Leveling the Playing Field

I may be new to politics, but there's one thing I know -- investing in democracy is, without question, a winning proposition.

In the presidential debates back in 2008 and 2012, the candidates clearly didn't know how to make climate change resonate with voters -- if they mentioned it at all. Communities across the country were feeling the impacts of climate change firsthand -- I was seeing it in my own home state of California -- but the political conversation wasn't catching up to reality.

Climate change is the challenge of our generation, but unfortunately many politicians are stuck in the past -- old industries, old energy sources, old ideas. They fear that even accepting the science of climate change, let alone advocating any action, is bad for their political careers. They were playing with a stacked deck -- propped up by the megaphones and millions from Big Oil interests who were willing to drown out the voice of American voters in order to maintain the status quo. Science didn't stand a chance.

Well, in 2013, I set out to level the playing field. I wanted to convince voters that if we allow "deer-in-the-headlights" politics to paralyze our political system and keep our country from moving forward, that outcome will only hurt us in the end. More than that, I wanted to empower voters to tune out the tired talking points of the fossil fuel industry and decide their future based on the science and the facts.

I founded NextGen Climate with a clear mission in mind: to act politically to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity. The odds were stacked against us. After all, our political opponents are very ambitious and well-funded. But now, a little more than a year later, I'm proud to say that climate change is officially on the ballot and politicians have been put on notice: Refusing to accept the science of climate change will undermine your credibility. For voters, it's a question of trust.

With the help of more than 2,000 staff and volunteers in 50 offices across the country, climate change emerged as a top-tier issue in nine states this November and our opponents were forced to go on the defense. One thing is clear: We've made our mark, and this pivotal year for climate politics has given our efforts an unprecedented leg up.

We've said from the start that NextGen Climate isn't a "drive-by super PAC," and this November we proved it. Yes, we had a formidable presence on the airwaves, but we also relied on that oldest tool of the democratic system: neighbors talking to neighbors and sharing their vision for a better future. Together, we talked to more than two million voters to spread our message and make the case for climate action.

Participating in these midterm elections has taught me an immense amount about our tremendous democratic system as millions of people across our nation have raised their voices and cast their votes to turn 2014 into an unprecedented year for climate action.

But this is only the beginning.

To put climate on the ballot for our presidential candidates in 2016, we knew we had to start by changing the conversation on climate in these midterm elections. We've already talked to more than 350,000 voters who have personally committed to vote on climate, and with their help, we're sending an unmistakable message to politicians who would deny basic science: voters are smart. They care about these issues. And the same old song and dance just won't cut it next time around.

It's time to face the facts, because we're just getting started.