Fox News’ Chris Wallace has selected “Debt and entitlements,” “Immigration,” “Economy,” “Supreme Court,” “Foreign hot spots,” and “Fitness to be President” as the topics for the final presidential debate, which he will moderate on October 19. But the fact that neither “the environment” nor “energy” are among the topics would not excuse Wallace if he fails to ask a question about climate change.
Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges facing our country and the planet, and it’s far more than strictly an environmental or energy issue. As Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican Governor of New Jersey who ran the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, has said, climate change “has very serious implications for our country from a national security point of view, from an economic point of view and a health point of view.”
The nonpartisan Open Debate Coalition recently launched a petition urging Wallace to ask the questions on the coalition’s website that have received the most votes from the public. A question about how the presidential candidates would address climate change currently has the fourth-most votes, trailing only two questions about guns and one about Social Security.
If Wallace refuses to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump about climate change, it will mark the culmination of a stunning media failure. It would mean that presidential debate moderators failed to address climate change in two consecutive election cycles, after climate questions were asked in two presidential debates and the vice presidential debate in 2008. Even worse, it would mean that Trump avoids fielding a single debate question on climate change during the entire presidential campaign, spanning 14 primary and general election debates over the last 14 months.
Climate change has far-reaching impacts and ramifications, as Whitman explained, so there are many ways Wallace could weave it into most -- if not all -- of the topics he’s selected. Here are five questions that he could ask:
Possible Debate Question: Studies show that climate change worsened the extreme drought in Syria that contributed to the Syrian refugee crisis, and that the effects of climate change on crop yields will drive millions of Mexicans to seek entry into the United States in the coming decades. Will you incorporate climate change into your immigration policies, and if so, how?
Possible Debate Question: A 2016 survey of 750 top economists found that climate change is now the single greatest threat to the global economy. What will you do to protect our economy from the effects of climate change?
Topic: Supreme Court
Possible Debate Question: Following a 2007 Supreme Court ruling and a scientific assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA is legally required to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change under the Clean Air Act. Will you implement the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the EPA’s emissions reduction strategy, and if not, how will your administration fulfill the Supreme Court’s mandate to cut greenhouse gas pollution?
Topic: Foreign Hot Spots
Possible Debate Question: The Pentagon has determined that climate change will “aggravate existing problems -- such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions -- that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.” To what extent do you believe climate-related risks should be integrated into military planning?
Topic: Fitness To Be President
Possible Debate Question: The scientific community is nearly unanimous in saying that global warming is happening and caused by burning fossil fuels, yet many politicians refuse to acknowledge this is the case. Will you listen to the scientists on climate change, and do you believe that those who refuse to do so are unfit for our nation’s highest office?