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And that's when the network covers it at all; Fox covered the recent landmark climate report for roughly three minutes this week
Even optimistic scenarios for climate change would lead to environmental calamity as early as 2040, far sooner than previously thought, according to a stark report from a United Nations-backed assemblage of leading scientists from 40 countries. The report, issued Sunday night by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, concludes that preventing disaster requires nations to drastically reduce carbon emissions through a global economic transformation that has “no documented historic precedent.”
Fox News would rather those nations not try.
The conservative network has basically ignored the IPCC’s report altogether and passed on bringing it up during two interviews with President Donald Trump this week. Special Report, Fox’s flagship broadcast, provided a 30-second news brief on Monday. The network’s only other substantive coverage has come from Shepard Smith, a rare real journalist at Fox and one who has acknowledged the reality of global warming. Smith hosted the network's only full segment devoted to the report, introducing the two-and-a-half-minute Monday segment by saying, “Climate change is real, the situation is urgent, and time is running out: That's the new warning from a landmark United Nations report.” But soon after, Fox correspondent Trace Gallagher put his thumb on the scale in favor of inaction.
“Even outside scientists who acknowledge that something has to be done to prevent the planet from warming say the goal laid out by the United Nations is really unreasonable,” Gallagher said, “because it would mean draconian cuts in emissions and dramatic changes in the way that we use energy, meaning extremely high gas prices, a lot more regulations, and putting governments right in the middle of decisions on how people utilize their private property.”
Fox has spent years telling its audience that global warming is a lie. The network made an institutional decision to use its powerful megaphone to undermine the climate change consensus, making legislation to reduce carbon emissions less politically feasible. And now, the situation has apparently become so dire that a network correspondent is arguing it is just too costly to do anything to solve the problem.
These things are connected. Every year of delay means more carbon emissions. If the goal is to keep the temperature increase below a specific target, then the longer world leaders wait to take action, the more drastic -- and expensive -- the cuts to carbon emissions need to be. The resulting “net mitigation costs increase, on average, by approximately 40 percent for each decade of delay,” according to a 2014 report by President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.
Fox has played a key role in engineering that delay. In the middle of the last decade, many prominent Republicans acknowledged global warming was a real threat that required government action, and Fox itself produced reporting that did not dispute the science. But for the last dozen years, as the GOP became the "world's only major climate-denialist party," Fox has done everything it could to defeat all possible actions to mitigate climate change.
The network is, of course, far from the only reason a global problem has not been systematically addressed.
But Fox’s influence on U.S. politics is great enough that when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was working on a bipartisan climate bill in 2010, he warned his Democratic colleagues that they needed to move the legislation quickly, before the network had time to train its guns on it.
Graham was right to worry. Fox’s intense, network-wide effort to undermine the notion that climate change is a real problem helped stymie Democratic efforts to pass a cap-and-trade climate bill during Obama’s first term, and it has made the issue toxic with Republicans ever since.
That effort included specific instructions from Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon to network reporters to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question."
Its hosts brought on climate deniers to malign actual scientists and attacked people who referred to them as climate deniers.
The network’s shows brought up global warming when it was cold outside (suggesting the cold temperatures disproved the science) and ignored it during heat waves.
They propagated an ocean of lies and distortions of climate science research aimed at distracting from the scientific consensus supporting man-made climate change -- at one point, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that 93 percent of Fox News' representations of climate science were misleading.
When Fox’s commentators weren’t lying about the story, they were treating it as a punchline, responding to cold weather with “snow-trolling,” denouncing celebrities who talked about it, and making a joke about former Vice President Al Gore while showing a person dressed as a Hawaiian lei-wearing polar bear.
In one particularly baffling attempt at a gotcha, Fox’s Jon Scott asked whether the former existence of volcanoes on the moon disproved global warming. Then there was the time the network went to war over cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants’ climate change advocacy.
And, in a shifting of the goal posts that presaged Gallagher’s recent comment, the landmark Paris Climate Agreement brought about a change in the network’s emphasis, with hosts saying the agreement would have little impact while costing too much. After long denying that there was a problem, the network now -- when it bothers to mentions climate change at all -- is suggesting it can’t be solved.
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Democrat Brown: Climate change is "the biggest challenge that we face." Republican Buehler: "I’m against Gov. Brown’s cap-and-trade plan"
During the final Oregon gubernatorial debate on October 9, the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Kate Brown, and her opponent, Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler, had two opportunities to address climate change. Panelist Steve Duin, a columnist at The Oregonian, asked a pointed question about climate change, and a voter asked a question by video about clean energy, which also prompted discussion of the climate threat.
