My Climate Journey

Ep. 134: Nathaniel Stinnett Returns!

Episode Summary

Back by popular demand, today's guest is Nathaniel Stinnett, Founder and Executive Director of the Environmental Voter Project, a non-profit that aims to significantly increase voter demand for environmental leadership by identifying inactive environmentalists and then turning them into consistent activists and voters. Nathaniel explains the Environmental Voter Project's work, how they identify environmental non-voters, and what they do to get them to the polls. He also explains WHY it is so important to get them to the polls, and what the EVP theory of change is. And finally, he fills me in on the general election, the Georgia runoffs, the state of our democracy, and some of EVPs most recent results. I learn tons every time I speak with Nathaniel, and it was great to have him back on the show!

Episode Notes

Back by popular demand, today's guest is Nathaniel Stinnett, Founder and Executive Director of the Environmental Voter Project, a non-profit that aims to significantly increase voter demand for environmental leadership by identifying inactive environmentalists and then turning them into consistent activists and voters.

Nathaniel explains the Environmental Voter Project's work, how they identify environmental non-voters, and what they do to get them to the polls. He also explains WHY it is so important to get them to the polls, and what the EVP theory of change is. And finally, he fills me in on the general election, the Georgia runoffs, the state of our democracy, and some of EVPs most recent results. I learn tons every time I speak with Nathaniel, and it was great to have him back on the show!

If you want to learn more about this episode, visit

The Environmental Voter Project is a non-partisan nonprofit that uses big data analytics and cutting-edge behavioral science to identify non-voting environmentalists and gets them to vote in every election. Their goal is to bring voter turnout to a tipping point of overwhelming demand for environmental leadership. To volunteer in the Georgia Senate runoff elections or to learn more about the Environmental Voter Project, check out their website at

This episode was recorded on December 2nd, 2020.

Episode Transcription

Jason Jacobs:  Hey everyone, Jason here. Before we get going, I just wanted to take a moment to give a quick shout out to the new paid membership option that we recently rolled out. This option is meant for people that have been getting value from the podcast and want to enable us to keep producing it in a more sustained way. It's also for people that want extra stuff, such as bonus content, a Slack room that's vibrant and filled with people tackling climate change from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives, as well as a host of programming and events that get organized in the Slack room.

We also have a virtual town hall once a month, where you can get a preview of what's to come and provide feedback and input on our direction. We'll be adding more membership benefits over time. If you want to learn more, just go to the website, And if you're already a member, thank you so much for your support. Enjoy the show.

Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.

Today's guest is Nathaniel Stinnett, the founder of the Environmental Voter Project. Now I had Nathaniel on the show once before, back in episode 11, more than a year ago. I wanted to bring him back on though because a lot has changed with our democracy here in the US, with the recent presidential election, with the upcoming Senate runoffs in Georgia and with the climate movement in general. So I wanted to get an update from Nathaniel on what he's been seeing in the trenches with environmental voters, in the work that he does as a non-profit, trying to get them to the polls.

Now it's interesting because Environmental Voter Project is a non-partisan organization. They work on both sides of the aisle and they also don't focus on specific races. What they do is they identify a slew of people who have the environment as their number one cause, not just a cause that's important to them, but they're number one. And they get into the polls by whatever means they need to through oftentimes not even mentioning things about the environment.

So Nathaniel's perspective is super unique as it relates to how many of these voters are out there, why they're not voting, what tactics are effective in getting them to the polls, why it's important to get them to the polls, what his theory of changes about how getting to the polls pays off and compounds over time and how that manifests in terms of the elected officials we get into office and the policies that they pass, et cetera. And also what else matters in helping right the ship here as it relates to corporate PAC spending, as it relates to environmental education and other things that might matter in the climate fight. Nathaniel, welcome back to the show.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Thank you, Jason. I'm so psyched to be back.

Jason Jacobs:  I mean, it's funny, you came on the show and... So you've already come on the show, but then with all this election stuff going on and I thought, or actually it was some community members who suggested that, that we, we hear from you. So I asked you to write something up and you were too busy. So you suckered me into doing this other episode here. I don't actually know how you did that, but you... No, no wonder why you can get so many voters to the polls.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. I was just-

Jason Jacobs:  [laughs].

Nathaniel Stinnett:  ... I was laying on my lawn chair with a drink and I'm like, you know, I'm going to tell Jason, I'm too busy, just so he invites me back. [laughs].

Jason Jacobs:  Yeah. No, you, you did it. But I, actually, I am excited to have you because I mean, podcasts aside, I have so many questions for you given everything that's been going on in the world. But before we jump into that, for anyone that did not hear your first episode, tell us a bit about Environmental Voter Project and the work that you do.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. So we are a non-partisan, non-profit that's laser focused on just two things. We identify environmentalist who don't vote and then we turn them into better voters. So what that also means is we don't do a lot of the stuff that your typical environmental groups do do. So we don't endorse candidates, we don't lobby for particular policies, we don't even try to persuade people to care more about climate or the environment, we're solely in the behavior change space rather than the opinion changing, or mind changing space.

And so we have thousands of volunteers around the country who help us contact these non-voting environmentalist whom we identify. And we also send direct mail and digital ads to them. And we don't just focus on the big elections, because we're in the behavior change business. So whenever there's an election, local, state, federal, primary, general, special, we're using it as a behavioral intervention opportunity to try to dramatically increase the number of environmentalist who vote.

