The Second Presidential Debate: Can We Talk About Climate Change Now?

by Ryan Schleeter

October 7, 2016

Climate change got 82 seconds in the first presidential debate. Will grassroots pressure on moderators — and climate-fueled disasters like Hurricane Matthew — be enough to change that?

Trump and Clinton

Photos by Gage Skidmore / Flickr.

When we last saw Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the national debate stage, Trump was sniffling his way through his now-standard climate denial routine while Clinton was shimmying her way to viral fame.

A lot has happened in the intervening two weeks.

ICYMI: Here’s What’s Gone Down Since the Last Debate

Monday’s vice presidential debate told us very little, other than that the Republican National Committee needs to get its digital game together. Even so, we still learned quite a bit about the candidates at the top of ticket this week.

For one, closer looks Trump’s financial records — even as we wait on those tax returns — revealed his close connections to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Trump has personally invested somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline. Not only that, his top energy adviser Harold Hamm owns the fracking company whose oil would be shipped through the pipeline.

Speaking of Hamm, we also learned more this week about the literal garbage fire that makes up Trump’s energy advisory team. His team of climate deniers, oil billionaires, and fossil fuel lobbyists sends a very clear message: a Trump administration would do everything it can to protect polluting industries and increase our dependence on fossil fuels.

Meanwhile on the international stage, we’ve passed the threshold for the Paris Climate Agreement to take effect. Seventy-three nations accounting for 57 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — including the United States — have fully committed to the agreement.

Finally, the destructive path of Hurricane Matthew has given us a sobering reminder of how real the impacts of climate change are and what’s at stake if our leaders refuse to act.

Neither Trump nor Clinton have commented on the relationship between climate change and disasters like Hurricane Matthew — or the Paris Agreement, or the Dakota Access Pipeline, or anything climate-related — since the last debate. This Sunday, that needs to change.

OK Moderators, No More Playing Around

One big reason we’ve had such little discussion of climate change this election cycle is because debate moderators haven’t asked a single question about it. So we have a message for Sunday’s moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz: do better!

And we’re not alone. Twenty-two thousand of you have signed on to tell Cooper and Raddatz that you want them to ask about climate change this Sunday, and another 23,000 have boosted this question on climate change into the top five (as of publication time) on the Open Debate Coalition’s official crowd-sourcing platform.

As for whether Cooper and Raddatz will note this momentum and finally ask a question on climate change this weekend, we’ll have to watch and find out.

Why We’ll Be Watching the Second Presidential Debate

So far in the general election, Clinton has been coasting on the fact that all she has to do to maintain the gap between her and Trump on environmental issues is reaffirm her belief in climate science. She hasn’t spoken out on the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Paris Climate Agreement, her plan for climate and environmental justice, or how she’ll cut her own ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Until now, she hasn’t had to. That might be good enough to differentiate her from Trump, but it won’t be good enough if she’s elected president.

Our next president needs to keep fossil fuels in the ground and lead the fight against catastrophic climate change from day one. Based on his own statements and the team he’s surrounded himself with, it’s increasingly clear that this is not what a Trump presidency would look like. If Clinton wants to win with climate voters, she’ll use this debate as a chance to show that she’s not just a climate believer, but a leader.

It’s not too late to make your voice heard — tell the debate moderators to ask the candidates about climate change this Sunday!

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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