The Democratic Presidential Candidates Should Debate How to Address Climate Change

The DNC Can Help to Make Climate Change Into an Issue of Consequence for the Campaign

This is my first post in my new role at the UC Berkeley Center for Law, Energy, and Environment, working on Project Climate.  Last year, as a Legal Planet guest blogger, I wrote that political will and scale are the two biggest challenges of climate change response.  So for this first post, I want to take issue with the Democratic National Committee’s decision –so far—to preclude a climate-change-centric presidential debate.  Fifteen candidates have expressed support for the idea, and the topic has gained significant currency with the public at large.  The DNC says that climate will be a topic in the debates generally, and that if they hold one issue-specific debate, they would have to hold many.

Yet, in four hours of the first two democratic presidential debates that took place in Miami – a location already impacted by sea level rise – climate received no more than fifteen minutes of discussion, despite the fact that many of the candidates identified it as the most important challenge for the next administration.  Climate change also provides a stark divide between the political parties.  One party sees it as an existential threat, the other isn’t convinced that it is real.  Trump famously has called climate change a Chinese hoax, promotes increased oil, gas, and coal extraction and use, and his administration has hidden and removed climate science from government websites. 

Which brings us to political will.  A focused presidential climate debate could drive extensive media coverage, focus interest, and clarify the huge gulf between the political parties.  It’s a rare opportunity for large scale education and a chance to make it into an issue of real voting consequence.  Even a 45 minute segment of a longer debate would allow candidates to highlight their own approaches to climate change will contrasting the Trump administration’s wholesale attacks on law and science surrounding climate change and impacts. 

 The DNC has a chance, by changing course, to impact political will in a meaningful way.  Or it could continue to push climate change to the side, to everyone’s detriment.

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Reader Comments

5 Replies to “The Democratic Presidential Candidates Should Debate How to Address Climate Change”

  1. Thank you for taking the initiative to make certain that the public is informed, educated and motivated to demand control global warming before time runs out.

    UC is one of the most qualified institutions to meet the challenges of change that threaten our civilization today, and UC must provide the leadership for implementing this imperative with the greatest sense of urgency.

    It is time to dedicate our highest priority to the future for our newest generations by demanding that the 2020 election assign the highest priority for political campaigns to their future, and the future of the human race.

    Most outrageously, we still have UC investing in fossil fuels, as reported in “We Demand a Fossil Free UC” by City on a Hill Press and produced by UCSC students.

    UC MUST DIVEST INVESTMENTS IN FOSSIL FUELS IMMEDIATELY, and all necessary UC resources must be applied immediately to ending the global warming crisis with the greatest sense of urgency to set an example for protecting our future quality of life.

    Can you make the right things happen in time to save our civilization?

    1. The continuing failure of our intellectual establishment to respond to the UCSC student “We Demand a Fossil Free UC” proves that the power of money threatens the future of our civilization. Once again our powers that be fail to heed “The Lessons of History” even when documented by Will and Ariel Durant who warned us in their paramount conclusion “When a civilization declines, it is through no mystic limitation of a corporate life, but through the failure of its political or intellectual leadership to meet the challenges of change.”

      So the answer to the question asked in the California Magazine 2006 “Global Warning” issue “Can We Adapt in Time” appears to be “NO”

      1. In conclusion, politicians in their Washington cesspool and intellectuals in your Ivory Towers are destroying quality of life for our newest generations and there seems to be no solution or it would have happened by now as time runs out at an increasingly out of control pace.

  2. Unfortunately, the Democratic presidential candidates are more concerned with personal ambition than the welfare of the nation, let alone the planet. Kamala Harris gained the most approval of any candidate by attacking Joe Biden with a false narrative of racism, and other candidates will likely follow suit with similar attacks on Biden and each other in the debates to follow.

    The best way to address climate change is to remove Trump from office. But with enemies like the Democrats, Trump does not need friends.

  3. Yes, as the most important issue, and one that affects ALL others, we need a climate change debate. Then we need a climate change debate against Trump before the general election. We can’t leave it to the media hosts, they don’t ask about it and have failed us in that regard. They failed us miserably in the 2016 campaign by not raising it in any of the debates.

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About Ken

Ken is the director of Project Climate at UC Berkeley's Center for Law, Energy, & Environment. He spent eight years as a Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Jerry Brow…

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About Ken

Ken is the director of Project Climate at UC Berkeley's Center for Law, Energy, & Environment. He spent eight years as a Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Jerry Brow…

READ more