Media Matters is tracking debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races and encouraging moderators to ask candidates questions about climate change. See our scorecard.
From the October 9 Oregon governor debate:
STEVE DUIN (PANELIST): Rep. Buehler, you’ve made leadership an issue in the campaign, and I’m searching for some on climate change. You’re anti-coal, but pro-fracking. You’ve dismissed a carbon tax as an attempt to generate a $1.4 billion slush fund for green energy profiteers. When the threat of climate change has never been more urgent, why the milquetoast argument that Oregon has done or paid enough to address the problem?
KNUTE BUEHLER (R): Well, Steve, I reject a lot of the premises of your question, as you can imagine. I certainly believe in climate change. It’s why I was one of the few Republicans to vote to transition Oregon away from coal-based electricity to renewable energy sources. It’s why I’ve spoken out frequently against the Trump’s administration policies, specifically with regards to withdrawing the United States from the climate accords. I’m against Gov. Brown’s cap-and-trade plan, or, probably a better description of it is a $1.4 billion sales tax on energy. And I’m against that because it’s going to hit hard-working Oregonians -- Oregonians who are struggling to pay the bills right now -- with a sales tax that they can’t afford. And importantly, those dollars won’t go to schools, they won’t go to providing health care; they’re going to go to a complex tax-credit scheme for green energy companies. And we’ve already had problems with that in the past, something called the “business energy tax credit scheme,” where hundreds of millions of dollars were misallocated to the extent that people have gone to jail for corruption. I don’t want to repeat that again.
DUIN: Gov. Brown?
KATE BROWN (D): The League of Oregon Conservation Voters agrees with you. My opponent has a lifetime ranking of an F based on his three years’ voting record in the Oregon legislature. I’ve continued to make steady, incremental progress on tackling global climate change, from reducing the carbon intensity of our fuels; from transitioning off of coal; from investing in EV rebates and public transit, which my opponent voted against; and we worked hard last session to reduce carbon emissions. We weren’t able to successfully complete the legislation, but we are working collaboratively with utilities, with the business community, and with the ag sector to make sure that we reduce carbon emissions in such a way that it doesn’t exacerbate already existing economic disparities in our low-income communities and our rural communities.
TRACY BARRY (MODERATOR): Our first video question comes from Ron Pernick of Portland. He works in the clean energy field. I just want to remind you guys that you’re both going to have a full minute to respond to this question, and Rep. Buehler, you’ll take the lead on this one right after we hear it. So here’s the question.
Gov. Brown, Rep. Buehler, solar and wind are now the most cost-competitive sources of new energy, and energy storage is rapidly declining in costs. Our neighbors to the south, California, and Hawaii to the west, have both enacted 100 percent renewable energy targets by 2045. As governor, what will you do to ensure Oregon’s leadership in a clean energy future?
BARRY: OK, I’m going to jump back in because I know you couldn’t hear that at the beginning. Ron’s question was, “Solar and wind are now the most cost-competitive sources of new energy, and energy storage is rapidly declining in cost.” And then he went on to mention “our neighbors to the south, California, to the west, Hawaii, have both enacted renewable energy targets by 2045. As governor, what will you do to ensure Oregon’s leadership in a clean energy future?” Representative, we’ll let you start.
BUEHLER: It’s a very important question, an issue of vital concern. I certainly believe in global climate change. I’m trained as a scientist, and the data is overwhelming. It’s why I was one of the few Republicans to vote for transitioning Oregon’s electrical generation capacity from coal-based to renewables, breaking with my party and even business interests. It’s why I have spoken out against the Trump administration policies with regards to environmental issues -- specifically United States withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. That’s the kind of leadership that Oregonians want to see on these important issues, and I think it’s important that we keep that balance though, the balance of improving the environment, but also taking into consideration there are hardworking Oregonians that are just struggling to get by everyday, to pay the bills at the end of the month. And, unfortunately, under Gov. Brown, we’ve driven up the cost of living in this state, the high cost of health care, of housing, and now, with energy costs, we have to be very, very careful that we don’t challenge people too much with regards to these issues.
BARRY: Gov. Brown?
