Dear Debate Moderators: It’s Time For a Serious Talk About Climate Change

by Rebecca Gerber

September 29, 2016

Climate change only got 82 seconds of airtime in the first presidential debate — we have to do better than this.

Can Has Climate Future?

Marchers at the 2015 People's Climate Movement. Photo by Peter Campbell / Flickr.

This Monday was the first debate between the two major presidential candidates, and while it revealed a lot about their personalities, it gave us little new insight into how they’ll take on some of the country’s most pressing challenges.

On climate change in particular, we heard next to nothing (82 seconds to be exact). Climate got exactly two mentions during the debate — first when Hillary Clinton brought up Donald Trump’s view that climate change is a “hoax created by the Chinese” (yes, he really said that), and later when Trump tried to chide Clinton and President Obama for treating climate change like the national security risk that it is.

Two mentions, and not a single question from moderator Lester Holt about how each candidate will tackle one of the greatest threats facing the planet.

And in the absence of any serious discussion, we’ve yet to hear details on a climate plan from either candidate that addresses a major solution to climate change: keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

But in just a couple of weeks, that might change.

For the first time, questions for the next presidential debate on October 9 — moderated by Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz — will come from topics that are being discussed on social media. The popularity of the #keepitintheground movement certainly makes climate change a contender, but it’s up to us to make sure it’s on the agenda.

Here’s why it should be.

For one, the impacts of climate change are ramping up at home and abroad. Last year was the hottest year on record, and 2016 is on track to break that record. This summer, more than 40,000 homes in Louisiana were destroyed by catastrophic flooding, and with rapidly rising seas and extreme weather we can expect more climate-fueled disasters to come.

As part of the Paris agreement on climate change, President Obama pledged that the United States will do its part to keep climate change from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s a commitment that will fall to either Clinton or Trump to honor. Clinton praised the agreement as a “historic step forward,” while Trump vowed to “cancel” it (fact check: he can’t do that).

And — perhaps most important in the context of a presidential debate — climate change matters to American voters! Polling shows that 65 percent of adults want the U.S. government to act on climate change.

What’s at stake in the climate debate.

In the end, this isn’t really a policy competition between the two candidates. The gap between Clinton and Trump on climate is perhaps wider than on any other issue — one wants to combat climate change by aggressively pursuing renewable energy, the other wants to drill, mine, and frack us into oblivion.

And there’s this.

So why do we need the candidates to talk about climate change?

Because we need to show the world that our next administration will take the challenge seriously. Because we need to know how they’ll move us from words to actions. And because we need a president who will keep fossil fuels in the ground and protect us from catastrophic climate change — starting day one in the Oval Office.

Half the questions for the next presidential debate will come from undecided voters (if you’re one of the lucky people chosen to appear, you know what to ask!). The other half will come from the moderators, and your input could decide whether or not climate change is one of their chosen topics.

Raise your voice today to ensure that the candidates address the most important issue of this election!

Rebecca Gerber

By Rebecca Gerber

Rebecca Gerber is a Senior Online Strategist at Greenpeace USA. She works as part of Greenpeace's RESIST project that aims to inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action against the Trump Administration's anti-climate agenda.

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