The 2024 presidential election has been consumed by President Joe Biden’s debate performance that highlighted his declining health. The result has thrown the Democrat Party into turmoil as the debate continues as to whether Biden is fit for office and can continue into a second term. This is bad news for climate activists, both in the United States and globally, who were already struggling for relevancy this election cycle.

Politics, and life in general, is a composition of ideological pockets. We live in echo chambers where our perspectives are reinforced. It becomes difficult to believe that other opinions exist because we are surrounded by those who agree with our views. This has become worse with the sectionalism of modern media, where media outlets target specific demographics, telling them what they want to hear to secure clicks and views.

For those that live in the bubble of climate change and environmental activism, it may feel like those are the top issues facing our society. However, according to polls, that is not the view of American voters.

A Pew Research poll conducted in January listed the top 20 issues for voters in the 2024 elections. The poll found that “protecting the environment” was the 14. “Dealing with climate change” came in 16. A second Pew Research poll conducted in May placed climate change 11 out of 16.

In a monthly Gallop poll question that gives the respondent the opportunity to identify one top issue, environment/ pollution/ climate change has consistently only received 2%. For June, that ties it for 12th.

A The Economist/ YouGov poll also conducted in April found more optimistic results. When asked to identify their most important issue, “climate change and the environment” was 5 out of 15.

In my experience, political campaigns only care about the top three issues. That is what drives the election. This year, those three are consistently inflation, immigration, and health care.

Typically, there is room for some ancillary issues through targeted action. Campaigns will release policy statements and give speeches to groups to “rally the base.” That was where climate change had been relegated for the 2024 elections.

Then came the presidential debate on June 27. Biden’s poor debate performance was a shock to both Democrats and Republicans. The concerns of Biden’s physical and mental decline shifted from a conspiracy to a confirmed fact. The Democrat Party was thrown into chaos. The national conversation shifted. No other issues seemed to matter.

That’s a problem for climate change activists who need to raise awareness and build support. Their voices are being drowned out in the chaos. All the focus will be on Biden’s ability to serve, with some discussion on the top three issues. Ancillary issues will not be considered. As long as Biden is the Democratic nominee, the issue of climate change will be a non-factor in the election.

Biden as the nominee appears to be a path to a Trump victory. The issue has not been silenced in the two weeks following the debate. Efforts by the Biden campaign to show that he is fit for office have only exasperated the problem. Democrat leaders are holding closed door meetings to discuss the party’s ticket. Media outlets, who once openly mocked assertions that Biden’s health was failing, are now questioning how it went unnoticed for so long. This is beginning to look less like President Franklin D. Roosevelt hiding his use of a wheelchair and more like when First Lady Edith Wilson ran a shadow government after President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke. For Trump’s campaign, they just need to sit back and let it unfold.

A second Trump term will rollback some of the gains climate activists achieved during Biden’s presidency. The Department of Labor ERISA rule relating to environmental, social, and governance factors will be rolled back. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Climate-Related Disclosure Rule, already facing a certain failure in the courts, will not be revived. And, most notably, the U.S. will once again leave the Paris Agreement. Depending on the outcome of the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the Obligations of States in respect of Climate Change, this time, other countries may follow Trump’s lead.

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