President Joe Biden has overseen a clean energy boom across the country, fueling new industries, factories and jobs.
But many Americans are not aware of it — or the historic climate law behind it.
Climate Power wants to change that. With a war chest of $80 million, the communications organization will launch a massive digital and television advertising and education campaign over the next year on Biden’s climate record.
“We’re focused on telling the story of the huge opportunity that taking climate action brings and making sure there is that public support and political will for making more climate action possible,” said Lori Lodes, Climate Power’s executive director.
Climate Power’s total investment will likely be among the biggest by environmental groups in a 2024 election that could pit a president touting his climate policy against a former president who denies the reality of global warming. Former President Donald Trump, the favorite for the Republican ticket, has mocked climate science and promised to be a “dictator” on his first day in office so his administration can “drill, drill, drill.”
The organization was founded in the sprint to the 2020 election by the American Progress Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. Now an independent company, Climate Power is collaborating on the ad campaign with Future Forward, a leading super PAC supporting Biden. The campaign is funded in part by liberal dark money sources that are not required to be disclosed under federal law.
Groups like Climate Power are key to shifting public opinion on climate action, said Susan Joy Hassol, director of the science outreach nonprofit group Climate Communication and a former senior science writer for the U.S. National Climate Assessment.
A range of voters, including a large number of independents and moderates, are receptive to ads and messaging that climate policy can improve lives while also leading to a healthier planet, she said.
“We need lots of good minds thinking strategically,” Hassol said. “We’re in a race. We need to cross a social tipping point for support for climate action before we cross too many tipping points in the climate system.”
Polling shows that Democratic voters, especially key constituencies including young and Latino voters, rank climate policy as a top electoral issue. But a vast array of climate disinformation, particularly on social media, has also confused the public about the severity of human-caused climate change.
Climate Power aims to counter that decadeslong climate disinformation effort, which is funded by fossil fuel companies worth tens of billions of dollars, conservative think tanks and foundations that oppose regulations. The group will fund political advertisements and an education campaign to inform the public about how they will benefit from last year’s Inflation Reduction Act and the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill.
To put Climate Power’s investment in perspective, the League of Conservation Voters, a top funder of environmental causes, spent $115 million on the 2020 election cycle, including $22 million that went to efforts to defeat Trump.
Lodes co-founded Climate Power in 2020 with John Podesta, who is now a senior adviser to Biden tasked with overseeing the Inflation Reduction Act’s nearly $370 billion in clean energy funding. The group initially worked to ensure climate policy was a vital part of the presidential campaigns, but now its mission has broadened to “make the progress durable so we can get even more done,” Lodes said.
Closing the knowledge gap
Climate Power is at once a cheerleader for Biden’s climate policies, an investigator and critic of climate deniers, an educational outlet, a Spanish-language media campaign and an ad-maker. The group also marshals its own research, polling and data crunching to back its work.
In a statement, Podesta called it “one of the most effective groups out there demonstrating that the Inflation Reduction Act is delivering for the American people.”
Such efforts could be vital for Biden’s reelection chances. A recent poll found that his support is slipping among younger voters, some put off by his handling of climate change, as well as the Israel-Hamas war, health care and gun control.
Biden’s approval on climate change has dropped, even though some analysts believe the Inflation Reduction Act could put the country on the path to cut emissions in half by 2030. Just 42 percent of voters approve of Biden’s climate response, according to a September pollfrom The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago. That was a drop from two years earlier, when 52 percent approved.
Over the last year, Biden and his cabinet have fanned out across the country to tout the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure bill. And yet polls have consistently shown that voters are largely unfamiliar with the climate law and Biden’s other signature policy achievements.
A Yale University survey released Thursday found that 58 percent of voters have heard a “little” about the Inflation Reduction Act, while only 36 percent have heard “some” or “a lot.”
Climate Power is working to close that knowledge gap before the November election.
In the last year, the firm has hosted dozens of events across the key swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. At the events, the group works with politicians as well as clean energy workers, union members, businesses and community leaders to reinforce Biden’s message that climate policy is a jobs creator.
The group has worked with social media influencers on Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat and acquired one of the biggest climate-focused Instagram accounts, Future Earth. Biden has cited its figures in climate-related speeches.
But perhaps no other aspect of the group’s work sets it apart as much as Climate Power En Acción, which focuses on getting accurate climate change information to Spanish speakers.
Climate disinformation has been spreading on Spanish-language media for years, driven by conservative AM radio stations and fossil fuel industry ads that spread fear about clean energy. Recently, fossil fuel allies spent millions on ads in English and Spanish in California creating fear about the clean energy transition. The Western States Petroleum Association also launched a program called Levanta Tu Voz, which attacks climate regulations and clean energy policies.
Last year, Climate Power conducted polling that shows such fossil fuel messaging has been effective in confusing people, particularly those under 30.
Half of all Spanish speakers believe climate change is a naturally-occurring cycle that happens every 11,000 years, the polling found. That’s compared to about 26 percent of Americans overall who believe climate change is natural, rather than a human-caused problem.
At the same time, 81 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinos believe that it is essential the government take action to slow or reduce the effects of climate change, the poll found.
Though some respondents heard climate denial messaging on conservative outlets like Fox News, most encountered it on social media, including Facebook, YouTube and TikTok, Climate Power found.
Climate Power En Acción, headed by Antonieta Cadiz Vargas, monitors Spanish language media and works to counter disinformation with facts.
For the last few years, the group has tracked the most effective messaging against climate action, based on polling, and then ran its own ads to counter that messaging. One recent ad corrected false climate claims made by Republican presidential candidates on the campaign stage.
Vargas said the group has seen signs of progress, including more effort in Spanish-language media to connect extreme weather to climate change.
“There is so much work to be done in this area because this is a problem that is impacting our community every single day,” she said. “Disinformation is a huge issue for Latinos and … nobody is doing anything to counter this.”