The Time Has Come

This week another round of polls confirmed once again that Americans support climate action. NRDC Action Fund and NRDC commissioned a survey from Public Policy Polling that found most voters in four key states want the Environmental Protection Agency to limit dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.

Yet in a handful of interviews I did this week, some reporters suggested we generated the polls so we could tell voters what's in their best interests.

The truth is: it's not us, it's them. Voters are saying they want carbon limits, and we are listening. We will relay their message to Members of Congress, because lawmakers need to know where the public stands on climate change: they want to confront it.

This should come as no surprise. People across the country are already seeing firsthand what climate change can do to their communities. A few months ago, several ordinary Americans spoke at a Congressional forum on climate change. Matt Russell, a fifth-generation farmer from Iowa, described the record-breaking floods that had swept away thousands of acres of farmland in the past few years. Stefanie Kravitz from Long Beach, New York said Superstorm Sandy sent waves of water rushing through her home and left nearly her entire town in ruins.

Countless other Americans have a similar front-row seat on the drama of climate change, and even if we can't see it from our own homes, we are all paying the price of admission. The government spent nearly $100 billion to respond to extreme weather events in 2012. That's more than $1,100 per average US taxpayer.

Americans are starting to take this new climate reality into the voting booth with them.

The NRDC Action Fund poll asked whether voters would be more or less likely to support senators in the midterm election if they try to prevent the EPA from setting limits on carbon pollution. In Arkansas, Senator Mark Pryor (D) would have a 14 point disadvantage, and in Louisiana, Senator Mary Landrieu (D) would have a 14 point disadvantage.

Similar numbers came up for Republicans as well. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte (R) would face an 18 percent disadvantage if she tried to block the EPA, and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk (R) would have a 20 point disadvantage.

Another survey conducted by Stanford University found similar results in more than 40 states. At least 75 percent of Americans say climate change is happening now, and the number rose to 84 percent in states where drought and sea level rise are pressing concerns. At least two-thirds of residents in every state surveyed think the government should limit global warming pollution. This is true even in deep red states like Utah, where 62 percent of voters support government efforts to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

Voters are sending a strong signal. If candidates deny the reality of global warming, voters are going to start thinking: either they are in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry or they aren't that smart. Neither category makes for great leaders.

Even in the closest of races, voters are likely to prefer candidates who confront climate change over those who remain paralyzed or worse, appear to live in the Dark Ages. This is especially true with coveted young voters. I just spent a weekend with my church's youth group, and though some are still a few years away from voting, every single one of them knows climate change is a real and present danger. They have grown up in the Climate Age, and they wouldn't dream of ignoring this hazard any more than they would challenge the fact that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer.

This is an opportunity for candidates. If they want support from the majority of voters, they will listen to what voters are telling them: the time has come for climate action.