Jason Jacobs:  And, you know, I don't want to go and rehash our whole first episode, but one follow up question I have to that is, how did you uncover that this was a lane that you thought could be high-impact?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. So I came to this and, and started the organization a little bit over four years now, not from the environmental movement, I came to it from the political world. I had been a senior advisor or a campaign manager to campaigns, big and small up and down the ballot. And I was always deeply frustrated when we polled the folks who were likely to vote in this election we wanted to win, how we always got the same data back, Jason. And that was that there weren't that many voters who care deeply about climate and environmental issues.

And that always frustrated me, but to be totally honest, I, I didn't really think there was anything I can do about that. And so we would go on and we'd try to win the election, and we would do it by not talking about this issue that very few people cared about, which made me sad, but my goal wasn't to be happy, my goal is to win the elections.

And almost by a quirk of nature, I was sitting down with a friend of mine who was a pollster in 2013, early 2014. I started seeing some data that made me realize, whoa, wait a second, maybe the reason there are so few voters who care deeply about climate and the environment is not because there are too few Americans who care about this issue. Actually, if we look at polling data, there are tens of millions of Americans who care deeply about climate or the environment. So why aren't they showing up in polls of voters?

And it became increasingly clear to me that the environmental movement had a turnout problem. And when you started to segment out the population, there were a whole bunch of environmentalist who didn't vote and then a few environmentalist who did vote. And that slowly but surely made me realize, okay, there are all these groups who try to win elections and all these groups who try to elect environmental champions, and they're doing amazingly important work, but by definition, they kind of need to focus on the people who show up to elections. Like that's how you win elections, is talking to voters, not non-voters.

But if that's all that the environmental movement is doing, then that would leave this huge pool of latent political power off to the sidelines that no one was tapping into. And I really saw a need for an organization that didn't necessarily focus on winning the next big election, but instead took a slightly longer-term view and said, you know what, let's grow the electorate, let's dramatically increase the number of environmentalist who vote, because if we can do that, then no matter who runs, they're going to be more likely to lead on these issues.

Jason Jacobs:  And now that I'm, I don't know if it's like six months or nine months or a year, I forget when we actually recorded the first episode. But one question I'll ask you that I didn't ask you the first time around is, that term environmentalist, in your mind, what is the overlap on the Venn diagram between an environmentalist and someone who cares about climate change? Are those synonyms?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Largely synonyms. So first, let me just recognize that obviously there are a million different ways to define an environmentalist and all of them are idiosyncratic and that's a very loaded term. What we do at the Environmental Voter Project, because we're bypassing the hard and expensive stuff of politics, which is issue education and changing people's minds, we have a very high bar for what we determine someone as, as being an environmentalist.

We define it as someone who cares so deeply about climate change or some other environmental issue, that it is their number one priority overall other issues. So we're focusing in on people who don't just care deeply about climate change or clean air or clean water, but actually prioritize it as their number one issue.

Now, to get to the second part of your question, when you're looking at people who list climate as their number one priority, as opposed to people who list clean air or clean water, environmental justice, as their number one priority, is there a lot of overlap in those Venn diagrams as well? Yeah. An enormous amount of overlap. Is it 100%? No, there are some people who care a lot about land conservation and don't care that much about climate change. But in all of our research, all of the predictive models that we've done, there is an enormous degree of overlap.

Jason Jacobs:  What are some signs that you look forward to know if someone is a "environmental voter?"

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. So the first thing, before I answer that question, let me give you the huge, huge caveat, which is thousands of behavioral and consumer and demographic data points go in to helping us build our predictive models. And no one data point is ever predictive on its own, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. So I will answer your question-

Jason Jacobs:  Prius driver, Prius driver is not predictive as a single data point.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  [laughs]

Jason Jacobs:  Someone actually drives that car because they think it's the best car that they could drive. [laughs]

Nathaniel Stinnett:  You know. There are, there are a lot of people who buy [inaudible 00:10:39] because they look cool. [laughs]

Jason Jacobs:  [laughs] That's why I said Prius.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  [crosstalk 00:10:43]. Prius is probably better, Prius is probably better.

Jason Jacobs:  [laughs]

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Look, there are certainly data points that are more predictive than others. Yeah. If you buy an electric vehicle, if you subscribe to National Geographic, if you're interested in outdoor exercise. We've found that basketball fans are more likely than hockey, football, or baseball fans to care deeply about climate change. Like, yeah, there are lots of individual data points that have more predictive power than others.

People of color are more likely than white people, young people, more likely than old people, all things like that. But, but what's really important is not to try to like reverse engineer our way into these predictive models. Like what you should not do is just kind of assume that if someone recently bought an electric vehicle and is a registered Democrat, they must deeply care about climate and the environment. That's just not a very precise way of going after these people.

Jason Jacobs:  Is the reverse true as well? Like someone that's a supporter of our current president-

Nathaniel Stinnett:  [laughs]

Jason Jacobs:  ... as of November or December, whatever, to what is it? December 1st, today?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  December 2nd. Yeah.

Jason Jacobs:  Okay. Yeah. So as of December 2nd, our current president are, are any of those people environmentalist?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Uh-

Jason Jacobs:  Environmental voters, I should say.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Very, very, very, very, very, very few. If you look at the AP vote cast exit polling consortium, they actually asked some exit polling questions where they isolated people, the number one issue. And when you looked at the people who listed climate change as their number one issue, those people broke harder for Joe Biden than any other issue constituency group. Even like pro-choice people didn't broke, break as hard for Joe Biden. Even, you know, people who care about immigration rights, didn't break as hard for Joe Biden. Might there be a few people who care deeply about climate change out there who support Donald Trump? Yeah. Yeah. There could be.

Jason Jacobs:  So what about not Trump, but just more... Like, let's say anti-Trump GOP.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah.

