The Los Angeles Times editorial board lamented that climate change has been largely overlooked in presidential election coverage so far, despite it being “the most pressing issue of our time.”
The Times pointed to a Media Matters analysis, which found that through the first 20 presidential primary debates, moderators only asked 22 questions about climate change, making up just 1.5 percent of the 1,477 questions asked during the debates. Instead, debate moderators have focused on the political horserace and other non-substantive issues. Moderators posed so few climate questions that Democratic candidates brought up climate change unprompted more than twice as often as the debate moderators did.
Debate moderators’ failure to bring up climate change drew the attention of a bipartisan group of 21 Florida mayors, who urged networks hosting debates in Miami to ask the candidates about climate change. The subsequent debates in Miami featured seven questions about climate change, accounting for nearly one-third of the 22 climate questions asked over the course of all 20 primary debates. The lack of climate questions in the debates also prompted a group of Nobel Laureates and hundreds of other experts to call for at least one presidential debate that is exclusively focused on science, health, technology, and environmental issues.
From the May 26 Times editorial, titled, “Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. So why isn't it getting more play in the election?":
Climate change is, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently put it, “one of the most crucial problems on Earth.” Yet the issue has been largely absent from the current presidential campaign.
So what forms the core of our political discourse instead? It’s ranged from the size of Trump’s, uh, hands to whether Clinton enabled her husband’s philandering to how to make Mexico pay for a wall the length of the border, along with international trade agreements, under what circumstances the military should be deployed, and whether the multi-nation deal with Iran to freeze its nuclear program was wise or foolish.
Climate change barely resonates. An assessment in March by Media Matters found that across 20 debates among candidates in both major parties, global warming accounted for only 1.5% of the questions asked – 22 out of 1,477 questions. Nearly a third of the questions came in two Florida debates after some of that states’ mayors asked that the issue be addressed. And voters haven't particularly cared, either. A February Gallup poll found climate change low on the list of issues that voters say matter to them – especially for Republicans, for whom it was the least-significant issue included in the survey.
That’s a lot of heads in the sand – dangerously so if the sand happens to be near the rising seas.
Confronting the challenges of climate change will require significant political leadership, particularly since a cluster of deniers hold influential congressional positions. Given the severity of the threat, the issue should play a far greater role in the national discussion.