The campaign for U.S. Senate candidate Mike Beitiks begins with a message of comfort to his prospective constituents: “ISIS. Obamacare. Russia. The NSA. Wealth disparity. Immigration reform. Gun control. What do all of these hot issues for the 2016 election have in common? None of them matter because we’re all going to die.” Beitiks’ platform is singular: Halt government action until climate change is addressed. While the San Franciscan native is certain this message won’t get him elected, he’s hopeful that his extremely narrow campaign will at least offer consolation to those who fear human extinction, if only by letting them know they’re not alone.
The other day, I spoke with Beitiks — a licensed lawyer and father of two — about his first foray into politics.
Where did the campaign come from?
I’m pretty much just a regular person. I have a law degree and I’m not completely unfamiliar with the political system. But, like many people, I have a certain level of unresolved anxiety about the climate crisis, and was not seeing any political reaction I found satisfactory, or even close to satisfactory. I just decided, well, if no one else is going to be the voice of reason, I’m more than happy to do this.
How does one throw one’s name into the ring?
It is initially as simple as just doing a website and reaching out to different media outlets. I am not officially registered with the Department of Elections yet. That’s something that doesn’t have to happen until you raise ten thousand dollars in campaign contributions. It is currently out of my fundraising budget.
Why are you making climate change your central — I guess, only — issue?
It is very clearly a huge problem that is not being put to rest in any meaningful way. It’s being approached as something that will improve our quality of life, rather than what we’re actually dealing with, which is something more akin to a wartime effort. And I don’t want that to sound extremist, but there’s a certain level of morality that can be removed from the situation. So much of politics is saturated with morality, talking about individual liberty — things I don’t belittle in any sense — but I think the climate crisis is something as real as Pearl Harbor, and is being treated as debatable as something that’s a matter of private morality. This is an issue of survival and fact-based rational action rather than a time for nuanced moral debate.
You say you don’t want to sound extremist, but your website starts with “we’re all going to die”?
There is obviously a certain level of absurdity in the way I present myself. But I consider that to be an equal and opposite reaction to what I see as the absurdity of, for example, the Keystone XL pipeline debate — which, if you’re really grasping climate change, and what’s going on with fossil fuels and the downward spiral we’re having, the absurdity of actively debating expanding our fossil fuel production in a way that would degrade the environment further, it’s equally absurd.
We exist in a political climate where it’s not okay to treat Americans as adults who understand responsibility. No politician is willing to look us all in the eye and say, “Hey, we’re in bad shape. Let me tell you the truth and let’s do what is necessary.” It doesn’t seem like politicians are willing to impose tough love on their constituents. No one wants to be the guy who says, “We have to change our lifestyle dramatically, everything we’re doing is not working out,” because generally folks want to be re-elected.
This is, let’s say, a two-part question. What’s wrong with the general conversation about climate change? And if you do get elected, how would you change that?
The amount of kow-towing that happens with climate change deniers and the amount of time you spend politicizing an issue that is not a political issue is, obviously, a huge issue. My solution is using various political tools — — such as Senatorial holds and filibusters — to essentially stop politics until we deal with that. It sounds extreme — it is extreme — but that’s my opinion of what’s necessary.
I would like to be the extreme voice on the other side. No one on the left is willing to be as extreme as climate deniers are, and I think that is a failure of the climate realist. Given that I have no desire to have a future in politics, I’d be more than willing to torch my political career to do that.
How has the response been so far with your campaign? Has there been a response?
It’s mostly Internet stuff at this point. I was on Reddit, albeit the humor section. I got a couple thousands hits off that, and a few dozen emails from concerned and excited Californians. Part of the absurdity in what I’m trying to do with the website is that I think there’s a large population of people who feel the way I do; what is absurd is that it’s not okay to voice that concern. We are dealing with a very terrifying thing, and the fact that we’re not admitting how terrifying it is is greatly inhibiting how we can realistically address it.
I don’t expect to win the election. I would love to — I would be more than happy to carry out as many of campaign promises as I can before they kick me out or I get assassinated. But my hope is to remind people who are ultimately going to be having this debate that there are people who feel as strongly about something as they do.
I don’t think climate change is a very distant and slow-moving process, and I want my campaign to attach immediacy to that problem. I use a lot of humor in my pitch because I feel like humor is immediate, humor is right now; you understand directly, you don’t have to run any models. I would like to connect those two energies. The slow-moving terror and quick-moving laughter, basically. There’s so much darkness around climate change. Most of us who are feeling the way I am — scared or like nothing’s happening — it’s a bad place to be, mentally and on a day-to-day operations level.
What one person can do doesn’t seem like it’s going to help at all.
There’s a certain freezing effect of global warming, for lack of a better… [laughs] it’s such a weird language term there. But that’s what it feels like. I talk about filibustering and doing what I can to shut down government until this gets addressed, but people don’t change unless they’re forced to change. You don’t sweep your driveway if your neighbor’s not sweeping his driveway. There’s basic human psychology where, I’m not going to do something that someone else is not required to do. A lot of it comes down to individual liberty and what people want to believe, and I’m a full supporter of individual liberty, but there’s a lack of social responsibility when it comes to climate change that I feel should be dealt with, even if it’s some super under-qualified person as myself.
As afraid that people are of climate change, they’re afraid of what they would have to give up to properly address it, and I am of the belief that there is nothing to be afraid of there. We have become attached to certain ways of life that are not only damaging, but much more unnecessary than we would lead ourselves to believe. I was in Ghana for over two years. I lived in a village that had no electricity, no running water, essentially no real vehicle access in and out of the town. I fear climate change; I do not fear an upheaval of the current level of American comfort. That’s also not a popular opinion. Historically, things like that do work if you can sell it the right way — rationing for World War II, etc. Americans, or humans in general, are capable in paring down their consumption when persuasively presented with the facts of what needs to happen.
If this message resonates, what would be the next step for someone to do in regards to your campaign?
Yeah, this is as grass roots of a campaign as it gets. I would even say grass root, singular. So, just reach out to me, email me through the website. At this point I’m just building people support, and if anyone wants to connect me to money support, that seems to be necessary for this game. But just contact me through the website. Or just share with other people, let other people know.
Let’s be real. I would be shocked if I got on the ballot. There’s no one willing to put money in the political account of the guy whose platform is, let’s slow the economy down. That’s never going to happen. But don’t be afraid to ask your Congressional or Senatorial candidates why they won’t address it. Ask them what their plan is.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.