Jason Jacobs:  I mean, I know that's a minority, but, uh, what percentage of them say care about climate? Is it, or are "environmental voters" where it's their number one issue?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Right. So few of them, few of them. It's far, far, far, far, far more likely that these people are registered Democrats or registered unaffiliated. And a lot of States are not able to register with a Democrat, with a party in some States you are, but it's not on the voter file, things like that. But there certainly are. And it varies dramatically from state to state.

There certainly are some moderate, usually young Republicans who do care deeply about climate or the environment. We are seeing... We don't do a lot of polling at, at the Environmental Voter Project. We do a lot more modeling on voter files, but we are seeing in our polling that those people usually, uh, they're like residual Republicans. Like they haven't changed their, their party affiliation, but they're often voting for Democrats.

But I do want to be clear that particularly among young people, there are some young Republicans who care so much about climate and/or other environmental issues that it's their number one priority. Is it many of them? No, but there are some, absolutely.

Jason Jacobs:  So what is the theory of change here? I know that you mentioned that you are not a partisan organization and that you're not focused on particular races. So you have a longer view and it's about identifying people where environment is their number one issue and getting into the polls, not even necessarily through talking about an environment, just talking about whatever's going to get them to the polls. So how does that play out? Like if you do that over time and you get more of them to the polls, so what?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  It plays out, and I'm glad you asked this, because it's not an immediately intuitive theory of change, but I think it's a very powerful one. The typical political theory of change is what I would refer to as kind of like a, a supply side approach to the marketplace. The approach is, hey, let's elect the right politicians and they'll supply right policy. And that's not unimportant. Like, yeah, it's important to elect the right people, but, but no matter who you elect, it isn't like they can just snap their fingers and get whatever they hell they want. They're still going to have to figure out, okay, what am I going to spend my political capital on? And what am I not going to spend my political capital on?

And no one, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative is going to go hard on climate if there aren't a huge number of voters who want them to. And this is so important for people to understand because the political marketplace is far more transparent than I think most people realize. Whether you vote or not Jason, is public record. It's public record, whether you vote or not. No one can ever see who you vote for, that's secret. But what elections you show up for and what elections you skip, that is public record.

And take it from someone who's run dozens of campaigns. If we see on public voter files that you never vote in gubernatorial elections, and I'm running a gubernatorial campaign, we do not give a crap what issues you care about? We don't, you're nothing to us. Just like if you're running like Ford Motor Company, you don't care what three-year-olds think of your cars. Like you're not going to sell a car to a three-year-old. Well, similarly politicians and policy makers don't care about the opinions. They don't care about the priorities of non-voters.

Jason Jacobs:  So just a, just a pause there. Putting on your political strategist hat. If you were to go back in time before Environmental, Environmental Voter Project, or let's say you went back into that arena for some big race or something, is it ever a sound strategy to focus on new voter turnout or is this the fact that they don't focus on people who don't turn out? Is that politically sound of them to think that way or is that actually a miss?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Uh, no, it is politically sound. Because if your goal is to only get 50% plus one of the vote on a Tuesday in November, well, you're not concerned with the long-term health of the environmental movement or some other issue constituency group. Now I want to be clear because if you're running a campaign, your goal is to win. You need to assess what your paths to victory are. And if the typical people who always vote show up to vote again, and you determine, oh man, there's no way we can win that election, then yeah, you need to change the denominator. You need to change the population of the people who are going to vote.

But that's hard. It's hard to do if you only have one shot, if you only have one election. Does that mean you should never do it? No. Sometimes you can do it, especially in big, big elections like presidential elections you'll often see campaigns, not just go after the people who have an 80% and higher likelihood of voting, maybe they'll dip down to people who have a 40% or 50% or 60% likelihood of voting.

But you know, if I'm trying to elect you mayor of Newton, Massachusetts, Jason, and we literally know by name and street address on the voter file, who shows up for mayoral elections in Newton and who doesn't, there's no way in hell we're going to spend your limited time and limited money talking to people who time and time again, they have proven that they don't vote in this election that you're trying to win. Like that's a really risky inefficient strategy.

Jason Jacobs:  So then when you think about your work, given that you are playing the long game and given that you aren't focused on specific races, then how do you prioritize where to spend your time?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  So we go into States where there are huge populations of non-voting environmentalist's. That is always our number one priority. So we're currently working in 12 States. So in the Southwest it's Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico. In the Southeast, it's Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia. And in the Northeast, it's Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. You'll probably notice a lot of them are like purple swingy States, but not all of them, you know, not Massachusetts, not always Virginia or New Mexico, but what all of them have in common is they have huge disproportionately large populations of non-voting environmentalist. And we need those-

Jason Jacobs:  Does electoral college factor in at all?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  No. I mean, uh, sometimes it's a tertiary or, you know, fourth level concern, but like-

Jason Jacobs:  Sure. It's got a big population regardless of how many electoral votes, then you're just focused on the population exclusively.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. For a few reasons. One, we're not just trying to move federal policymaking. We're trying to move state and local policymaking. Two, because we're not some secret one-off election winning organization, but we're trying to have a cumulative impact over time, such that we increase the population of voters, not non-voters, but voters who care deeply about the environment.

We need to go into a place where we have lots of targets. It doesn't matter how good we are at the Environmental Voter Project to turning non-voters into voters. If there only 37 non-voting environmentalist in the state of Idaho, like that's just not gonna shift policymaking. And third, I think it's really important when thinking about our theory of change here, to understand that politicians love winning elections. Like they love winning elections.

