Congrats, America, for making it through the 2016 debate cycle without a single mention of climate change!
For the entirety of this year’s punishing election cycle, debate moderators (and, for the most part, presidential candidates) have demonstrated that climate change is not a disaster significant enough to merit their time. It’s understandable—if you aren’t in one of the southern states that has experienced historic deadly flooding this year, you probably are less worried about increased precipitation and sea level change, and more worried about keeping your job and not getting shot in a mall. And even if you are in a flood, you might care less about the amorphous theoretical concept that caused it, and more about access to healthcare and reliable insurance.
All we did get was a kind of vague non-question from American icon Ken Bone that led Trump to praise an invented thing called “clean coal,” which allowed the candidates to parry with generalizations about “jobs” and “industry,” without being questioned on their actual policy proposals. So what do we know?
On Hillary Clinton’s website, she calls climate change an “urgent threat” and a “defining challenge of our time.” She proposes generating “enough renewable energy to power every home in America” by installing 500 million solar panels in her first term, cutting energy waste to make the country more efficient, and reducing American oil consumption by a third. To achieve these goals, she proposes she’ll cut subsidies to oil and gas companies, cut methane emissions, and revitalize coal mining communities. At the Democratic National Convention, Clinton affirmed, “I believe in science.”
Trump, on the other hand, has said that climate change is a hoax (though later denied denying it), he has pledged to rescind “all job-destroying Obama executive actions including the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule,” plus he has promised to save the coal industry, cancel the Paris Climate Agreement (a stance which 375 scientists decried), stop payments to UN global warming programs, and lift restrictions on American energy. But it would appear he believes in climate change just enough to protect his own golf course from it.
The threat posed by climate change has never been so dire. From The Guardian:
This year hasn’t exactly been short of climate conversation topics – 2016 is on track to be the warmest on record, beating a mark set just in 2015. The Paris climate accord has been ratified by countries around the world while the Obama administration has attempted to implement its Clean Power Plan in the teeth of fierce opposition from 27 states. Alaska barely had a winter this year while some American communities are already having to relocate due to rising seas.
But we don’t talk about it at the debates, largely because discussions about climate change are only conceptually scary and boring as hell. For a Grist article, Los Angeles Times columnist and former primary debate moderator Doyle McManus said, “[A big goal of debates], to put it as crassly as possible, is to produce a good television show.”
“It doesn’t grab viewers the same way other stuff does: bombing in New York, terror, immigration,” agreed former New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Tom Fahey, who worked on two primary debates. “I’m just talking about Joe Sixpack.”
In a word, arguing about an immediate, however infinitesimal threat is sexy; pondering a slow, distant death is just kind of sad.
“I’ve been shocked at the lack of questions on climate change,” said climate scientist Kerry Emanuel in an interview with The Guardian. “It really is fiddling while the world burns. This is the great issue of our time and we are skirting around it. I’m just baffled by it... It’s like a sort of collective cowardice.”
Americans should feel free to register protest votes, but when you vote Green, remember that only one presidential candidate is threatening to dislodge every helpful climate-related policy we’ve established thus far, and a few thousand Jill Stein votes is not going to change that.