by a razor thin margin with less than 10 seats, defying historical precedents that normally see a net loss of anywhere from 30 or more for the majority party. To top things off, Georgia found itself to be the anchor once more as the runoff election determined how much Democrats could extend their powers in the Senate. Gen-Z voters showed up in record numbers as key issues like climate change inspired them to elect leaders who aim to change the course of where the U.S. is heading by achieving the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement.
Unfortunately, with a split Congress, federal actions to mitigate the climate crisis on a legislative level will become more stagnant as conservatives seek to ramp up oversight of these efforts. The Senate will allow President Biden to appoint and have more officials confirmed in various climate or other environmentally relevant positions since Senator Warnock kept his seat in the highly contested runoff race. Notwithstanding the new challenges, states and local governments have the opportunity to step up and fight for change. They are responsible for allocating funds for both the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law, but they may also regulate emissions from fossil fuel companies as well as pledge to transition to green energy economies. These are just some of the options available to them. Furthermore, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Minnesota are now entirely blue with Democrats in control of both chambers and the governorship (What the 2022 Midterm Elections Mean for U.S. Climate Policy | Council on Foreign Relations (cfr.org)).
If it weren’t for the unexpected level of participation from young voters, these results would more than likely not have taken place. In my county alone, more people than average went to the polls and almost 10,000 decided to early vote for the special runoff election between Warnock and Walker. Higher numbers of African American, Hispanic, and Asian residents also aided Warnock’s campaign to expand the Democratic Senate majority. My county is deeply red, but the silver lining of having these often-marginalized groups show up in massive numbers demonstrated who wanted change more. After Warnock’s win, President Biden became the first since FDR in 1934 to not lose a single Senate seat!
The fight is far from over, however. There are several bills in need of passing to further protect our environment such as the RISE Act, the Growing Climate Solutions Act, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, and the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. These could help bolster the provisions included in the Inflation Reduction Act and cut emissions by another 10%. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would establish a carbon tax on fossil fuel companies and spur investments in green energy as those sources steadily become cheaper. This could provide a method to transition our economy away from nonrenewable energy without shocking the markets or having fierce resistance from conservative lawmakers. A handful of well-known Republicans have called for a carbon tax, one of them being Senator Mitt Romney (Mitt Romney leans in on carbon tax to spur clean energy technology breakthroughs | Washington Examiner).
It’s in our hands to take these results as we will and decide how to approach climate change with the House becoming a battleground between both parties. Republicans have 222 seats and Democrats hold 213, a slim victory for the former that guarantees the chamber will be contested again in 2024. This is the moment to look for optimism as many have come across the aisle before to support bills that address problems both parties dislike. Compromise will be an essential component for discourse in the House at the moment, especially when it’s still unclear which Republican will hold the gavel. It’s all a matter of staying in contact with our elected leaders to achieve the results we need on climate.
If we want to pave the way to a world with less emissions, more alternative sources of energy, and foster a healthier future for posterity, then all of us need to be engaged from the top of the federal government all the way to the concerned individual. The 2022 Midterms were a testament to the power that young voters share and how grassroots activism can promulgate real solutions. History has been made so it’s now up to all of us to keep the positive trends going! The gap in the window to address climate change is narrowing with global average temperatures currently around 1.2 degrees Celsius (inching closer to the dreaded 1.5-degree Celsius threshold scientists identify as a tipping point) and with 7 full years left to reduce emissions in half by 2030. This is our moment to seize the advantage of these elections, but that’s only possible if we keep our foot on the gas pedal.