Nothing motivates a politician more than the prospect of winning or losing an election. And so we're really taking this demand side approach to the marketplace. We're just trusting that politicians are going to continue to be as craving as they always are, and they're going to want win elections. And if we dramatically increase the number of environmentalists who vote, politicians are going to follow, and we're seeing that, we're seeing that over and over again from Democrats, from Republicans, from the left side of the spectrum, and the middle side of the spectrum, politicians go where the votes are. It's just the basic arithmetic of how democracy works.

Jason Jacobs:  So I get that you can track how many environmental voters you can drive to the polls. So that's kind of a clear KPI that you can measure and monitor over time to see how you're doing. When you say the politicians follow, what do the KPIs look like on that side? How do you know if you're on track?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. So that's obviously a lot harder to draw a direct line to our actions because no politician is ever going to say, oh man, I didn't want to vote for that bill but Environmental Voter Project forced my hand. [laughs] And you know, like, uh, no one's going to do that. Just like no one is ever going to admit that any political pressure forced them into doing something that they didn't want to do. That being said, what we can certainly see is first, there are academic studies that show politicians are more responsive to the will of voters than they are of non-voters. Like, it's very, very clear that where there are splits between what voters prioritize and non-voters prioritize, politicians follow the voters. That's just very, very clear.

The second thing, and this is far, far more anecdotal, but I still think it's important is what we can see with our own eyes over the last two years. I mean, let's take Joe Biden. When was the last time in modern American history that someone won their party's nomination for president and then tacked to the left on an issue like Joe Biden did on climate. I mean, you, you're supposed to win the nomination and tack to the center on everything. [laughs] Joe Biden won the nomination and he pretty much said like, "Holy crap, I got to go and get all these climate voters."

And we saw a similar thing in the democratic primary for president where, you know, four years ago, no one talked about this issue at all. And now you had Jay Inslee and Tom Stier, and to a lesser extent, people like Michael Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders focusing almost solely on climate change issues. Why? Because in 2015, it wasn't even sixth or seventh fund democratic voters list of priorities. But in the presidential primary, it was the number one issue in New Hampshire. It was the number one issue in Iowa. Politicians go where the votes are.

Jason Jacobs:  So does the nature of your work change at all in an election year versus not?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  It is always an election year. And I don't just say that to be cute. We need to view every election, local, state, federal, primary, general, special as an important behavioral intervention opportunity. And so in 2019, a year when most people were still like sleeping off their hangovers from the midterms, we were active in over 600 local and state elections in our 12 States, 600.

Those are actually not just things that we shouldn't avoid. Those are really efficient intervention opportunities. Because it's a lot cheaper for me to convert a non-voter into a voter in a low turnout local election than it is in a really high turnout presidential election with lots of static. And if I get you to vote for the first time in your city council election, Jason, it only takes two months for the record of you having voted to show up on public voter files.

And then everybody is running for governor next year says, Holy crap. If Jason voted in that municipal election, we got to spend all our money, making sure that he shows up and it's almost like I've sent this signal to the marketplace, telling them like, hey, the cavalry's got to come in and turn out Jason now, we got them to vote. And so it's always election day for us.

I mean, in, I think on January 20th, January 28, something like that, North Miami has a municipal election. You know, every four years, the entire country wakes up and talks about how important the state of Florida is. Well, if the state of Florida is important, you shouldn't be ignoring North Miami's municipal election in January. That's a great opportunity to find these non-voting environmentalists and start changing their habits.

I mean, if you were trying to train someone to become a better runner, would you talk to them every two or four years when there's a big, sexy election going on? No, [laughs] you would talk to them every chance you got, you would always be making behavioral intervention opportunities. So it truly is always election day for us.

Jason Jacobs:  So is stocking the pond more and getting more people in the camp of caring about this stuff. Something that EVP thinks about or is that someone else's problem?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  That's someone else's problem. I'm not going to say that it's unimportant, changing minds, changing opinions, changing hearts, getting more people to care about climate change is extraordinarily important work, but it's hard and it's expensive. I mean, we live in a moment and time where it is damn near impossible to get people to care about something that they don't care about.

Like changing opinions is really hard in this weird post-truth world that we live in. And so we've just chosen to, to have a much narrower niche and to be honest, try to do something easier. And that is find the people who don't need their minds changed. They just need their behavior changed. And again, I won't claim the change in behavior is, is easy. It's not, but it's a hell of a lot easier and a hell of a lot cheaper. So yeah, we, we are not in the mind changing business. There are other groups that do that and they do it well, but it's, it's hard.

Jason Jacobs:  And if the goal is to get more people who have environment as their number one issue to the polls, if you look at kind of that as a assembly line, right? Where are the bottlenecks now? Like where, where are the areas of highest leverage?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. So, uh, first let me tell you what are not bottlenecks. Voter registration is a lot less of a bottleneck than it used to be. Now we don't do voter registration work and it is always important for people to be doing voter reg work, but the climate movement and the broader progressive movement does not have a registration problem, at least nowhere close to the, the turnout problem that we have.

Jason Jacobs:  Why do you think that issue has been alleviated?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Part of it is just because of really good legislation that's been passed, that's made, that's made it easier for people to automatically register to vote. Uh, that's a lot of it, another part of it has to do with voter file software. It's just so much easier for people in a really fast, nimble way to target folks who are eligible, but unregistered and contact them in a way that wasn't even the case necessarily eight or 10 years ago. But a lot of it just has to do with legislation that's passed and not just in, in blue States, but also in purple States.

Jason Jacobs:  Okay. So voter Reg is one. What else?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. So, but-

Jason Jacobs:  Or voter reg is one that's not.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  That's, that's not a bottleneck.

