There were roughly 190 questions (including follow-ups) asked to the candidates during the presidential and vice presidential debates this year, and not one of them was about climate change. This stunning media failure has rightly drawn the attention of journalists, environmental groups, and at least one U.S. senator.
But it’s also important to recognize that the climate silence we have witnessed on the national stage is not unique to the presidential election. Media Matters’ debate scorecard is tracking climate change questions in 18 of the most closely contested Senate and governors’ races across the country, and the results so far are troubling. We’ve found that just eight of the 37 debates held in these races through October 20 included questions about climate change. That's 22 percent.
Climate change was not addressed in the Senate debate or any of the three governors’ debates in North Carolina, a state that was recently devastated by Hurricane Matthew, which featured record-breaking rainfall and flooding that scientists have linked to global warming. It was also ignored in the Senate debate in Arizona, which was recently identified as the western state that is most at risk from increased wildfires as a result of climate change, and in both governors’ debates in West Virginia, which suffered through flooding over the summer that was made worse by global warming.
There have also been zero climate change questions in Senate or governors’ debates in Missouri, Montana, and Nevada, which are all among the states that are least prepared to deal with emerging climate-related threats, according to a report card produced by Climate Central and ICF International.
The eight debates that have included climate change questions occurred in seven states: Florida (Senate), Indiana (Senate), New Hampshire (Senate), Ohio (Senate), Pennsylvania (Senate), Wisconsin (Senate), and Vermont (in two debates for governor).
In more than half of these states, the climate questions were asked because voters spoke up and requested them. In Wisconsin, the climate question was submitted by a citizen via Twitter. In Vermont, the moderator asked a climate question submitted by a voter on Facebook. In Ohio, an audience member asked the climate question. And in Indiana, the climate question, while flawed, was submitted by a voter to the Indiana Debate Commission.
The lesson from both the presidential debates and these Senate and governors’ debates is clear: If voters want to hear about climate change, they’ll need to continue to press moderators to ask about it and continue to take advantage of opportunities to make their voices heard.