By any reasonable measure, climate change is a serious issue that is worthy of significant attention during the presidential debates. Yet as our debate scorecard documented, the topic was ignored by the moderators of the first presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate, further heightening the need for ABC’s Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper to lead a substantial climate discussion when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump square off on October 9.
Global warming is having profound and wide-ranging impacts in the United States, and a climate question would be just as relevant to a discussion about national security, the economy, or public health as it would be to a discussion about environmental protection. And as climate scientist Michael Mann recently pointed out, climate change meets all the key criteria for a debate question:
Indeed, the stakes for climate action are high this election year, and the gulf between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the issue is massive.
The Obama administration has taken many important steps to combat climate change, including the Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, and the historic international agreement to cut global emissions reached in Paris, which was recently ratified by enough countries to formally take effect. But the next president could either help these climate policies come to fruition or try to undercut them.
Clinton has said she will “[d]efend, implement, and extend” key climate policies, including the Clean Power Plan, and “deliver on the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference.” Trump, meanwhile, has said he will “cancel” the Paris climate agreement, “rescind” the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, initiate a “targeted review” of the Clean Power Plan, and dismantle the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Americans deserve to hear more detailed explanations of these proposals, and the upcoming debates provide the best and most high-profile opportunities before Election Day for that conversation to occur. But it can’t be taken for granted. In 2012, the presidential candidates were not asked about climate change in any of the general election debates. And this cycle, Trump has yet to field a single climate change question through one general election debate and 11 GOP primary debates (he skipped one).
The story is much the same throughout the country, as our scorecard shows. Through the first 21 debates in the presidential election and closely-contested Senate and governors’ races, only two debates -- in New Hampshire and Vermont -- have included questions about climate change. Like the presidential election, these races could also have climate consequences. Newly-elected senators could propose new climate legislation, or they could seek to block the EPA from limiting carbon pollution. And newly-elected governors could either work constructively with the EPA, or fight tooth and nail against implementing the Clean Power Plan.
Thankfully, it’s not too late for citizens to make their voices heard and convince moderators to ask about climate change in upcoming debates. The nonprofit and nonpartisan Open Debate Coalition notes that the ABC and CNN moderators of the next presidential debate have “agreed to consider the Top 30 questions voted up” on the coalition’s website. The following climate-related questions are currently among the top 30 vote-getters:
- "As president, What are the steps you will take to address climate change?"
- "What is your plan to combat climate change & build a green economy?"
- "Is Climate Change a national security issue? Why or why not?"
- "Will you reduce support for animal agriculture to counter climate change?"
Citizens can also request climate change questions in several Senate and governors’ debates. In Arizona, Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, has an online form for submitting questions ahead of the October 10 Senate debate. In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association told Media Matters that citizens can suggest questions on Twitter during the October 14 Senate debate, using the hashtag #wbadebate. In Ohio, WBNS-10TV is accepting video questions that may appear during its October 17 Senate debate. In Vermont, roundtable organizers will be crowdsourcing questions on Twitter in advance of the October 17 governors’ debate using the hashtag #innov802. And in Indiana, the Indiana Debate Commission has an online form for submitting questions for all of the state’s Senate and gubernatorial debates.
We’ll be continuing to update the scorecard with additional information about upcoming debates right up until Election Day -- including an update soon on whether climate change comes up at the October 9 presidential debate.