Jason Jacobs:  Yeah.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  One bottleneck that does exist is coronavirus. I mean, coronavirus has made voting easier in a bunch of ways, but what it is really hard is door to door canvassing. It is really hurting. And you know, at the Environmental Voter Project, we use a lot of cutting edge communication tools. We text, we do digital ads. We do some old school like direct mail and phone calls, but looking someone in the face and having a conversation with them at the door, remains the most effective way to turn someone from a non-voter into a voter.

And not only is it a lot harder to do that in a pandemic, but we have reason to believe that even if the progressive movement threw away its moral qualms with door to door canvassing, and just started knocking on doors, as much as conservatives do, it wouldn't be as impactful because progressive's don't want strangers showing up at their doors, [laughs] talking to them in the middle of a pandemic. But we shouldn't ignore that that's a really important thing that's been missing for the past nine or 10 months.

It's just harder to get people to change their behavior when you can't look them in the eye and have a conversation with them about it, it is much, much harder. And then the third thing also has to do with canvassing, but let's say the pandemic were over. Let's say we could go back to door to door canvassing like it was a year ago. Well, that's always the hardest thing to scale up. It's just so much harder to scale up than everything else we do. And not just at the Environmental Voter Project, but the, the broader climate movement writ large.

You know, I scale up our direct mail plan or our digital ad plan, Jason, by typing an extra zero on my keyboard and hitting enter. [laughs] That's how hard it is to scale that up. Our texting and calling is completely remote. We have 5,000 volunteers around the country who can dial in and contact our voters. Those things are really easy to scale. The hard thing to scale is door to door canvassing. If we have a volunteer in Boise, Idaho, they can't knock on a door of a non-voting environmentalist in Orlando, Florida. They just can't. And so that's the really, really hard thing to scale because political elections are still localized. And so that's a really big bottleneck in the voter turnout world.

Jason Jacobs:  So one interesting thing that I'm not hearing you say is I'm not hearing you say it's a bottleneck to get more people to have environment as their number one issue.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  It's not. I mean, would that help? Yeah, but right now the behavioral problem is larger than the persuasion problem. By which I mean, there are more people who list climate or the environment as their number one priority who don't vote then do vote. And so there is a larger opportunity through changing behavior than through changing minds. Does that mean we should do no persuasion? No, we should absolutely try to change hearts and minds, but that is less of a problem, less of a bottleneck, if you will, than the behavioral issue we're facing

Jason Jacobs:  And percentage wise, what are the biggest reasons why these voters are staying at home or not voting?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. You know, it's a very, very hard question to answer. And the reason is this, if you're a social scientist, you know, a psychologist, a sociologist, an economist, it's really easy to set up an experiment that tells you how to get someone to do something, you know, give them a $2 coupon and they'll buy your coffee. It's a lot harder to do the opposite. It's almost impossible to set up an experiment that is really scientifically rigorous and tells you why someone is not doing something.

Really, the only thing you can do is ask them. And when you ask people why they aren't doing something that society views as important, they lie their pants off, it's, what's called social desirability bias. They give you a lot of inaccurate or false answers. So I can tell you, Jason, what a lot of the excuses people give for not voting, but for a whole bunch of reasons, we're not convinced that they're causally related to them not voting.

So I'll give you some examples. A lot of environmentalist say, oh, I don't vote because politicians don't care about the issues that I care about. But guess what, Jason, when we poll people who never miss an election and they vote all the time, they also say, oh yeah, politicians don't care about the issues that I care about. [laughs] So that might lead us to believe that like maybe the non-voters... Maybe that's not the causal reason for them not voting. It could be, but it also could not be. It could just be them giving a socially palatable excuse for not voting.

Here's what we do know though. I've now given you like all these enormous caveats about why we don't have a great answer for you, but let me tell you what we do know. One, we know that for decades, if not generations, the environmental movement has spoken about impact in completely apolitical ways, right?

If you care about climate change, or if you care about the environment, change how you get to work, change what you eat, change the electricity you consume, don't pollute, recycle, like all these things that are very impactful, but they have nothing to do with politics. Whereas if you care about immigration or reproductive rights or guns, you view that as inherently political.

And so this is really unique in the environmental space. And by the way, it's kind of by design. I mean, the fossil fuel industry has spent a lot of PR money trying to make people think that this is all like their own personal faults. And if you want to fix the environment, all you need to do is give a hoot, don't pollute, which is like total BS. So that's one thing that's going on. We're, we're just-

Jason Jacobs:  You just stated yourself by the way, give a hoot, don't pollute. Just from the '80s. [laughs]

Nathaniel Stinnett:  That's right. [laughs] I did blame myself. But that's one thing that's going on. The environmental movement hasn't gotten politicized or at least not as quickly as sort of some other issue, constituency groups. The second thing that's going on here, and this isn't a causal relationship, but it's a, it's an important correlation. And that is, when you look at these climate first and environment first people, they aren't you and me, Jason, they aren't white dudes wearing Patagonia, fleeces driving around in their electric vehicles, nor are they like Birkenstock wearing hippies.

Instead they are far more likely to be black or Latino than white. They're far more likely to make less than $50,000 a year than more. And yes, they're much more likely to be 34 years old or younger than older. And one of those three groups of people have in common that I just mentioned? Young people, people of color and people who make less than 50 grand a year, they don't vote that often. And so part of what's going on here is also just a mere demographic correlation that people who tend to care deeply about the environment are parts of populations that just always vote less often.