BROWN: As Oregonians, we’re all feeling the impacts of global climate change. In the Rogue Valley alone, this summer, they had roughly eight weeks of smog, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to cancel 26 outdoor productions. So we’re feeling it. We need to continue to tackle this with every single tool in our toolbox because it is the biggest challenge that we face. And future generations will judge us, not on the fact of global climate change, but what we do to tackle it. So I’ve led to reduce the carbon intensity of our carbon fuels. Number two: We brought “Coal to Clean,” the first in the nation to transition away from coal-generated electricity and double our renewable energy portfolio by 2040. Lastly, invested in a transportation package, investing in EV vehicles and public transit. But, most importantly, this isn’t enough. And we need to move forward, and I believe that we can move forward and reduce carbon emissions and create clean energy jobs by 5,000 if we move forward on the clean energy job bill.
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Fox's one substantial segment on the U.N. report featured right-wing arguments against taking dramatic action
A new landmark report from a United Nations scientific panel warns that humanity is rapidly running out of time to take the unprecedented action needed to prevent horrific impacts from climate change. The report, released on Sunday night at 9 p.m. EDT by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was covered by a number of major media outlets the following day. CNN reported, "A sobering major report on climate change warns that we could be careening toward catastrophe." The New York Times noted that the report "paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought." The BBC reported, "It's the final call, say scientists, the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising global temperatures."
But Fox News aired very little coverage of the report on Monday.
Fox did not air a single segment that mentioned the U.N. report in its coverage from 4 a.m to noon EST on Monday. In contrast, CNN spent more than seven and a half minutes on the report over that period, and MSNBC spent more than four and a half minutes.
While Fox couldn't spare a moment from its morning lineup for climate catastrophe, the network dedicated more than nine minutes to pop star Taylor Swift's Instagram post endorsing two Democratic candidates in Tennessee and encouraging people to register to vote. Fox hosts and guests criticized Swift's post and argued that she didn't know enough to weigh in on politics.
Fox's nightly prime-time shows on Monday also completely neglected to mention the report.
Host Tucker Carlson did make a mention of pollution, but he meant the pollution of the public sphere by liberal ideas. Guest Cesar Vargas, an immigration attorney, greeted Carlson with, "Happy Indigenous Peoples Day." Carlson responded, "Don't pollute the show with that nonsense. It's Columbus Day, pal, come on."
Carlson also made time to read lyrics from John Mayer's song "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and call toxic masculinity "some made-up, dumb feminist term."
During Fox's "Special Report With Bret Baier" on Monday evening, host Baier spent about 30 seconds during a news rundown giving a straightforward overview of the report.
"Shepard Smith Reporting" on Monday afternoon spent about two and a half minutes on the report, kicking off with Smith saying, "Climate change is real, the situation is urgent, and time is running out. That's the new warning from a landmark United Nations report." But Smith's summary of the report was followed by Fox correspondent Trace Gallagher using right-wing talking points to argue against taking the dramatic action that scientists say is needed:
Gallagher: Even outside scientists who acknowledge that something has to be done to prevent the planet from warming say the goal laid out by the United Nations is really unreasonable because it would mean draconian cuts in emissions and dramatic changes in the way that we use energy, meaning extremely high gas prices, a lot more regulations, and putting governments right in the middle of decisions on how people utilize their private property. As you noted, the authors say that these goals really are a long shot. The conservative Cato Institute called some of the conclusions absurd. But former Vice President Al Gore praises the report, says he believes technology is the answer but we need to rely on solutions available today.
After new U.N. IPCC climate report comes out, only 22 of the top 50 U.S. newspapers' homepages made note of it
A United Nations scientific panel released a major new climate change report on the night of October 7, warning of dire consequences if world governments don’t take unprecedented and dramatic steps in the next decade to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. The next morning, the majority of top U.S. newspapers failed to mention the report on their homepages.
At 9 p.m. EDT on October 7, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its long-awaited special report about what will happen if the average global temperature rises more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and what would be required to prevent such a rise. The average temperature has already risen 1 degree C worldwide, and we will see dramatic and deadly impacts if it rises 2 degrees or more, which is now considered extremely likely. The IPCC report was requested by world leaders as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The report emphasizes the need for unprecedented action in the coming years to prevent the worst effects of climate change, and warns of the dire impacts if humanity fails to take that action.
Between 9 a.m. and noon EDT on October 8, Media Matters analyzed the homepages of the top 50 U.S. newspapers as ranked by average Sunday circulation. Twenty-eight of the papers did not mention the report on their homepages at all:
Of the above newspapers, 10 serve cities that are listed among the "25 U.S. Cities Most Affected by Climate Change" in a 2015 weather.com report: Baltimore, Buffalo, Columbus, Denver, Louisville, Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, and St. Paul.
