Picture this: An asteroid is barreling toward Earth, every person on the planet knows it (even if some prefer to pretend that it’s not happening), and 10 prospective leaders of the free world take the stage to debate major issues of the day but spend just seven minutes discussing humanity’s imminent extinction.
This is essentially what happened at the first Democratic debate last night, if you believe climate science. (*Emphatically raises hand*) A bevy of woke presidential hopefuls—including Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who’s running as the climate change candidate—were barely asked to acknowledge the elephant in the room that is the climate crisis.
Activists and concerned citizens have been asking the Democratic National Committee for a climate change-centric debate (pro-science advocacy organization Action 314 has even offered $100,000 to host it), but Democratic leadership has so far refused in favor of promises that the issue will be adequately addressed in regular debates. To this end, however, last night was an epic fail. Only four candidates were asked to share their thoughts on the most important question facing everyone, everywhere: How will we reduce carbon emissions significantly and quickly enough to ensure Earth is still habitable in coming years? NBD. Except that yes, it is a very big deal, and one that should have if not consumed the debate at least inhabited it in some significant way.
To be fair, the seven minutes afforded the issue were seven minutes more than had been allotted in the last Democratic debate of the 2016 election cycle. And two candidates, Inslee and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, did try to steer the conversation toward climate change on separate occasions. These brief forays, coupled with a few softball questions, just weren’t enough for voters to get a concrete sense of planned policy, though.
To illustrate, here’s the gist of what the public learned last night. Beto O’Rourke thinks that in order to get more citizens to co-sign government intervention in climate change, “You have to bring everybody into the challenges we face. That’s why we are traveling everywhere, listening to everyone.” Julian Castro doesn’t want to answer logistical questions around who should pay to relocate those who’ve built homes in vulnerable areas (e.g., Miami, where the the debate took place). Rep. Tim Ryan thinks that we’ll pay to fight climate change by “growing our way out,” whatever that means. Warren said “there’s a worldwide need for green technology” (groundbreaking!). And Inslee thinks Miami can be saved… if we can get rid of some Republicans. You feel totally reassured we’ve got this, right?
Angry members of youth-led environmental organization Sunrise Movement immediately moved to protest outside of the DNC last night, calling again for the climate change debate humanity (and single-issue voters) deserve. It remains to be seen how this shade will shape tonight’s debate, but one can only hope seven minutes is a low bar to beat. After all, every other issue scarcely matters if Americans cease to have clean air and water, adequate food, safe shelter and, you know, life.
If the climate crisis is making you blue, you’re not alone. And while it may feel like a drop in the bucket towards saving planet Earth, adopting an eco-friendly diet and ditching single-use plastic can help.
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