Americans go to the polls next week shadowed by some of the darkest political times in years, with violent threats against Congress, the prospects of nuclear war and the stability of our cherished democracy itself at stake.
Against these dire scenarios, climate change has little chance of rising to voters’ top priority, even though it is perhaps the most perilous risk of them all. Even the most progressive liberals understand that abortion, gun control, and election denial have stolen the stage this year in what are expected to be the most expensive midterm elections in history.
But fighting global warming is among President Biden’s signature accomplishments in the first two years of his term, and one that could be halted in its tracks by the slightest change of voting results in the US Senate. In short, the Democrats must retain their slim control of the Senate in order to save Biden’s climate agenda.
Most polls show the Republicans will win back control of the House of Representatives on November 8, which will make House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) the majority leader, and favorite in a conservative leadership race to become Speaker of the House.
The Senate is another story. It is currently evenly split, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tiebreaker vote, effectively giving Democrats fragile control. Republicans need only win one out of four tight races in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, or Pennsylvania to seize control of the Senate, of Congress, and of Biden’s second half agenda. His signature climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, is in little danger of falling to a new Congress, which won’t have enough power to overcome a presidential veto. It can certainly be frozen or weakened in any number of ways, though.
That’s why the stocks of clean energy companies, among the best performers this year in a weak market, are correlated almost entirely to betting markets tied to those four Senate races. Investors know the outlook for those companies depends on the Democrats winning.
Those stocks — including companies such as Tesla, SunPower Corp., and Enphase Energy — were mixed this week, suggesting the tight outlook for the races next Tuesday. Investors typically lay their bets ahead of the vote, so readers looking for another sign aside from political polls next week should look to how these stocks are moving on Monday and Tuesday.
If the Democrats manage to hold control, or even increase to a one- or two-seat majority, it would have a dramatic impact. For one, the stranglehold of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA) on climate legislation would be blown open, reducing his power. The Senate would also be able to block House attempts to overturn legislation or pass new laws, such as rules that could inhibit new government reforms on climate reporting.
While anything can happen in these tight races in the next few days before Election Day, analysis by The Independent points to the race in Nevada, which is in a dead heat, as being the one that could turn the tide. (Our DC correspondent Eric Garcia has been consistent on that point for a while.)
Coming so soon on the heels of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s return to power in Brazil, which is seen as the most beneficial election to the environment in the world this year, a Democratic retention of the Senate would be greeted with joy by the global climate community. It would allow Biden to continue the work he’s begun on fighting global warming in the final two years of his term, and set the stage for any number of state and local initiatives that could ripple down from the Inflation Reduction Act.
In a dramatic election such as this one, voter turnout will be enormous, and the country is on edge about the potential for violence or threats at the polls. So much is at stake, not the least of which is the integrity of the next presidential election itself in 2024.
For Biden’s climate change agenda, though, the math is simple. Win the Senate and help save the world.
David Callaway is the founder of Callaway Climate Insights