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Time for Candidates to Go on the Climate Offense

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If something were threatening the economic, cultural, and natural lifeblood of your state, would you want your members of Congress to ignore it or address it? Representative Gary Peters realizes that most voters want leaders to actually solve problems. And so he has made tackling climate change one of the central issues of the Michigan Senate race.

Plenty of other candidates have talked about climate change on the campaign trail. But Peters is one of the first to go on the climate offense. And judging from recent polls, his leadership has boosted his odds of winning.

Peters has challenged his opponent Terri Lynn Land to clarify her position on climate change and to acknowledge that human activity causes climate change. "This is something elected officials should be talking about -- we have to be concerned about it," Peters recently told the Washington Post. "Certainly the voters would like to know where she is. It's a major issue."

The National Mining Association responded recently by funding $300,000-worth of radio ads defending Land, but Peters isn't backing down. He knows climate action is right for Michigan and for America, and he isn't letting Land or the fossil fuel industry off the hook. He will also have the support of Tom Steyer's NextGen Climate and will be one of their top featured races in their #WinOnClimate campaign.

"I can't imagine the Koch brothers would be supporting [Land] to the tune that they are unless she agrees with their agenda," Peters said. "A big part of their agenda is dismantling environmental regulations. Until she says otherwise, it's safe to assume she subscribes to it."

Peters' approach has the makings of a winning strategy. According to the NRDC Action Fund's analysis of the past two election cycles, the best way to appeal to voters on climate change is to be early, loud, and local. In other words, get out front of the issue before your opponent does, talk about the issue often, and connect the dots between climate change and your home state.

Making those connections isn't hard in Michigan. The state has already experienced more frequent and more intense heat waves, destructive floods, and droughts that destroy crops. The new National Climate Assessment said these extreme events will increase in Michigan as a result of unchecked climate change. And while this year's long brutal winter brought dense ice coverage to the Great Lakes, most years have seen a decline in ice and water levels. That trend is expected to continue, with serious consequences for communities' water supply and for the state's shipping industry. Glen Nekvasil, the vice president of the Lake Carriers' Association, said recently, "Since freighters typically carry as much as they possibly can and still safely navigate the shallowest sections of their route, even a small decline in long-term levels can be costly."

Michigan is also in a good position to ramp up its clean energy investments both to address climate change and to build a new energy economy. By continuing to accelerate deployment of wind, solar and energy efficiency resources, Michigan is reducing the pollution that causes climate change, keeping the electric system reliable and affordable, and putting more Michiganders to work in the energy industry.

Climate change has major consequences for Michiganders, and Peters is smart to call out Land out for failing to confront them head on. But the same lesson applies in countless other races. Climate change is leaving its mark on communities across the nation, and candidates who run on climate solutions will be viewed as leaders. They will be especially favored by pivotal young, women, and Latino voters who know climate change is one of the gravest threats of our time.

When Peters takes a stand against this threat and the polluters who cause it, he looks like a statesman who could lead us into a cleaner, more stable future. More candidates from both parties should take note and be early, loud, and local on climate change.