The odd and often bitter battle for the White House has for months overshadowed the fact that, on Tuesday, voters won’t just elect the next president. They will also shape the Senate at a critical time for addressing climate change, an issue that will shape the future of humankind but has gone largely ignored this election cycle.
Control of the Senate is at stake: 34 seats, mostly held by Republicans, are up for grabs, and Democrats need to flip only five of them to regain the majority. Retaking the Senate, which Democrats lost in 2014, could enable Democrats to enact major environmental laws, supporting policies such as the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the landmark Paris Climate Agreement. With control of the Senate, Democrats would also have a better chance to fill the empty seat in the Supreme Court with an environmentally friendly justice. The CPP, which calls for reductions in carbon emissions from the electricity sector, will likely reach the nation’s highest court.
In addition, Congress approves the federal budget — usually after a long back and forth debate. Proposals to cut federal investing in renewable energy — like the one Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed this month — could set the country back, both in terms of actual emissions and in terms of the international race to develop the best emissions reduction technology and reap the economic benefits.
“The environmental agenda will benefit if the Democrats can hold the White House and gain control of the Senate,” Steve Cohen, executive director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, told ThinkProgress in a past interview.
As of Monday, the results of most Senate races have been projected, putting Senate control in the hands of eight key toss-up states, according to Real Clear Politics. Only two states, New Hampshire and North Carolina, will send to a Washington a senator who accepts the science of human-caused climate change, regardless of whether a Republican or a Democrat wins.
All six other toss-up states have a Republican climate denier facing a Democrat who accepts the scientific consensus.
Here is a closer look at the key states, what climate change is doing there, and what the races look like just before the election.
Now facing sea-level rise associated to climate change, Florida will decide between Republican incumbent Marco Rubio or Democrat Patrick Murphy. Rubio, a climate denier, is leading and has done so ever since he decided to run. Some outlets consider that Murphy has a chance, but FiveThirtyEight noted that Rubio’s lead is so large that he is likely to come on top. Goodbye, coastal Florida.
The Hoosier State has extreme heat and humidity, heavy downpours, and flooding, paired with more intense summer droughts, all worsening because of climate change, according to a Purdue University study. Indiana has to decide between Republican incumbent Todd Young and Democrat Evan Bayh, who was leading for much of the race. The race is close, and over the last two weeks Young led in some public polls for the first time.
Heat waves linked to global warming may reduce crop yields for Missouri’s more than 100,000 farms, yet Republican incumbent Roy Blunt is leading Jason Kander — marginally. Although Missouri leans Republican, Kander has made the Senate race competitive, even despite saying that “climate change is a real consequence of human activity.” On the other hand, according to Blunt, “there isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth.”
Like most of the Southwest, Nevada is experiencing the effects of droughts and heat waves already taking hold due to climate change. The Silver State may be on its way to elect Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat who for months was running neck-and-neck with Republican Joe Heck for Nevada’s open senate seat. It is looking good for Cortez Masto, though, since Democrats are up six percentage points among early voters in a state where most people vote early, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Pennsylvania, like much of the nation, faces a growing number of extreme heat days that could affect its farming industries — in part by sparking favorable conditions for pests. There, Democrat Katie McGinty is challenging first-term Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. They have been in a virtual tie for much of the fall. Coal and the environment have been central issues to the race.
Global warming is bringing to Wisconsin everything from warming trout streams to decreasing snow packs, as well as lower lake levels and extreme weather, and Democrat Russ Feingold has taken notice. For months he’s attacked incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson over his climate stance. Early polls showed Feingold leading Johnson by a wide margin, but in recent weeks he’s lost steam. The most reliable data in Wisconsin now say Johnson is down by one point.
New Hampshire is so honest about climate change that even government websites say “warmer winters, reduced snowfall, increased rainfall, rising sea level, and more severe weather events” are already happening. It’s no surprise that both candidates, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte both accept the scientific consensus on climate change. Hassan is leading Ayotte, who lost key Koch Brother funding after failing to toe the party’s line of climate denial. Despite that moral move, Ayotte’s voting record on the environment is mixed.
Earlier this year Hurricane Matthew severely hit North Carolina, bringing intense rainfall and record flooding to much of the state. This kind of catastrophe is forecast to recur as climate change worsens. But while Gov. Pat McCrory (R) denies the overwhelming science of climate change, senatorial candidates do not. Republican Sen. Richard Burr and Democrati cchallenger Deborah Ross agree on this issue. Burr is leading in North Carolina and has done so throughout the campaign, but analysts expect that top-of-the-ticket votes may matter more here. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is narrowly favored over Trump.