Other major newspapers in cities heavily affected by climate change also failed to highlight the IPCC report. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in Nevada, did not note the report on its homepage. Las Vegas is ranked third in the weather.com list. The Miami Herald also did not mention the IPCC report on its homepage, though it did link to an article about how the risk of sea-level rise threatens real estate prices. Miami will be particularly affected by sea-level rise; a study published last year in the journal Nature concluded that rising seas as a result of climate change could cause more than 2.5 million Miami residents to flee the city.
These are the papers that linked from their homepages to articles about the IPCC report:
A few of the newspapers featured the IPCC report prominently on their homepages, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but most of homepage mentions of the report were just headlines. Here's how the Star Tribune featured the report:
Methodology: Media Matters searched for the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” “IPCC,” “report,” and “scientist” on the homepages of the top 50 highest-circulation U.S. newspapers between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. EST on October 8. The list of newspapers was taken from the recent Pew Research Center report State of the News Media.
Major broadcast networks mentioned climate change in just 2 percent of wildfire reports, ignoring science that links climate change to more intense fires
As wildfires raged in the Western U.S. this summer, the major broadcast TV networks largely failed to explain how climate change influences such fires, mentioning climate change in less than 2 percent of their reports on the fires. Media Matters analysis of coverage on the networks’ morning and evening news shows found that ABC made no mention at all of climate change during its 172 segments reporting on wildfires, while CBS brought up climate change in only six of its 183 segments that mentioned wildfires, and NBC discussed climate change in only three of its 116 wildfire segments.
Wildfires have ravaged huge swaths of the Western U.S. this year. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, fires had burned over 7.7 million acres of land as of September 28 -- nearly 1.8 million acres more than the 10-year year-to-date average from 2008-2017. The most destructive wildfires blazed in California, and they were some of the worst on record. The Ranch Fire, part of the massive Mendocino Complex, in August became the largest single fire in California history, while the Carr Fire was one of the deadliest, killing seven people. Five of the 10 most destructive fires in the state’s history happened in just the last three years. The 2018 wildfire season is still ongoing, with blazes active in 12 states.
Destructive wildfires have not been limited to the U.S. -- they also burned through parts of Europe this summer. In Greece, nearly 100 people were killed by wildfires outside of Athens. In Sweden, scorching temperatures contributed to over 50 fires, including some inside the Arctic Circle, and forced evacuations. As of late July, the number of European fires in 2018 was up 40 percent on average.
Numerous scientific studies have found that human-caused climate change has exacerbated both the frequency and duration of wildfires. Other variables affected by climate change, such as extreme heat and drought, are also increasing the risk for longer and more intense wildfires. “To dismiss the role of climate change on these fires is simply incorrect,” Michael F. Wehner, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told The New York Times. And Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, told The Independent in July that the longer fire season in California is related to climate change:
What we’re seeing over the last few years in terms of the wildfire season in California … [is] very consistent with the historical trends in terms of increasing temperatures, increasing dryness, and increasing wildfire risk. They’re also very consistent with what we can expect in the future as global warming continues.
California’s recent Climate Change Assessment estimated that the average acreage burned across the state annually will rise by 77 percent by the end of the century. Some firefighters, including the director of California's firefighting department, have also pointed to climate change as a factor making the blazes worse.
The broadcast networks devoted a lot of coverage to wildfires this summer, but very little of it discussed climate change. A Media Matters analysis of the ABC, CBS, and NBC morning and evening news shows over the summer, from June 21 to September 21, showed that out of 471 segments discussing the wildfires, only nine of them, or 1.9 percent, mentioned climate change.
ABC completely ignored climate change during its wildfire coverage. ABC aired a total of 172 segments that discussed wildfires on its morning and evening news shows this summer, including 89 news reports or in-depth segments, 57 weather reports, and 26 news headline rundowns -- and not one of them mentioned climate change. That makes ABC the worst-performing network at incorporating climate change into its reporting on the fires, which is in line with the network's recent history. In June, ABC was the only major broadcast network to make no mention of climate change in relation to the deadly heat wave that affected much of the U.S. And in August, ABC was the only major network that did not mention climate change during its coverage of Hurricane Florence, just as it failed to mention climate change during coverage of Hurricane Harvey last year.
