Climate Change, Florida, Texas, & The 2020 Election — CleanTech Talk with Mike Barnard

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In this episode of our CleanTech Talk podcast interview series, Zach Shahan sits down again with Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc. and CleanTechnica contributor, to talk about a number of hot topics, including shifting public opinion on climate change and the role of climate action plans in the next presidential election. You can listen to the full conversation in the embedded player below. Below that embedded SoundCloud player is a brief summary of the topics covered, but tune into the podcast to follow the full discussion.

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Zach and Mike thoroughly enjoyed talking climate change and presidential candidates this week, so we’ve split this extensive podcast with Mike into two sections. You can find the second half of the podcast tomorrow on CleanTechnica and CleanTech Talk. The second podcast focuses more on the five top contestants in the Democratic primary and the ways in which their climate plans and policies differ.

Mike firmly believes climate change will be one of the most important political issues in the upcoming election, and one of the key factors determining which way swing states will vote. In part, the electability of a candidate will hinge on whether they have better or worse climate action plans than the next candidate, he says. Mike explains that 69% of US voters want the government to address the human causes of climate change, and the proportion of people who believe that climate change is serious or very serious increases as you get closer to the coasts. This is especially relevant for swing state Florida, which is ground zero for hurricanes and sea-level rise in the United States.

Both Zach and Mike explore the nature of hurricanes and the increasing threat to areas similar to Florida as a result of climate-induced increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. With the end of one hurricane season and one full hurricane season to come before the next election, Mike explains this could have an impact on how strongly candidates passionate about climate action might sway the vote. He notes that a significant number of climate deniers change their minds due to extreme weather events, and Florida might experience some perspective-changing weather before the next election. 

Mike jokes that there are two types of people living in Florida: those who have lived through a hurricane and those who have not. And with an increase in hurricanes, he explains that more and more people will be in the category of having experienced an extreme weather event. In general, he says that there is an increasing concern and awareness related to more extreme weather events, which could significantly factor into upcoming elections. Even Republican politicians in Florida have been vocal about the need to address climate change.

Mike and Zach take a step back to talk about the broader implications of swing states and their association to climate change in regards to the presidency. Simply put, Mike believes that winning or losing Florida as a swing state correlates with winning or losing the presidency, and climate change may be the biggest influence in the direction in which Florida leans politically. Texas, another powerful potential swing state for the upcoming election, has been experiencing severe weather-related climate impacts like Hurricane Harvey and, at the same time, the state has been heavily investing in renewable energy. Mike explains that Texas has significantly increased renewable energy investment over the past 10 years while maintaining its place as #9 on the chart for state with the cheapest energy in the US. Plus, Mike says that they did all of this while improving grid reliability from dead last in the US to being ranked 34th, shattering the perception that renewables might be making the grid less reliable. It’s quite the opposite.

Mike explains that candidates are likely to attract voters if their approach to climate change is stronger. In fact, while committed Republicans are unlikely to be swayed from voting for the Republican candidate, there are a large number of voters who could be swayed by major campaigns for climate action. With a couple of swing states and lots of potential votes that could be influenced, Mike believes that climate change could be the issue the 2020 election hinges upon.

To hear Mike and Zach talk more about these topics, as well as cover more specific issues, such as hurricanes or the role of meteorology in public climate perception, listen to the show! If you want to hear the second half of the podcast, stay tuned!

[Errata: In the podcast, Michael said that there were well over 100,000 felons who had served their sentences who had been re-enfranchised in the November 2018 ballot. In fact, there were 1.6 million.]

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