How climate change fared during the midterms in Minnesota and beyond

Despite its impacts, climate change isn't much of a political issue
Minnesota's seeing climate change impacts, but it's not yet a major political issue.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

Climate change was hardly central to the 2018 campaign, and that theme continued at the polls on Election Day.

Despite scientists' apocalyptic warnings that time is running out for humanity to halt its impact on the climate, politicians and voters overwhelmingly don't factor in climate change during elections.

However, it's complicated. The midterms didn't move the needle much on climate policy across the nation. But amid many losses for climate advocates, there were glimpses of hope.

Here's a rundown of how climate change factored into the midterms in Minnesota and beyond:

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In Minnesota, two climate laggards lose seats in Congress

Republican Reps. Jason Lewis and Erik Paulsen — a current and former climate-science denier, respectively — both lost re-election bids.

In the 2nd District, Democrat Angie Craig defeated Lewis. She believes climate change is happening and supports a carbon fee and dividend plan, which would make emitters pay for their pollution.

Dean Phillips beat Paulsen in the 3rd District race. Paulsen supports tax credits for renewable energy, adopting a carbon fee and dividend plan for reducing emissions and adopting more stringent efficiency standards.

Climate-friendly candidates won Minnesota-wide contests

DFLers Tim Walz, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith won the gubernatorial race and both U.S. Senate seats, respectively.

Walz's opponent in the race for governor, Jeff Johnson, falsely believes anti-climate change efforts wouldn't work.

Jim Newberger, who lost to Klobuchar, doesn't believe the factual evidence showing humans are causing climate change. Smith's opponent, Karin Housley, opposed the Paris climate agreement's emissions reduction targets.

Also worth noting: Ilhan Omar, a Democrat with one of the state's most progressive climate platforms, won in the 5th District.

Multiple renewable energy mandates failed, contradicting public opinion

Americans overwhelmingly favor renewable energy. But there's a disconnect in how that thinking plays out at the polls, said Richard Alley, a Penn State geosciences professor.

For example, Washington state voters rejected a carbon tax. In Arizona, they voted down a renewable energy mandate. Coloradans shot down a restriction on fracking.

"Whether the wrong policy was on the ballot or whether something else is going on, is beyond me," Alley said.

There were some glimmers of hope nationally

Texas Democrat Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson won re-election and will likely become the next chair of the House science committee. She'd take the chair from a fellow Texan, retiring Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, who disagrees with the scientific consensus on climate change.

And in Nevada, voters easily passed a ballot measure mandating half the state's energy be renewable by 2030.

The best chance for climate action is at the state level

It's crucial for states to have leaders who understand climate change, said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director for Fresh Energy.

Not only are there local impacts from climate change, Hamilton said, addressing the issue can help the health of local residents and the economy.

She's optimistic about the future of regional climate action:

"The fact that there are so many clean energy champions that have been elected in diverse states — as diverse as Kansas and New Mexico and Wisconsin — means that we have opportunity at the state level in those places."

Use the audio player above to hear a discussion on climate change and the midterms.