Thursday, October 15, 2015

Climate Change at the Democratic Debate

Well, at least it was mentioned. That's my take on the level of discussion of man-made climate change in the most recent Democratic debate held the other night. It's also more than can be said for the two Republican debates so far (and likely, ever).

Reaction to the "climate portion" of the Democratic debate has been mixed. One blog's headlline screams breathlessly, "Climate change features heavily in the Democratic debate."

"a major focus was how to respond to climate change, with acceptance that it's actually happening shared by all the debaters. Four of the candidates—Lincoln Chafee, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’Malley—all made acting on climate change part of their opening statements. Sanders and O'Malley both named it as one of the leading national security threats. And, when asked which group he was most proud of angering, Chaffee responded with, "I guess the coal lobby.""

Other outlets also tout the inclusion of the topic in the debate. Andrew Winston in the Huffington Post noted that "CNN let a voter ask the question, 'What would you do about climate change?'" and concluded "the range of answers was telling." I'm not sure how "telling" it was beyond acknowledging they all agree that man-made climate change is a real issue that must be addressed.

More telling was how CNN seemed to only grudgingly include the topic at all. David Roberts on Vox observed:
"Who finally got to ask the question? Just as CNN had a Latino anchor ask about immigration, a woman anchor ask about paid leave, and an African-American kid as whether black lives matter, it gave the climate question over to Anna, a young white woman who looked every bit the liberal arts student. That, you see, is a 'climate person.'"
And herein lies the problem. Unlike Fox News, which makes no pretense about being the communication/lobbying arm of the Republican Party, CNN likes to think of itself as an honest broker. Clearly they are better than the more openly partisan networks, but by choosing to limit the opportunity for climate discussion, and by the thinly-veiled stereotyping of all of their questioning, they are being just as biased in their reporting.

It's within these confines that the candidates who spoke about climate deserve major credit for inserting it into the debate despite CNN. With the exception of former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, all of the candidates made it clear they consider man-made climate change a "big f***ng deal" (who paraphrase Vice-President Joe Biden, who was not at the debate). This is a good thing because it provides a clear differentiation between Democrats and Republicans (one of many). Republicans deny climate change to avoid making hard decisions; Democrats acknowledge it and prepare to make hard decisions.

I've argued before for separate debates on specific issues, or at least keeping to a single issue for 30 minutes or so (and limited a 90-minute debate to a maximum 2-3 issues). has worked hard to have a science-specific debate to include not only climate change but other science-based issues and misconceptions like vaccines, GMOs, and others. Clearly there is a need for candidates for the highest political office to both acknowledge and have a basic understanding of the scientific and technological challenges that impact national security, the economy, civil rights, education and every other facet of modern life. The public wants it. And we all need it.