Global warming is an existential threat to human life, but most candidates aren’t talking about it. One of the few exceptions has been O’Rourke, the Democratic congressman from El Paso, who’s running a heavily covered campaign against incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
In the past, O’Rourke has focused on the potential for economic growth in fighting climate change. But in a televised debate against Cruz on Tuesday night, he tried out a new tactic: directly tying Cruz’s climate denial to negative consequences in voters’ lives. “I continue to wonder why Senator Cruz voted against more than $12 billion in FEMA preparedness knowing full well that we will see more Harveys going forward,” O’Rourke said, according to ThinkProgress. “Mind you, that was the third 500-year flood in just the last five years. We know that there will be more of these floods coming, and I want to make sure that the people of Texas, especially southeast Texas, are prepared for the next one.”
When Democrats do talk about climate change, they usually warn about the consequences in the future. O’Rourke’s attack is different. He’s framing climate change as a problem affecting voters right now. He’s also holding Cruz accountable for making the problem worse, since Texans would have been better prepared for Hurricane Harvey had Cruz and other climate-denying Republicans not ignored the scientific consensus. (Scientists found that Hurricane Harvey’s record-breaking flooding was made 50 percent worse by global warming.)
It’s true that, right now, voters don’t prioritize climate change as a political issue. But who could blame them when global warming is constantly framed as a problem for the next generation? If Democrats change that false framing, they just might convince more Americans to vote based on the most critical issue of our time.