5 things I learned from watching political ads that actually mention climate
Politicians usually like to play it safe with their campaign ads: factories, Labrador retrievers, and kids in suspenders. The environment doesn’t typically (if ever) make an appearance minus a pretty backdrop for an American flag.
But this year is different. A burst of political advertisements about the changing climate has hit television screens across the country. Could it be a sign that some politicians might soon stop avoiding climate change like the plague (and starting talking about it like… well, an actual plague)?
The New York Times tracked down those ads — there are more than a dozen out there. And I spent the day watching them all so you don’t have to. The following takeaways are NOT endorsements. Nothin’ like tearing apart some political ads on a Friday afternoon.
Say “jobs,” not “climate change”
Renewables. Are. Big. Clean energy seems like the safest way for politicians to talk about climate change without coming on too strong or like too much of an environmentalist, heaven forbid. Take Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s ad, titled “The Ocean State.” In the 30ish-second ad, the Democrat touts her state’s clean energy credentials. “We’re now the only state with an offshore wind farm,” she says, standing on a boat (with — you guessed it — an American flag flying in the background). She never mentions the words “climate change,” instead taking the tried-and-true approach of linking the project to potential economic growth.
Green is the new extreme sport
Democratic Congressperson Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico’s 1st District took a less traditional approach in her ad for governor. She climbed 265 feet to the top of a wind turbine to prove she’ll go the extra mile (or foot) for renewable energy. Did she impress viewers, or just give them vertigo? We’ll find out on November 6.
The environment = anti-Trump ammo
Other politicians used climate change as fodder to slam President Trump in their ads, doubling down on partisan politics. Sean Casten, a scientist running in Illinois’ 6th Congressional District, tore into the president’s history of climate skepticism. “This facility is on the leading edge of clean energy,” Casten says, standing in front of some expensive-looking monitors. “Donald Trump doesn’t think we need it because he thinks climate change is a hoax.”
It makes for pretty, pretty policy
Steve Sisolak, Nevada’s Democratic candidate for governor, has a “bold environmental vision” for his state. His ad starts in front of a sad-looking lagoon, but quickly transitions to Instagram-worthy drone footage of solar farms. He says he wants to protect Nevada’s national monuments, like Golden Butte, and ends with a pledge to uphold the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan.
Climate is at least bipartisan-curious
OK, so there weren’t a horde of Republicans releasing ads in favor of reducing emissions. But at least one Republican representative, Carlos Curbelo of Florida’s 26th District, was down to bring climate change up in his ads — maybe not too surprising for a guy whose district is at sea-level. Curbelo is one of the founding members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan effort to get politicians in Congress to act on climate change. He also appears on our Grist 50 list, though he somehow neglected to mention that in his campaign video.
“I just call ‘em like I see him,” Curbelo says in his T.V. spot, which seems to take place entirely on a basketball court for some reason. “The right didn’t do enough for our environment.” The ad also features a 2018 quote from the National Wildlife Federation, which calls him a leader on climate change. Watch Curbelo make an astounding number of basketball metaphors here:
Are politicians ready to stop swerving climate change in their campaigns? A dozen or so ads isn’t a seismic shift in the way politicians approach this issue. But it’s a start!