Climate Change is On the Ballot In the Georgia Runoff Election

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

Climate change is on the ballot in the Georgia Senate runoff election. Neither of the two Democratic candidates, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, has officially endorsed the Green New Deal, but both have environmental policy platforms focused on clean energy, job creation, and coastal protections. Voters in the state, which has faced an onslaught of growing storms, rising temperatures, and severe flooding, must now make what could be the most important decision for the climate in their lifetimes.

Why This Matters: Both candidates must win their race in order to secure a Democratic majority in the Senate. Which, in turn, will determine the composition of the Senate and whether it will be able to pass climate legislation in support of a Biden-Harris agenda. 

Georgia, which is growing rapidly in population, is facing heat deaths, crop failure, storm damage, coastal decline, and a collection of Superfund sites that are exceptionally vulnerable to climate change. The state’s current senators, however, Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, have not made much effort to address these threats and neither has acknowledged the existence of man-made climate change. Environmentalists and supporters of the Green New Deal hope that with two Democrats winning in Georgia, giving the party the majority in the Senate with VP Harris’ deciding vote, Congress might pass comprehensive climate action before it’s too late.

Thin Margins: The races are polling with very tight margins, and some are hoping that a strong youth voter turnout and calling attention to climate change can help tip the scales. The most recent Climate Opinion Maps from Yale show that a slight majority of Georgians accept the science of climate change, and many of the State’s academic institutions have embarked on campaigns to reach people beyond the student body.

Daniel Rochberg, the chief strategy officer of Emory University’s climate initiative, and a founder of the Georgia Climate Project explained,For so many people, climate change is transitioning from something that is abstract and far off to something that is concrete and current.”

 

Big Problems: The nearly 11 million people who live in Georgia are facing threats from climate change every day. Three of the last four years have set records as the warmest in Georgia’s history. The largest city in the state, Atlanta, had 27 more days above 90 degrees than in 1970. Experts say the rising temperatures have and will continue to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities who often have trouble paying for utilities like electricity and air conditioning

Hurricanes are getting bigger, moving further inland, and dropping more water every year. Georgia has seen more than its fair share of major storms in the past several years. 

  • Hurricanes Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017 caused widespread flood damage in the state, and in 2020, Hurricane Zeta blew through, killing three Georgians and leaving 1 million people without power. 
  • Experts have predicted that Atlanta, which normally only sees the remnant storms of hurricanes, could see category one hurricanes in the near future.

After Georgia flipped in favor of Joe Biden in the November election, there’s hope that Ossoff and Warnock could give Georgia its first Democratic Senator in 15 years.  . Ossoff and many others are putting their faith in the young people of Georgia, “It is young people in particular who recognize the threat to our planet. Congress must make massive investments in clean energy,” he said.

While climate change wasn’t a deciding factor in other Senate races this past November, young people and BIPOC communities are more worried about climate change than their older and whiter counterparts, and in races as tight as Warnock and Ossoff’s.

And as the Washington Post’s Dino Grandoni wrote, “Two big issues dominated the 2020 election: the economy and the coronavirus pandemic. But voters concerned about climate change still helped Joe Biden win the White House.” This is to say the influence of climate change as a voting priority cannot be underestimated by Democratic candidates. 

 

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