Jason Jacobs:  So how do you think about things like the progressive climate agenda versus a more centrist approach?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Well, first let me say, I'm giving lots of caveats here. I'm a political guy, not a policy guy. But from a political point of view, I can say, I think a lot of people are being misled into thinking that there is a higher likelihood that centrist climate policy gets passed as opposed to leftist or progressive climate policy. Leah Stokes, professor at, oh gosh, UC Santa Barbara. One of UCs, I think it's UC Santa Barbara, has done a lot of great work on this showing that actually things like The Green New Deal are just as politically palatable, just as politically supported as, uh, you know, revenue neutral carbon pricing and things like that. And so the first thing I would say is, I wouldn't just assume from a political perspective that there is a need to be moderate or centrist in order to get more votes.

The second thing that I would say is the reason we are not getting climate leadership is not, is not because we have a bunch of intellectually honest people who really want to get things done and they're sitting around a table in the Roosevelt room and Gosh Garnett, Chuck Schumer, and you know, Mitch McConnell just can't get to an agreement. Like, no, of course that's not happening. Mitch McConnell does not want to get to, yes.

Like the, the problem is not that we're 98% there and just need to get a compromise. It all has to do with political power. Politicians go where the votes are. Politicians want power, politicians like to win. Nothing motivates a politician more than the prospect of winning or losing. And I find it really hard to believe that conservatives are going to feel even 1% better about centrist climate policy than they are about really leftist progressive climate policy.

Now, I could be wrong, I could be wrong, but I at least haven't seen any evidence that there are a bunch of intellectually honest people who are all aiming towards solving the climate crisis and they just can't get the deal done. I'm not seeing that at all. I'm seeing a lot of political power brokering. That's the issue there. The issue is a lack of political power, not a lack of like possible compromise solutions.

Jason Jacobs:  Where does the role of corporate PAC money fit in?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  I think there is no doubt that money and gerrymandering are the two things that really distort the efficiency of the political marketplace. No doubt whatsoever. And we could even see it in the climate movement. I mean the, the sea change that occurred in 2010 and 2011 after the citizens united decision came down and all of this corporate money started flooding politics, was immediate and dramatic. I mean, all of a sudden you had like eight to 10 Republican US senators who were climate leaders revert back 600 years into like pre-Galilean scientific views.

I mean, it would just happened like that. And so money is enormously powerful, but we need to remember why it's powerful. It is not powerful because these corporate packs are shoving like dollar bills into people's pockets, except for one-off things in Ohio, where there actually was a bribery scheme.

Most of the time, this money is only useful, it's only politically useful because it helps people get more votes. It always comes back to the votes, the person who gets more votes gets to be the policymaker. And so I bring that up because I also think it's important for the people who do care about addressing the climate crisis to understand that they can have that power too.

And I want to speak directly to a lot of your listeners, Jason, who are really like, sort of in the Vanguard of climate entrepreneurial-ism. Believe me, the fossil fuel industry is getting involved in campaigns. Believe me, they're dropping money. And you're operating in a really highly regulated environment here where policy makers are the necessary ingredient or at least a necessary ingredient to almost anything getting done. And so I would almost claim it as malpractice if you care deeply about the climate crisis to not get politically engaged.

And yeah, that also means spending money, being involved in clean energy groups that spend PAC money and things like that. Do I wish as a lefty progressive that there was less money in politics? You're damn right I do. But we need to like live with the rules as they are because political power is too important for us to just be like, ah, I'm not going to dirty my hands and play that game. No, we got to win these elections. You've got to get involved.

Jason Jacobs:  So I want to go back a bit and push on something that you said. So you said that it's not more likely that Centris climate policy will get passed more than progressive climate policy. So actually, if you want climate policy passed, it's not about compromise, it's about power. So I can appreciate that. And I don't necessarily disagree. But what I've heard from, out in the ether-

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]

Jason Jacobs:  ... is that it appears that climate science is real, climate science is fake. Like climate change is caused by humans or, you know, climate change is natural occurrence. Like that's what they say, but that a lot of the people saying that it's not real, what they actually mean is that they can't agree that they know it's real, but they can agree on the approach to address.

And coming back around to the centrist versus the progressive, there's quite different approaches that I see on how to address. So it isn't necessarily just about getting something passed, it's about getting the right thing passed. And so you can't call someone an environmental voter without understanding... I mean, I kind of feel like the camp that they're in matters as it relates to the policy that you can ultimately hope gets put in place. So that's not a really kind of pointed succinct question, but just generally, how do you react to that? How do you think about that?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. No, and I think it's... I'm so glad that you asked and I think it's really important. First, let me be clear, I'm not saying that policy differences and policy nuances are unimportant, and certainly there are good policies and bad policies and good ways to solve policy problems and bad ways to solve policy problems. And oftentimes Centra solutions are better than lefty solutions and sometimes lefty solutions are better than Centra solutions.

But I do think it's enormously important to understand that we live in a political environment where in October of 2016 or June of 2016, most Republicans were saying that Donald Trump was the devil. And five months later when he was president or president elect, they were shining his shoes and doing whatever he said. And it's not just a Republican thing. I mean, Hillary Clinton was like in front of the free trade parade until she decided up, I'm going to run for president. [laughs] If I'm going to win the democratic nomination, I can't be this huge cheerleader for free trade.

Politicians aren't as wed to where they are on the ideological spectrum, as much as they just love winning elections. And I know that sounds cynical. Like, believe me, I haven't been doing this for so long that I can't recognize the cynical words when they come out of my mouth. But nothing motivates a politician more than the prospect of winning or losing an election. So regardless of whether you are promoting centrist climate policy solutions or progressive climate policy solutions, I think the most important thing to understand are these two matters. One, what policy solutions are best at addressing these climate problems that we have?

Like, yeah, you always want to put forward good policy solutions. But two, if the reason you're putting forward a particular solution is because you think there's a higher likelihood of getting it passed, well, break out of your bubble a bit and look at the actual data. Because when you look at the actual data, there is not more political support for Centris climate solutions than there is for the sort of investment and standards and justice approach, whether it be The Green New Deal or, or otherwise.

