By ROGER STEPHENSON, Northeast Regional Advocacy Director of Union of Concerned Scientists
Here in New Hampshire I have been listening for climate and energy solutions from GOP presidential hopefuls, but all I’ve heard are crickets. A half-dozen candidates joined in 4th of July parades in New Hampshire in a week when we witnessed the hottest week (globally) in recorded history as well as temperatures in the mid-90s in the state, which prompted the National Weather Service to issue an extreme heat alert for eight counties. Not a word from candidates.
Two seasons in one
The presidential primary season coincides with “Danger Season”—the period between May and October when the Northern Hemisphere experiences back-to-back extreme weather augmented by climate change. Candidates are crisscrossing New Hampshire amid climate-related and climate-boosted catastrophes.
As I write this, 1.5 million people in Phoenix, Arizona are waking up to their third full week of temperatures over 110°F. Vermont is recovering from catastrophic floods, as is New Hampshire, also on the heels of a weather-related agricultural wipeout. Some of the highest risks can be found in the candidates’ home states: the ocean off of Florida has hit 98 degrees—hot tub temps! Among mid-Atlantic states, New Jersey is ground zero for climate change.
Over the Connecticut River and through the woods, Vermont is receiving emergency aid to address an estimated $750 million in damages from intense rainstorms that scientists suggest can be expected more often because of climate change. The state’s resilience plans have been put to the test and resilience will get harder, according to my colleague Dr. Rachel Cleetus.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu already planned to ask the Biden administration to declare eight of the state’s ten counties disaster areas because of weather-caused crop damage, and now must ask again for federal aid in response to severe flooding in July, when up to 5 inches of rain fell in one day, washing out roads and making them impassable.
Cannot the past be prologue?
Candidates did not use climate change as a defining issue in the 2008 presidential general election because there was no daylight between presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama with respect to climate science, a sense of urgency, and policy solutions! In 2011 I invited Reagan-era economist Art Laffer to speak to a hall filled exclusively with New Hampshire Republicans, both leaders and rank and file conservatives. His address focused on corporate taxes, and he shared his expert opinion that a carbon tax had a legitimate place in our national revenue system. In 2015 Senator Kelly Ayotte supported the EPA Clean Power Plan.
Several years ago (with the help of a number of New Hampshire business leaders, among them a former GOP House Speaker and RNC committeeman and businessperson of the year), I invited 100 business owners to come together for a day, not to learn about climate science, but to simply share the changes they were seeing outside their own windows. The result was a candid report framing the financial risks amplified by a changing climate. Simply put, climate-related severe weather events slow and stop the wheels of commerce, and those events are occurring with more frequency. The risks are real, and the negative outcomes are all the more real, expensive, and disruptive.
Nevertheless, today in New Hampshire we hear crickets from candidates despite history and polls. We should expect to hear more, as climate impacts are only going to get worse. As a climate scientist recently said on CNN, “Until we stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere we have no idea what the future looks like.”
So I’ve begun to meet presidential candidates…
… and ask climate questions that relate to their own political history, past statements, and actions.
In preparation for a Meet the Candidate event, I submitted a question to the hosts Saint Anselm College and local station WMUR-TV. I wanted to ask Vivek Ramaswamy to reconcile his description of himself as a scientist (while he does have a biology undergraduate degree, his career has been focused on finance) with his dismissive reference to a “climate cult”. As it happened, WMUR TV Political Director Adam Sexton ended up using my question in his interview before the town hall meeting began.Vermont
When I met former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, I asked about his clean energy solutions and explained that his predecessor Governor Mike Huckabee spoke at a New Hampshire climate conference I organized in 2007, where he affirmed his support for mandatory limits on carbon emissions. Hutchinson was surprised to learn of Huckabee’s position and promised to get back to me.
After thanking Ambassador Nikki Haley for coming to New Hampshire and acknowledging she understands climate change is real and caused by humans, I asked her if she thought her preferred solution—carbon capture and storage—could be implemented without a price on carbon (to spur the private sector), and if needed, what would that price be? After all, conservative economic experts Art Laffer, Libertarian Jerry Taylor, and Douglas Holt-Eakin all support a price on carbon.
My next meeting is with former congressman Bill Hurd of Texas, and I want to ask him to expand on his positions he shared in 2021. He said, “until more people think climate change is impacting them personally then we won’t see the political will necessary to do something about it.”
Ignoring the candidates is a mistake
Sadly, it’s crickets from people who live and work in New Hampshire and even from some fellow advocates, too. Through conversations I know firsthand many people who understand that climate change represents an existential crisis, and that climate action is a priority, yet are not making the time to meet the GOP contenders. Contrary to what some may think, engaging candidates is not a waste of time. Climate change is leaving no one untouched this year in any state—and without climate action it’s only going to get worse. Extreme weather events scientifically linked to climate change—like record-setting heat, flooding, and wildfires—are harming the safety, health and prosperity of people and communities across the country.
We have history on our side and tools we can use.
The UCS Killer Heat Interactive Tool shows projected increases in the Heat Index for each county in the contiguous US. Coastal residents can see in the UCS report, Underwater, how sea level rise will impact real estate in every coastal zip code and congressional district. And our Too Hot to Work maps show potential wage losses in Congressional Districts for outdoor workers due to extreme heat.
My hope is that people in the early-voting states of Iowa (January 15) New Hampshire (February 13) and South Carolina (February 24; first in the South) engage with candidates and focus attention on climate action. There are ample reasons to do so in each state (South Carolina and New Hampshire in particular). Candidates are stumping loudly in Iowa, one of only four states that turned down $3 million from the federal government to help the state create a climate action plan, a daffy decision according to this opinion in the Iowa Gazette.
We the people make the retail politics of presidential campaigns necessary for success in New Hampshire. Participatory democracy is alive and mostly well, and debates and local solutions to the climate crisis have benefitted from people talking with each other.
Get out there and talk with a candidate; it’s easier than you think. For example, Open Democracy manages a list of candidate events. Meet one presidential candidate before the first GOP presidential debate scheduled for August 23 in Milwaukee. Candidates love to share stories from the campaign trail; maybe you’ll influence a remark from one of them!