How to Elect Candidates Who Will Run, Win and Legislate on Climate Change


By Julia Pyper, Host/Producer of Political Climate podcast

How do you elect political candidates who will make tackling climate change a priority? That’s the question Caroline Spears and her colleagues sought to answer when they launched the Climate Cabinet Action Fund in 2018, offering tailored climate data, policy ideas, and messaging suggestions to candidates and lawmakers.

“We have identified the 40 highest impact climate races this cycle nationwide across the 10 battleground states. These are at the state-level so they have a higher climate ROI,” Spears recently told the Political Climate podcast. “And they do because the Biden campaign is going to cost $3 billion, and it’s probably going to be a $6 to $8 billion presidential race. Your average state legislature race in Arizona is $50,000. So that’s the ROI element to this.”

Why This Matters: State legislatures play a critical role in crafting and passing policy — to lead on climate and energy policy, paving the way for ambitious national climate action. As of April this year, 15 states and territories had taken legislative or executive action to implement 100 percent clean electricity policies and broader greenhouse gas reduction programs. According to the Center for American Progress, the majority of these state actions occurred during the Trump presidency, with many following the election of climate-leading governors and state legislators in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Highest Climate Impact Race: Climate Cabinet Action Fund has researched and identified what it calls the top 40 “highest climate impact” state legislature races this election cycle, where the group says voters can maximize the impact of their political climate donations and volunteer efforts. The list includes 20 pro-climate incumbents including one Republican that Climate Cabinet is seeking to protect, and 20 challengers who are running against state legislators with some of the worst climate voting track records. Climate Cabinet is arming those politicians with the localized research they need to put climate at the center of their platform. This election cycle, the organization is focusing on state-level races, which are relatively low-budget but highly consequential. 

A Different Kind of Pipeline: While climate change is not inherently a Democrat or Republican issue, Climate Cabinet’s voting record research shows that Democrats have disproportionately led on the issue. The problem, according to Spears, is that the infrastructure to elect candidates who are educated on progressive causes doesn’t exist. The political left is fractured compared to the political right, which has invested heavily in organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives who draft and share model legislation that aligns with their values. 

Candidates often don’t have the information they need to run, win and legislate on climate change, even if they’re amenable to taking up the issue. “There’s just not a coordinated effort” to create a pipeline of candidates who are informed on progressive causes, Spears tells Political Climate. Climate Cabinet is trying to change that at least when it comes to electing legislators who will act to combat climate change. 

To Go Deeper: Listen to the full podcast interview with Caroline Spears of the Climate Cabinet Action Fund on Political Climate.

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