November 13, 2020; Inside Climate News
The hand recount of every ballot and all the voting machine audits in Georgia have been completed, and they confirm that President-elect Joe Biden has flipped the state to blue. It may not have been apparent, but the climate crisis was also on the ballot on Election Day, and it remains on the ballot in the runoff for Georgia’s senate seats. (A runoff is required in Georgia if the winner of the senate race does not receive at least 50 percent of the votes.) Georgia’s secretary of state authorized a hand count due to the small margin between candidates.
Senator David Perdue (R) received 49.7 percent of the votes, while his Democrat challenger, Jon Ossoff has 48 percent. Since 2013, Ossoff has served as the CEO of Insight TWI, a now 30-year-old media production company that investigates corruption, organized crime, and war crimes for international news organizations. Twenty-one candidates were on the ballot in the race for the other senate seat; the leaders who will participate in the runoff are Senator Kelly Loeffler (25.9 percent), who had been appointed a year ago when Senator Johnny Isakson retired, and Pastor Raphael Warnock (32.9 percent).
Pew Research puts “climate change” as fourth on the priority list of registered voters, behind the economy at 79 percent, health care at 68 percent, and the COVID-19 pandemic at 62 percent. However, all four of those issues are interrelated: the economy has taken a hit from the pandemic lockdowns along with multiple hurricane hits on the gulf coast and millions of burned acres from wildfires in the west. Georgia is threatened by forest fire conditions. The costs of healthcare to those affected by COVID continue to rise with the number of individuals infected. And Georgia, like other coastal states, is suffering sea level rise with flooding, hurricanes, and drought.
Perdue—a former CEO of Pillowtex, Reebok, and Dollar General—supported President Donald Trump’s exit from the global Paris Climate Accord and attacked the Clean Power Plan, cancelled by the current Environmental Protection Agency, that President Barack Obama had advanced. While he has not endorsed the Green New Deal, Ossoff agrees with scientists who say global heating is devastating the earth and supports green infrastructure programs that promote energy efficiency, clean energy, and climate-adaptive strategies for Georgia coastal communities and farms.
Ossoff has “come out as a very vocal champion” of tackling climate change, says Brionté McCorkle, director of Georgia Conservation Voters, while Perdue “has shied away from the issue.”
In the other race, environmental justice and climate change are a priority for Warnock, while Loeffler, said to be worth $500 million, does not talk about climate change and championed fossil fuel-friendly energy policies during her year in the senate.
The US Senate hangs in the balance here; these two seats could tie the parties, leaving Vice President Kamala Harris as the deciding vote. The mission of the nonprofit Environmental Voter Project is short and to the point: “Get more environmentalists to vote in every election.” The organization worked hard in Georgia and reports that 70,000 voters concerned about the environment voted for the first time in this election.
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“These races are going to be nationalized,” said Nathaniel Stinnett, founder and executive director. “The whole world is going to turn its eyes to Georgia.”
With the presidential race decided, it is not apparent if this will affect the number of voters who turn out for the runoff election on January 5, 2021. Cory Struthers, an assistant professor of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia who studies elections, thinks the Republicans will still come out.
“The evangelical, traditional values that drive Republicans are going to be so strong for these Senate races, because the control of the Senate is at stake,” she said, citing issues such as control of the US Supreme Court, abortion and gun rights.
According to the Yale Climate Opinion Maps, 56 percent of Americans believe that a presidential candidates views on global warming are important to their vote, and 60 percent say that Congress should do more to address global warming. Georgia respondents agree with the national opinion.
Hurricane Zeta, the 27th named storm in a record-breaking season in the Atlantic Ocean, left a million people without power in October, and downed trees remain piled along the roads. The environment has a direct impact on those rural residents who hunt, fish, and farm. Younger, more diverse voters who live in urban areas are focused on environmental injustices and industrial damage done to communities.
The League of Conservation Voters gave Perdue a low score when it comes to climate action. Craig Auster, their senior director of political affairs, says, “There are very few issues where he has done the right thing. Senator Perdue has spent his time in DC pretty consistently voting against our environment and against climate action.” On the other hand, Auster said Ossoff is “really committed to climate change issues and moving toward clean energy.”
At the Environmental Voter Project, Stinnett will continue to work to bring new voters to the poll January 5 to cast ballots for the climate. “And if you became a first-time voter and showed up, we are going to move heaven and earth to make sure you show up to vote again.”—Marian Conway