Usually if you take that approach, you lose almost no Republicans and conservatives and you'll gain a lot of extra progressives and Democrats. Now, am I claiming that all the messaging around The Green New Deal is perfect and not at all harmless? No. A lot of the messaging has been crap. But in general, I think there is this really sort of misleading framework in the progressive world that somehow progressive climate policies are less politically popular than centrist ones. And that's not the case. And again, I want to be clear, I'm not [crosstalk 00:45:51]

Jason Jacobs:  I, I think what, what you're saying is they're both wildly unpopular and that it's not about winning hearts and minds, it's about power and sharpening elbows and winning in direct combat. That's what I'm hearing.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. That's about 90% of what I'm saying. I wouldn't Say that they're both unpopular and boy, are we really like splitting hairs here now, but-

Jason Jacobs:  Both unpopular on one side of the aisle.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. Yeah. And there's a huge difference between preferences and priorities, right? Tons of people will always trot out polls saying like, oh, you know, 75% of Americans want to address the climate crisis. Well, like, let's be honest with ourselves, who cares. If 70 of those 75% list climate as their seventh most important priority, well then their preferences don't matter. Just don't matter. 80% of Americans prefer apples to oranges, but we're not going to shut down the Florida citrus industry.

And so like priorities matter, priorities matter. And yeah, when I talk about increasing, dramatically increasing the climate movements political power, we need to dramatically increase the number of environment first and climate first people who vote. And when that happens, whether it's, we're trying to get centrist climate policy across the end zone or lefty climate policy across the end zone, almost doesn't matter because it's always going to be easier to do that if politicians feel like they can spend their political capital on stuff.

Jason Jacobs:  So I don't know, I don't know if this is an area that you think about as part of your core responsibilities. It may not be actually, but you're pretty close to the stuff. So I'll ask it anyways. If Biden's transition team called you up, president elect Biden and said, "Hey, you're closer to the ground than anyone as it relates to getting more environmentalist to the polls. And, and ultimately for us, you know, we care about facilitating the clean energy transition and creating jobs, creating abundance for all. You know, what should we be thinking about in the first three months, six months, one year of our administration to make the most headway the fastest?" What would your advice be to them?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. So I'm going to continue my tradition of starting with a caveat. I'm a political guy, not a policy guy, you know.

Jason Jacobs:  You are going to say that.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. [laughs]

Jason Jacobs:  [laughs]

Nathaniel Stinnett:  So whatever, whatever I say, you're probably going to have, you know, hundreds of listeners saying, oh, Nathaniel doesn't know what he's talking about, but-

Jason Jacobs:  That's the old MCJ. Now it'll be thousands Nathaniel.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  [laughs] Thousands, thousands. Sorry. One thing to continue a variation on the same theme I would say is, don't be afraid to wield your political power. Even though I run a non-partisan organization, personally, I'm a lefty progressive. It feels dirty for me to say stuff like this. Progressives feel uncomfortable saying like, oh, you won an election, wield your power, get what you want. I feel dirty even like saying it now, but we need to get more comfortable doing that.

And so that means before we even get to the nitty-gritty of what, of the qualitative stuff of the policies, logistically, the Biden administration needs to get real comfortable, real fast using executive actions, using agency regulatory power and using executive orders. What they should not do is get bogged down in a year long process trying to get something through Congress, regardless of whether Democrats win these two Senate seats in Georgia.

That's hard. That's not to say they shouldn't also do the hard stuff, but they should do the easy stuff right away, actual qualitative stuff. Again, we're getting out of my comfort zone here. But one thing that Donald Trump showed us is not only is there extraordinary power in executive orders, but there's extraordinary power in executive orders that are enabled by the commander-in-chief claiming that something is a significant national security threat.

And the Pentagon is on record and has been for a long, long time about how large a national security threat the climate crisis is. And so one thing I'd love to see Joe Biden do is on day one claim that the climate crisis is a significant national security threat. And what that would enable him to do is open up a whole bag of trade policy and foreign policy tricks that otherwise he would not have access to.

Things like, and I'm not suggesting that this is the way to go, but things like putting tariffs on a whole bunch of carbon intensive goods, essentially bypassing Congress and getting a border carbon tax without having to have a vote on it. Now, would there be ramifications? Would it start a carbon-like price trade war? Well, you know, we should be so lucky. But, uh, [laughs] but like there are pretty significant things like that that can be addressed through executive orders.

Now, again, I want to be clear, I'm not a policy expert. Maybe there are 17 really good reasons why he should not do that thing that I just suggested, but I am confident that they should be big and bold in using presidential executive power and agency regulatory power.

Jason Jacobs:  Now I want to switch gears and I guess this will be the last question, but this is kind of a more micro question, which is the same question. But if you look at your purview with EVP, what is the biggest thing, if you could wave your magic wand, that someone would do that is outside of the scope of responsibilities at EVP that would make your work at EVP more effective?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Statehood for Washington DC.

Jason Jacobs:  Why is that?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  I mean, there are so many... I mean, we briefly touched on how money and gerrymandering impacts the efficiency of the political marketplace, but even without that, even without that, the, even if every district was drawn perfectly fairly, and even if we solved every campaign finance problem, our democracy is still lopsided against the progressive movement. And I'll give you some data coming out of this, this election.

