Activists Double Down, Bring Call for a Climate Debate to DNC Headquarters
by Ryan Schleeter
June 12, 2019
Washington, DC, June 12, 2019 — Last week, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Tom Perez announced the party will not host an official primary debate on the climate crisis, and will restrict candidates from participating in third-party climate debates. Despite backlash, Perez remained committed to this stance in a lengthy statement posted to Medium yesterday.
In response, activists gathered at the DNC headquarters in Washington, DC, today to demand the party reverse its stance and provide a forum for presidential hopefuls to debate one of the greatest threats facing humanity today. Following pressure from the youth climate movement, over half the Democratic field  has already endorsed the call for a climate debate. Just yesterday at a campaign stop in Iowa, poll-leader Joe Biden went on record joining them.
Photos from the event are available here (more will be added throughout the day).
Karla Stephan, National Finance Director for the US Youth Climate Strike and featured speaker at today’s event, said:
“Young people across the country — and around the world — know the climate crisis requires serious consideration from the DNC and all candidates. Environmental conflicts are deeply interconnected with everything from public health to immigration to our food supply. The DNC is making it clear that the adults who got us into this crisis are unwilling to be the leaders to now solve this problem. We’re not giving up — and we’re not settling for soundbites. We demand action.”
Janet Redman, Climate Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA, said:
“Hosting an official debate on the climate crisis should be a no-brainer for the DNC — candidates want it and voters are demanding it. More people than ever are feeling the devastating impacts of climate change, and they deserve an ally in the White House who will carry forward the visionary promise of the Green New Deal and confront the fossil fuel executives standing in the way of progress. If we’re going to avert climate catastrophe in the next decade, we need to know where those vying to be our next president stand today.”
RL Miller, Political Director for Climate Hawks Vote, said:
“As a Woolsey Fire survivor, I’m appalled that the DNC is forbidding candidates from debating the greatest threat to my family’s existence. And I’m deeply worried that the refusal by the DNC to host a meaningful debate signals that the DNC is interested only in having candidates repeat pablum about climate science being real and returning to the Paris agreement. Voters are hungry for real solutions and only a debate will bring out the best plans.”
Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, North America Director for 350.org Action, said:
“The irony of Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee rejecting a climate debate while holding the upcoming debate in Miami, a city already impacted by storms and sea level rise, is not lost on us. The DNC is effectively denying the will of the people, when really they should’ve learned lessons from the 2016 election. All of us deserve to know how the next US president plans to act on Day One to protect our health, safety, and democracy. While fossil fuel executives extract from our climate and communities, especially poor and working class Americans, Black, Indigenous and communities of color, it’s frontline communities who bear the costs of fossil fuel billionaires’ delay and deception. We will push harder to ensure our communities’ demands for real solutions are heard. We urge all candidates to back this call.”
Collin Rees, Senior Campaigner at Oil Change U.S., said:
“The DNC doesn’t seem to get it — the climate crisis is at the top of voters’ minds. Tom Perez thinks having a climate-focused debate isn’t ‘practical.’ What’s not practical is a full, robust discussion of the climate crisis being crammed into short answers to limited questions in a normal debate. We desperately need real, well-developed solutions to confront the fossil fuel industry and transform our economy in an equitable way, and voters deserve to hear candidates make their pitches for those solutions in a prime-time debate setting. It’s time for the DNC to discard its tired excuses and stand with people over polluters.”
Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition, said:
“We are already experiencing devastating effects of global climate change – from increasingly severe storms, to bigger and hotter forest fires. There really isn’t a more important issue for candidates to be discussing than the fate of the Earth’s climate.”
Liz Butler, Vice President of Organizing and Strategic Alliances at Friends of the Earth Action, said:
“The DNC is stifling a robust discussion on the impacts of climate chaos and is allowing candidates to hide behind vague promises on addressing climate change. A debate on the climate crisis would have raised the stakes of what actions each candidate might take to slow climate change. The DNC needs to be clear that the climate crisis is front and center in this election and by foreclosing a climate debate, they are making the decision of who will lead the party forward even more difficult.”
Tom Steyer, President of NextGen America, said:
“Every day, lives are being threatened by the impacts of climate change, and the American people are demanding answers from their leaders. The DNC should reconsider their misguided decision to deny a climate debate and give the Democratic candidates a forum to educate voters on the biggest threat facing our country. It’s not only the smart thing to do, but the right one.”
Mitch Jones, Climate & Energy Program Director at Food & Water Action, said:
“The DNC needs to reverse its decision not to hold a climate crisis debate. The habitability of our planet is under existential threat and voters need to know where the candidates stand on this issue. We don’t have time to delay action and we need candidates that have aggressive, comprehensive plans to stave off the worsening effects of climate chaos and transition off fossil fuels.”
Lisa Hymas, Climate and Energy Program Director at Media Matters for America, said:
“The DNC plans to rely on host media outlets to ask about climate change during debates, but that approach failed miserably the last time around. Only 1.5% of questions during the 2016 presidential primary season debates were about climate change, and nearly half of the debates featured no climate questions at all. If the DNC is serious about having candidates discuss responses to the climate crisis in depth, then it needs to dedicate a whole debate to it.”
Brandy Doyle, Campaign Manager for CREDO Action, said:
“We don’t have time for this. We can’t wait another four years for the Democratic Party to start taking the climate crisis seriously. Without a substantive debate to help voters evaluate candidates’ proposed solutions, we can’t ensure that Democrats will nominate someone who is truly ready and able to lead. Tom Perez and the rest of the DNC would be wise to act with the urgency this crisis demands and allow candidates an opportunity to share and debate their climate plans in a meaningful way. Until they do, the grassroots pressure will only increase.”
Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement Co-Founder, said:
“Climate change is an existential threat that impacts every aspect of our lives. Young people are tired of the DNC’s bogus excuses about how a climate debate would be ‘impractical.’ Our survival is on the line and we have a right to a real debate between the candidates on their plans to preserve civilization as we know for our generation and those to come.”
Today, organizers are delivering more than 200,000 petition signatures from people across the country asking the DNC to listen to voters and organize a debate. The signatures were collected by CREDO Action, Greenpeace USA, Climate Hawks Vote, Oil Change U.S., Daily Kos, Friends of the Earth Action, Public Citizen, Endangered Species Coalition, People Demanding Action, CPD Action, Women’s March National, Bold Nebraska, Bold Alliance, Amazon Watch, 350 Action, Sunrise Movement, Food & Water Action, NextGen America, US Youth Climate Strike, and MoveOn.
After receiving almost no airtime  during the 2016 debates, climate change has already emerged as one of the defining issues of the 2020 election. An April CNN poll ranked climate change the top issue among Democratic voters, with 96 percent of respondents saying it’s “very important” that candidates take “aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change.”
 Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Julian Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mike Gravel, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Seth Moulton, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang have all publicly called for a climate debate.
Ryan Schleeter, Greenpeace USA: +1 (415) 342-2386, [email protected]
Crystal Mojica, Greenpeace USA: +1 (646) 530-1581, [email protected] (in Washington, DC)