Blink and You Missed It, but We Got an Important Statement on Climate Change Last Night

by Ryan Schleeter

October 20, 2016

After three presidential debates and boundless opportunities to press the candidates on their plans for climate action, we didn’t get a single question on climate change. That speaks volumes.

Trump Clinton Final Presidential Debate

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in the final presidential debate of 2016. Image via Fox News stream.

Even after 23,000 of you signed on to demand moderators ask about climate — and another 46,000 boosted this climate question into the top tier of the Open Debate Coalition’s national voting platform — the moderators failed to bring it up. The 65 percent of Americans who want our government to act on climate change were left shaking their heads in disappointment.

Embedded in that deafening silence is a very important message: if our next president is going to be held accountable for bold climate action, it’s up to us.

The system has failed climate voters and the climate movement, but that does not mean we will fail. After all, this is the movement that managed to reverse President Obama’s positions on the Keystone XL pipeline and Arctic drilling and push the Democratic Party to embrace its most progressive platform ever.

In the end, the only time climate change has come up in this election is when Hillary Clinton has brought it up of her own volition. It might not seem like much, but here’s why it matters.

Clinton on Climate: The Good

Clinton is right to separate herself from Donald Trump — he’s atrocious on climate.

And she’s right to tout renewable energy as a smart economic decision. In fact, the only statement on climate change last night was from Clinton on how we need “new jobs and clean energy not only to fight climate change … but to create new opportunities and new business.”

As I’ve written before, the gap between Clinton and Trump is perhaps wider than on any other issue. Clinton’s website outlines a robust — if imperfect — plan to address climate change. Trump’s “energy plan” is a diatribe against every climate-smart decision the Obama administration has ever made. One accepts climate science, the other doesn’t.

But if Clinton thinks that’s going to be enough to meet the climate challenge should she take office, she’s mistaken.

Clinton on Climate: The Bad

We can’t afford a moderate approach to climate change from our next president — we need urgent action from day one. And there are good reasons to wonder if Clinton can be that president.

She played a prominent role in exporting fracking around the world as Secretary of State. Her campaign has repeatedly dodged questions about the Dakota Access Pipeline. She has significant financial ties to the oil and gas industry. She’s written in private emails that young climate activists need to “get a life.”

None of that feels good. But as activist Bill McKibben wrote recently, we know exactly where she stands. We know that if she’s elected, we’ll need to mobilize millions of people to push her to be the climate champion we need. And we know that the climate movement is strong enough to do that.

If Clinton is going to honor her commitment to “turn America into the world’s clean energy superpower” — which can only happen if she keeps fossil fuels in the ground and ditches this false “natural gas is a bridge fuel” narrative — it’s up to us to push her to be the most ambitious climate leader she can be.

Wait, do climate voters have any reason to consider Donald Trump?

Absolutely not. Now get out there and vote.

Ryan Schleeter

By Ryan Schleeter

Ryan Schleeter is a senior communications specialist with Greenpeace USA covering climate and energy. His writing has appeared in National Geographic, Grist, GreenBiz, EcoWatch, and more. Find him on Twitter @ryschlee.

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