Joe Biden, it looks like is going to win the national vote by about 4.3, 4.4%. But he only won, I think 223 house districts. So not Democrats running for Congress. I mean, Joe Biden won 223 house districts, which means he had like a 2% or a 2.3% lead in house districts. So even if you get rid of gerrymandering, the fact that the, the progressive movement, the fact that people who care about climate and issues like climate are so densely packed into urban and suburban communities is always going to disadvantage us.

Because even if you get rid of gerrymandering, even if you draw legislative lines in a "fair way," it, progressives can't help, but waste votes in 70, 30 house districts. Whereas it's a lot easier for conservatives and Republicans to draw districts that are safe but not wasteful like 60, 40 districts or 55, 45 districts. And so the progressive movement needs to have some end around solutions for this 18th century democratic marketplace that we still need to live with.

And things like, you know, drop in $500 million on a five-year PR campaign to get DC statehood would be huge, huge, two extra probably reliably progressive votes in the US Senate. I mean, boy, is that a great ROI if it only costs $500 million to get statehood? [laughs] I mean, I don't know if that's the appropriate price tag, but that's a really efficient return on, on investment.

Jason Jacobs:  And I said, last question, but actually before the show, I gave you a rough outline of the kinds of topics I was planning to talk about. And you said, oh, the one thing I want to add is our work in Georgia. And it's been 54 minutes of us blabbering and your work in Georgia hasn't come up once. So Nathaniel, I understand you've been doing some exciting work in Georgia.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  [laughs] Funny you should ask, Jason. Funny you should ask.

Jason Jacobs:  [laughs] Glad that just organically came up.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. How, how about that? I love that.

Jason Jacobs:  [laughs]

Nathaniel Stinnett:  So we're not newcomers to Georgia. It was the first state that we expanded into after our proof of concept back in 2017. And the reason we did it was our research showed there were just huge, huge numbers of non-voting environmentalist in Georgia. It was a great opportunity for us. There was this huge pool of latent political power. And so before 2020 even started, before we even walked into this presidential election year, the Environmental Voter Project through our cumulative work in a lot of these elections, had already graduated 49,000 people out of our program. By which I mean 49,000 of these non-voting or seldom voting environmentalists were now voting so consistently that they voted in local state and federal elections.

That's before 2020 even began. Then in the 2020 presidential, we were targeting, gosh, I think like 210,000, 215,000 never voted before environmentalist. And we got 69,000 of them to vote early, to vote before election day even arrived. Now we don't know how many additional ones voted on election day because they're still updating voter files, but we've been doing great work.

And so what that means is now that the whole world is turning their eyes to Georgia in these two US Senate races, they are going to a runoff on January 5th. And for your listeners who don't know, Georgia has this weird thing where if you don't get 50% of the vote, 50% plus one, the election goes to a runoff. Republicans have 50 Senate seats, Democrats have 48. These two seats will decide control of the US Senate. And the Environmental Voter Project is now sort of standing on the shoulders of three years of our work turning non-voters into voters in the state of Georgia.

And that we have identified by name and street address 382,000 Georgia environmentalist, who are unlikely to vote in these January 5th runoffs. And every single day, our volunteers are calling and texting them with behavioral science, informed messaging. We're sending them digital ads and direct mail, and we are just moving heaven and earth to do everything we can to make sure environmentalist flood the polls in these Georgia US Senate runoffs.

Jason Jacobs:  I'm glad I asked. Yeah, no, that, that's awesome. Hard to fathom the stakes of these couple elections.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Yeah. It's everything. It's everything. If you care deeply about the climate crisis, you can't take time off. I know we're all tired. [laughs] I know the election seemed like it lasted for seven years. Me too, you know, I'm tired too, but you gotta pay attention to Georgia folks.

Jason Jacobs:  And if people want to learn more and/or look to support the Environmental Voter Project, what should they do? Where should they go?

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Please go to You can sign up to volunteer, we will train you and we'll make it really, really easy for you to call or text these non-voting environmentalist in Georgia using these proven scripts that we have. You can also donate to support our work. There's a no limit on the donation that you can give to us. You can't get a tax write off, I'm sorry, but there is no limit. You can break the bank and support our work. And you can also just go to our website, and go to the reports and studies tab. And you can learn a little bit more about the results that we've gotten in the past, some of the research.

You know, Jason asked me why aren't these environmentalist voting. We've actually done a lot of really nuanced, interesting research around this issue. And you can find that there. So please visit our website, learn about our work, sign up to volunteer and give us all your money, all your money, because we're really getting great results. We just need more fuel in the tank to get it done in Georgia.

Jason Jacobs:  Awesome. Well, thanks so much for... Now I feel bad taking an hour of your time to talk to me when you should have been banging the phones with those 380 something thousand Georgia potential voters.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  There we go, potential voters.

Jason Jacobs:  Yeah.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  That's it, that's it. [laughs].

Jason Jacobs:  But yeah, this is awesome. This was part two. Maybe at some point we'll do a part three, but I learn something every time we, we get to spend time together and I have fun too. So thanks so much, Nathaniel, for coming on the show and for everything that you do

Nathaniel Stinnett:  Well, it's my pleasure, Jason. And really, I am just so in awe of this community that you have built. I hope you take real pride in it. And I hope that everybody who's a part of it and makes it what it is takes real pride in it. I mean, we obviously have enormous problems to solve in the climate community and what you're doing is just so, so crucially important and I'm so, so grateful to you. So thank you to you and thank you to everybody who's a part of what you're doing.

Jason Jacobs:  Well, right back at you. So this was the fun love fest and best of luck.

Nathaniel Stinnett:  [laughs] Thanks Jason.

Jason Jacobs:  Hey everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at Note, that is .co, not .com. Someday we'll get the .com, but right now, .co. You can also find me on Twitter at JayJacobs22, where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.