CBS and NBC mentioned climate change in roughly 3 percent of their segments on wildfires. CBS' morning and evening news shows aired a total of 183 segments reporting on wildfires, including 84 news reports or in-depth segments, 14 weather reports, and 85 news headline rundowns. Only six of the 183, or 3.3 percent, mentioned climate change. NBC ran a total of 116 wildfire segments, of which 73 were news reports or in-depth segments, 22 were weather reports, and 21 were news headline rundowns. Only three of the 116, or 2.6 percent, included discussion of climate change.
Sunday shows on the major broadcast networks made no mention of the wildfires. Thirty-eight combined episodes of ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press aired from June 21 to September 21, and not one of them mentioned the wildfires, let alone the ways that climate change influences such fires. This is sadly consistent with the Sunday shows' lack of coverage of past disasters exacerbated by climate change. Last year, the weekend after Hurricane Maria made landfall and knocked out power to 3.5 million Americans, the five major Sunday political talk shows dedicated less than one minute to coverage of the storm and its effects.
Networks' climate change mentions in wildfire coverage almost all occurred in August, more than a month after their summer coverage of wildfires began in earnest. CBS aired its first wildfire segment of the summer on June 24, but it didn't mention climate change in such a segment until August 1 -- over one month later. NBC ran its first summer wildfire segment on June 25, but didn't incorporate climate change into any such segments until July 28. By that point, the Carr Fire had already killed five people, and by August 1, 16 of the largest wildfires in California were burning an area larger than Los Angeles.
CBS' first mentions of climate change in the context of wildfires were brief and not particularly informative. The August 1 episodes of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News featured Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman saying, “I don't care where you stand on your opinion of global warming. There's something changing, and we're seeing fires that have never happened in this area before.” Mendocino County was the site of the massive Mendocino Complex fire, which was not fully contained until September 18.
CBS’ next mentions of climate change as it relates to wildfires occured on the August 4 episodes of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News. Both shows aired segments on a European heat wave that featured Time magazine climate reporter Justin Worland, who said, “Human fingerprints are all over this particular heat wave.” The segments reported that wildfires in Europe were being fueled by hot and dry conditions, blaming the region's “unusually hot air on warming Arctic temperatures due to greenhouse gases.”
CBS' other mentions of climate change in wildfire segments came during the August 7 episode of CBS This Morning. Reporter John Blackstone noted President Donald Trump’s inaccurate claim that wildfires were worsened by California’s water policy, and contrasted it with the view from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that “the true problem is climate change.” Later on in the episode, anchor Gayle King pointed out that 15 of the 20 largest fires in California have happened since 2000, and noted, "State fire officials say that is a direct result of climate change."
Two of NBC’s wildfire reports that incorporated climate change featured climate scientist Michael Mann, who was interviewed for segments that aired on August 7 and August 8. On the August 7 episode of NBC Nightly News, Mann said, “You take epic drought, you combine it with high temperatures, you've got all the ingredients for unprecedented wildfires”:
PBS NewsHour incorporated climate change into 16 percent of its wildfire coverage. Public broadcaster PBS has typically produced more quality coverage of climate change than its corporate counterparts, and its reporting this summer continued that trend. Out of 25 segments about the wildfires that aired on PBS NewsHour on weekdays from June 21 through September 21, four discussed climate change. On the July 27 episode of NewsHour, Columbia University bioclimatologist Park Williams noted that forests are “where we really see a strong link between climate change and increased fire.” On August 7, correspondent Nick Schifrin said, “Hotter weather attributed to climate change drives more severe conditions that authorities say residents cannot ignore.”
And on August 6, NewsHour devoted almost six and a half minutes to discussing how climate change makes wildfires more extreme, including more than four minutes interviewing Mann on the topic. This was the most in-depth segment on climate change and wildfires on any broadcast network:
Newspapers did better than corporate broadcasters at connecting wildfires to climate change, but they still fell short, Public Citizen found. A recent report by the nonprofit group Public Citizen analyzed both newspaper and TV coverage of the wildfires during 15 days this summer, from July 23 to August 7. It found that less than 13 percent of wildfire articles in the 50 highest-circulation U.S. newspapers mentioned climate change. The New York Times, The Sacramento Bee, and the Los Angeles Times published the most articles connecting climate change and the wildfires.
