The Daily Pennsylvanian sat down with Wharton professor Eric Orts, who recently launched his campaign for the upcoming 2022 elections for a seat in the U.S. Senate for Pennsylvania, to discuss his decision to run for Pennsylvania Senator and his campaign goals.
Orts said that his campaign focus is on climate change, which he considers to be the most pressing issue of our time. As a Senator, he said, he hopes to use his position to achieve meaningful reform. He also said that he feels he has a solid chance in the race due to widespread awareness of the "climate emergency" among Pennsylvania voters.
Orts told the DP that he first thought about running for Senate after the re-election of Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Trump’s election came as a shock to Orts, who had spent considerable time speaking out against the former president, including publishing a piece with fellow Penn professors on the dangers of a candidate like him.
After conversations with friends, colleagues, and politicians, including former Penn professor and current president Joe Biden, Orts began to more seriously consider a run for the Pa. Senate. When he discovered that none of the women from the “Fab Four” — a name given to four Pa. representatives who campaigned together — were running, he decided to enter the race.
Orts said that he views climate change as the most pressing issue facing our world today, and as a result, he decided to make that a priority in his campaign. He explained that the United States is currently experiencing a climate emergency due to the ever-changing weather patterns seen across the country.
As a Senator, Orts said he would use his position to enact meaningful climate reform. He also plans on publishing a “green paper” as campaign material to show Pennsylvania voters the imminent danger the state faces from the changing climate.
He said that he saw rising temperatures as the biggest climate effect in Pennsylvania where heat waves will impact both rural and urban areas.
“One of the biggest threats is to jobs. So one of my big issues is that we really have to care about the climate because you have direct effects on labor productivity with heat waves and the loss of jobs you would see in industries like agriculture,” Orts said.
Cities like Philadelphia can expect to experience the “heat island effect” where urban areas experience dramatically higher temperatures than outlying areas due to the high density of building structures that absorb and emit heat from the sun.
“If we do nothing on climate then the average daily temperatures in Pennsylvania will increase by about six degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 and we'll have seven times the number of heat, extreme heat days, as we have today,” Orts said.
He also detailed other expected effects from climate change such as a shift to extreme weather patterns where Pennsylvania alternated between drought and massive rainfall. Flooding in the Delaware coastal zone could also become more common, he said. A lesser-known issue would be a likely increase in vector-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease, Orts said.
Orts said he feels confident about his chances of winning the election because of rising concern about climate change among the younger generations. According to a 2020 Pew Research poll, climate change is an important issue for around 68% of polled Democratic voters. His campaign expects that figure to increase over time as the impact of climate change becomes more apparent.
Beyond his climate-dominated campaign, Orts expects his status as a political outsider to work in his favor, rather than against him, in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has a high number of independents, and election results can often depend on which way independents swing. Orts explained that independents prefer outsiders by 61% and care about climate, citing a poll conducted by Monmouth University.
If elected, Orts said he would also work to eliminate the filibuster, as he sees it as a major obstacle to passing meaningful climate policy. He also said he supports the Biden administration’s approach to enacting climate change reform by mobilizing our resources and investing in cleaner power, vehicles, and agriculture, which will in turn create jobs in numerous sectors of the economy.
“I think the way to understand the climate challenge is to realize that there's a really direct threat to our lives, both with respect to our health and our everyday existence, including our jobs, but not to be afraid of that but to say, look, we really have to do something about this,” said Orts.