Climate Change Heats Up Midterms for Gubernatorial Candidates

Climate Change Heats Up Midterms for Gubernatorial Candidates

Climate change has forced candidates for governor in several states to confront growing voter anxiety about the issue in their final debates.

In the wake of Hurricane Michael and toxic algae blooms, Florida’s gubernatorial candidates Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum continue to spar over climate in one of the country’s most high-profile contests. In their last matchup, Gillum faced scrutiny for his promise to hold those who are the biggest polluters accountable, even though he is good friends with Sean Pittman, who lobbies on behalf of Florida Crystals, one of the largest sugar companies in the state and a major polluter.

Gillum responded by pointing out that he has been endorsed by almost every major environmental organization. The mayor of Tallahassee also noted that the same day Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, the city broke ground on a 120-acre solar farm that tripled the amount of energy produced by the municipal utility. DeSantis chimed in that he didn’t want to be labeled as an “alarmist” when it came to climate change, and that he’s there for those affected by Hurricane Michael. (DeSantis has often expressed skepticism about climate change on the campaign trail.)

Fracking is a major concern in Colorado where Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton discussed the different possibilities for drilling locations. Proximity to buildings has become a major issue: One ballot initiative, Proposition 112 , would require drilling to take place a minimum of 2,500 feet away from occupied structures, water sources, and other vulnerable places. Asked what he thought was a reasonable distance for drilling near homes, Stapleton danced around the question. Pressed to answer, he replied “exactly where it is now,” which is 500 feet from an occupied building or 1,000 feet from high-occupancy buildings. 

Polis said that he does not support 112, because it would be too divisive, and “all but ban fracking in Colorado.” However, in 2014, he supported legislation that would include a 2,000-foot setback inclusive with property rights for the owner to negotiate different setbacks with drilling companies.

In Michigan, Republican Bill Schuette and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer faced tough questions in their final debate about how they would respond to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that sounded warnings about increasing temperatures and whether they believed that the 14 governors across the country who’ve decided to independently work toward the goals of the Paris Agreement that Trump abandoned were right to do so.

Whitmer said she would bring Michigan into the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance of governors until a president is elected who will rejoin the Paris climate accords. Schuette said he believes climate change is real and that the earth is getting warmer, but other countries need to be involved too, not just the United States. (A jaw-dropping statement: There are big holdouts like Russia, but most countries have agreed to the pact.)

According to polling done by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, about 70 percent of adults believe global warming is happening, and 57 percent believe global warming is caused by humans. But an October 15 Pew Research Center poll found that Democratic voters are much more worried than Republicans: 72 percent of Democrats believe that climate change is a “very big” problem compared with just 11 percent of Republicans.