A local TV network showed the right way to weave climate change into wildfire coverage. Sometimes local TV stations -- whose viewers are more likely to be immediately affected by fires -- do a better job of reporting on the climate/wildfire connection than national networks. For example, Salt Lake City’s ABC affiliate KTVX aired a segment on its August 9 Good Morning Utah show about how climate change affects the length of wildfire season:
A recent poll points to the need for more and better media coverage of climate change. A survey conducted by Quinnipiac University in mid-August found that a slim majority of American voters believed climate change was worsening the California wildfires. But that means almost half of voters didn't understand the connection -- including 71 percent of Republicans. The media can help fill that knowledge gap.
Much has already been said this year about the need for journalists to report on how climate change influences extreme weather events like wildfires. But we also need outlets to discuss responses and solutions to the climate crisis, so that Americans understand the need to mobilize as a society to fight climate change and shift quickly to clean energy.
Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ Media for broadcast network TV news segments that covered wildfires using the search terms wildfire(s) or fire(s), and then we searched within those segments for mentions of climate change or global warming or greenhouse gas(es). Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), nightly news shows (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News, plus weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour), and Sunday morning shows (ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press) from June 21 through September 21.
News headline rundowns included mentions of the wildfires within announcements of top stories of the day. Weather reports included mentions of the wildfires within a meteorologist’s report or a general discussion of weather. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts.
Moderators need to be asking questions about climate change
A version of this post was originally published on Grist.
Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke faced off on September 21 in the most high-profile Senate debate yet of the 2018 election season -- and it did not include a single mention of climate change.
Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, and O'Rourke, the Democratic congressman who's challenging him, have starkly different views on the issue, but voters are not hearing enough about those views. Climate change poses huge threats in Texas, including extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and coastal flooding. The Houston area is still recovering from last year's record-breaking Hurricane Harvey, which multiple scientific studies found was made worse by climate change. Long known as an oil and gas powerhouse, Texas now has a big stake in the clean energy economy, leading the nation in wind power and coming in fifth in solar power.
But the debate’s moderators -- NBC 5 political reporter Julie Fine and Dallas Morning News political writer Gromer Jeffers -- didn't ask any questions about climate change or related energy issues. That was a squandered opportunity.
"I’m disappointed,” Texas resident Sarah Beasley told ThinkProgress, explaining that she had wanted to hear from the candidates on global warming. Nearly 4 in 10 registered voters surveyed earlier this year said a candidate's position on global warming would be very important when they decide who to vote for in 2018 congressional elections.
Unfortunately, the Cruz-O'Rourke debate was not an outlier. Of 12 debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races that Media Matters has analyzed so far this election season, only one included a question about climate change. That's actually worse than what we saw in the 2016 election season, when Media Matters found that less than a quarter of the debates we analyzed in competitive Senate and governor races featured a climate question.
The Minnesota governor's race provided the sole debate we've analyzed thus far this year that did address climate change. The moderator, Minnesota Public Radio political editor Mike Mulcahy, asked both candidates -- Republican Jeff Johnson and Democrat Tim Walz -- for their views on climate change, asked a follow-up question, and let the candidates respond to each other's answers.
The resulting exchange, which went on for more than five minutes, was both substantive and informative. Johnson said that "there is quite a disparate opinion on how much" humans contribute to climate change. (If he was talking about the opinion of climate scientists, that's not true.) He also argued that policies to fight climate change could "cost people a lot of money and hurt people" and might not "make any difference."
In contrast, Walz said, "We can make a difference. We have to make a difference." He pointed out that shifting to clean energy can lead to a stronger economy and job growth. The debate made the candidates' differing views on climate change crystal clear.
Attention, debate moderators: We need more exchanges like that. Ask candidates to make clear whether they consider climate change to be a serious problem, and what they propose to do about it. Better yet: Ask how they will respond to climate change's local, state, and regional impacts, which differ around the country.
Dozens more debates will happen over the next six weeks in the lead-up to Election Day, giving the journalists and others who will act as moderators plenty of opportunities to ask candidates about climate change -- arguably the most pressing issue of our time. Media Matters will be updating a scorecard with details about upcoming debates and contact info for moderators, and after debates happen, we'll report on whether moderators brought up climate change.
Voters deserve to hear candidates publicly state their views, and the rest of the electorate does too. If there's a debate coming up in your state, let the moderators know that you expect climate change to be on the agenda. In Texas, there are two more chances to get it right: Cruz and O'Rourke will meet again at debates on September 30 and October 16. Houston's ABC13 is asking citizens to submit questions for the next debate. Have any suggestions?