Lori Sturdevant
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Here's some grandmotherly advice to the grandfathers who are running for president: You should be saying more about climate change.

You owe it to your grandchildren and mine — not to mention to your own election prospects — to stop calling every trifling trouble "existential" and say more about a problem that really deserves that label.

I'll extend the same counsel to every other candidate up and down this year's ballot.

The system of representative democracy that has blessed this nation for 235 years unfortunately also has developed a great many incentives for short-term thinking. So many, I'll argue, that long-term threats to our shared well-being tend not to get their due.

That's been the pattern with climate change.

But that can change this year — a year when baby boomers (grandparents) and their kids (parents) dominate the U.S. electorate more fully than they ever have before and probably ever will again. For both of those big demographic cohorts, imagining the world our beloved youngsters will inherit tends to fix minds on the need to both curb the carbon emissions that are causing climate change and adapt to the changes that cannot be stopped.

So agreed another grandmother — U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, with whom I spoke this week after she spoke in Minneapolis to some 600 attendees at the Mid-America Regulatory Conference, a gathering of energy regulatory agency leaders from 14 states.

To her credit, Smith has made clean energy one of her legislative priorities in the six years she has been in office. (She is not on the ballot this year.) She helped negotiate key provisions of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the misleadingly named blockbuster bill that deploys a barrage of tax credits aimed at hastening America's transition to clean energy. That bill is the centerpiece of President Joe Biden's record to date on the climate issue.

Smith, I likely need not say, is a Democrat who enthusiastically backs Biden's re-election. She also shares my view that Biden could be doing and saying more to make clear both his climate record and intentions, and to contrast them with those of Republican former President Donald Trump.

"When pollsters ask people what matters to them in this election, the questions generally miss how much people are paying attention to the climate issue," Smith said. When people complain about rising costs for housing, food, insurance or health care, they are increasingly aware that climate change contributes to those trends. They want to know that their political leaders see the connection too, and aim to do something about it, she said.

It's not just boomers who are becoming climate voters, she added. Plenty of young adults are ahead of their elders in this regard. Biden needs those voters to show up at the polls with climate on their minds.

Those voters in particular should hear anew about Biden's climate record. The contents of the two-year-old Inflation Reduction Act would likely be news to many of them.

But all voters deserve to hear more about the benefits that lie ahead if the nation stays on the climate course Biden has set, Smith said. More renewable energy also means lower-cost energy. It means more jobs like the hundreds that have come to Mountain Iron, Minn., to make solar panels. It means less health-damaging pollution, which now disproportionately affects low-income and minority neighborhoods.

"The old story of the clean energy transition was a story about a lot of sacrifice," Smith told the conference. That story is out of date.

"I'm not saying this transition is easy. … But it is a story of opportunity that can result in more jobs, lower energy costs and a cleaner environment, and an economy that I think will be more just and equitable at the same time." What's more, she added, "The more we are leaders in this transition, the more opportunities will come our way."

That story is quite a contrast to the news out of Mar-a-Lago in April, when Trump reportedly asked oil industry executives to raise $1 billion for his campaign. In exchange, the Washington Post reported, Trump told the industry leaders that he would allow more oil drilling, relax environmental regulations and scrap auto emission limits intended to encourage the transition to electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, some members of Trump's party have gone so far as to ban the words "climate change" from state statutes.

Those strikingly different stories have not yet been told nearly often enough this year, nor have they reached enough of the electorate. Trust a grandma: A good story deserves to be told again and again.

Lori Sturdevant is a retired Star Tribune editorial writer. She is at lsturdevant@startribune.com.