“This election is about climate change, the greatest environmental crisis facing our planet,” shared former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders during his speech at the Democratic National Convention. His claim was unanimously praised by both Bernie or Bust and I’m With Her delegates who enthusiastically cheered the common theme throughout the Convention. This was to be expected considering the DNC had positioned climate change as a primary issue in their official party platform, and polls indicated that concern for the climate ranked high among both Sanders and Clinton supporters.
The Republican National Convention, on the other hand, ignored climate change instead focusing on national security.
With both Conventions now behind us, Clinton and Trump will have their proposed policies vetted by the American public, but will climate reform be one of them? Between Trump’s repeated claim that climate change is a "Chinese hoax" and Clinton’s checkered relationship with oil fracking and Keystone XL, climate reform runs the risk of being shuffled to the background of debates as we near the November election, potentially drowning out leadership within Washington already calling attention to it.
Among those leaders is Secretary of State John Kerry, who recently doubled down on his insistence that climate change is as great a threat as ISIS, designating climate reform as a measure of national security (just not the kind the GOP is concerned over). While initially mocked for his warning, Kerry is actually taking one of the more productive approaches to garnering bipartisan support according to Cade Marsh, a representative of the College Republican National Committee, who suggests that repackaging “clean energy in terms of national security and liberty,” will “find people much more receptive."
I'm Christian, I'm conservative in many ways, and I also believe that climate change is real.
Raising climate change to a matter of national security must, however, overcome a few hurdles, the first being media sources ignoring the topic altogether. As our partner Greenfaith pointed out, organizations like CNN “aired five times more fossil fuel advertising than climate reporting” in the lead-up to the RNC, a problem that extends to most major networks who rely on the fossil fuel industry for revenue. In lieu of fair coverage, how might faith leaders elevate the greatest moral issue of our time?
Supporting a Presidential candidate that will progress the Paris Agreement is one step, but there is another election that could be just as impactful. On November 8th, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be up for grabs. Currently, the chamber is Republican-controlled with 30 seats falling in the GOP’s favor - and while the likelihood of that changing is statistically slim this cycle, that doesn’t need to mean the end of climate leadership on the Hill.
Climate opinions in conservative communities, particularly among the faithful, are changing. Dr. Andrew Farley, lead pastor at Church Without Religion in Lubbock, Texas explained, "I'm Christian, I'm conservative in many ways, and I also believe that climate change is real. A thermometer is not Republican - a thermometer is not Democrat." For faith leaders like Farley, ministering in a traditionally conservative community that has historically elected representatives with poor climate records, this line of reasoning is a hard sell. But, as climate change increasingly impacts states like Texas through droughts and floods, conservatives are starting to come around on climate change. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, a major shift has already occurred in Latino communities living in conservative states like Arizona and New Mexico, with voting patterns that reflect a growing concern for the climate.
Many of the nation’s smaller religious groups are represented in roughly equal proportion to their numbers in the U.S. adult population.
Since the majority of representatives remain politically divided, perhaps it's time we remind them of their shared values. Pew Research found that the majority of the 114th Congress identify with a religious tradition, welcoming Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu representatives in the past decade. While more than nine-in-ten members of the House and Senate are Christian, the report found that “many of the nation’s smaller religious groups are represented in roughly equal proportion to their numbers in the U.S. adult population. Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus combined represent roughly 2% of American adults and 1% of Congress.” Jewish representatives account for slightly more than their national average, coming in around 5 percent.
With politics at their most divided in decades, the common thread of faith often acts as the only connection between our elected officials.. And so, both within the Presidential and Congressional race, the need for faith leadership to speak on climate change has never been greater. “In an age where the Republicans are particularly interested in winning the presidency, they are not supporting an agenda that reflects that most Americans recognize climate change as a problem," said Rachel Lamb, national organizer for the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. Lamb recently took her influence to the RNC to participate in “panel discussions and private meetings with operatives on the sidelines of the convention,” according to Reuters. Climate change may not have been a primary discussion inside the convention hall, but it was certainly being discussed on the streets of Cleveland.
Why the House of Representatives matters in climate policy
President Obama’s attempt to allocate an allowance toward the Green Climate Fund, as well as the passing of the Clean Power Plan, were derailed (at least momentarily) by a Republican base in Congress. While the vast majority of Americans support government action on climate change, partisan politics overshadowed what should have been obvious moves to fulfill our responsibilities to the Paris Climate Agreement and the greater moral concern of most Americans.
Regardless of who is elected President, America will inevitably encounter similar gridlock in climate reform should the house remain divided on the issue of climate. If people of faith are truly concerned about what will happen to the climate movement following the election season, they should focus equally on the Congressional elections as on the presidential election.
Let’s not forget that the Republican Party once encouraged climate action, and God willing, they can do it again. But it will require that every voter demand a commitment to climate solutions from to representative.
Here is what faith leaders can do:
Find your representative’s climate voting score here and cast your vote accordingly. Just as important, talk about climate with your congregation and encourage them to do the same. Together, faith communities can amplify the moral call to act on climate and refuse to elect representatives that do not reflect their values. Finally, remind our representatives of what their faith calls them to do: care for creation.
Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside. Click here to email Ryan.
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