The Nomination For the Issue That is Largely Ignored During the Presidential Debates Goes to: Climate Change

The second presidential debate was another shit show largely filled with the newest revelations of Donald Trump’s pattern of sexual assault, his taxes and Hillary Clinton’s infamous email scandal. Oh, there was also some points on tax policy, health care, and foreign policy, but that was mostly a sideshow.

One issue that has been largely ignored throughout the whole presidential race is that of ‘climate change’. That’s right, the issue that future generations hinge on. The issue that has led to an increase in unusual weather events such as floods or droughts, more intense storms, heat waves and wildfires.

The death toll in Haiti from Hurricane Matthew has surpassed a thousand, many scientists are saying that climate change intensified the hurricane due to the great heat content of the Caribbean which help to sustain these storms. So we have another extreme weather event with no drawn link to climate change by cable TV or any other of the leading TV channels. This is what we can call ‘climate silence’, and it is deafening.

Research from the advocacy group Media Matters for America show that of the 1,477 questions asked during the first 20 primary debates, only 1.5 percent were climate-related [1]. One simple explanation for this: climate change doesn’t make good TV. Terror bombings, gun laws and immigration grab viewers’ attention far more, and thus receive more air time. It comes down to the fact that climate change is seen as an environmental problem, but it really touches upon so many areas e.g. economy, trade, jobs and immigration.

The question “What are the steps you will take to address climate change?” was the fourth most submitted question to the Open Debate Coalition, just behind questions related to background checks for gun and social security [2]. Donald Trump answered the question by raging how the Environmental Protection Agency is hurting the energy industry, while Clinton focused on China’s illegal dumping practices of steel in the US, and how Trump is using the situation for property development. Clinton went on to say that she has a comprehensive plan for energy policy, which includes “fighting climate change”. Why won’t moderators just press them on this issue? I think it would make great TV as the two candidates have such challenging views: one think climate change is a hoax, the other has referred to it as “the challenge of our time”.

According to a survey from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 65 percent of Americans think climate change is an issue that the government needs to address (43 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats) [3]. It has become a “public need” to address this issue, as it is no longer an ambiguous or poorly understood subject. Clinton has been clear on her position on fighting climate change outside the presidential debates, albeit with some uncertainty concerning pipeline permits.

Yale University’s School School of Forestry & Environmental Studies provide a clear infographic to show where each presidential candidate stands on matters related to energy and the environment. See below.

With such contrasting views, the TV networks are doing the public a great disservice by overlooking this issue. Donald Trump says he is not a great believer in climate change, and that he promises to cancel/renegotiate the Paris climate agreement, if elected. If I was Trump’s contender I would press him on the “factual accuracy” of climate denial, the solid science, or the fact that he is considering to abandon a global agreement that is backed by the entire world.

The fundamental truth is that the fossil fuel industry continues to spend millions of dollars on television advertising in media markets to sway public opinion in favour of their priorities and to promote their brands. Organisations such as the American Petroleum Institute and BP have run ads during the election cycle to promote the benefits of natural gas, and reassure the safety from offshore drilling etc. Corporate politics prevent TV networks from breaking the climate silence, and that is just another form of denial.

The elections are money-making times for the cable networks, but I think addressing this issue could even attract a few more million viewers. And hey, while you are at it, this could actually benefit the public.

[1] http://mediamatters.org/research/2016/03/23/primary-debate-scorecard-climate-change-through/209415

[2] https://presidentialopenquestions.com/?sort=-votes

[3] http://www.apnorc.org/PDFs/EnergyClimate/Press%20Release_EPIC%20AP-NORC%20Energy%20Policy%20Poll_Final.pdf