Politicians love to answer questions by talking about whatever they wanted to talk about in the first place. With the outcry over the lack of attention to climate change in the presidential debates building (climate change came up for 82 seconds in the first debate and then in the second debate there was that big Ken Bone question about saving his coal job), a number of prominent voices have called for the high-profile and increasingly urgent issue to be at least briefly addressed in Wednesday night’s final debate.
It’s unlikely that Fox News host and debate moderator Chris Wallace will go out of his way to bring up climate change, since many of the his network’s viewers have chosen, against all evidence, to ignore its implications (and its reality)—but either candidate could easily bring up global warming based on its relationship to almost every big issue on the minds of Americans these days.
That’s the thing about climate change; it’s far from just an environmental problem. It’s got societal, legal, economic, health, energy and numerous other implications that fail to rise above the low level of exposure the topic garners most of the time. While celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and world leaders like Barack Obama can do their best to elevate the problem and increase momentum for action, only true public engagement can catalyze the kind of enduring attention needed to address the crisis.
Wouldn’t it be nice if, in the midst of all the interruptions, soliloquies, and personal attacks, the candidates took a second to comment on the three major climate treaties finalized in just the last month? Or if Trump could go on the record saying some of the outrageous things about climate change that he’s tweeted? Or if Clinton could reach out to hardcore climate activists and former Bernie Sanders supporters and assuage concerns about the impression she gave in her recently hacked email exchanges of brushing them aside?
According to the the Commission on Presidential Debates, the topics to be covered at the third debate, which were determined by Wallace, are:
- Debt and entitlements
- Supreme Court
- Foreign hot spots
- Fitness to be President
In the end, neither candidate may feel like they have much to gain from talking climate, and they are unlikely to pivot to it unprompted. But if they wanted to, this is how it could be done:
Debt and Entitlements
Talk about debt and entitlements—what about how we’re saddling future generations with the climate problems we’re creating today? This is known as generational justice, and just like every other long-term issue, when it comes to climate change it’s not only irresponsible to punt the problem down the line, but also extremely harmful. But what are you gonna do; that’s politics today. Luckily some groups are starting to fight to change this trend and bring this type of environmental injustice into the mainstream.
All the walls in the world won’t stop the increase in immigration that climate change is going to cause. As droughts, heatwaves, and extreme weather become worse, more people without appropriate safety nets will be forced to migrate. This is already happening in the Middle East, where prolonged drought has contributed to the humanitarian crisis and Syrian civil war.
So, where to start? What are the economic consequences of climate change? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a few of them are: damage to property and infrastructure, loss of productivity, increased security costs, and costs of mitigation and adaption (which get worse the longer we wait). What does this all mean, monetarily? A paper recently published in Nature found that business as usual greenhouse gas emissions throughout the 21st century will decrease per capita GDP by 23% below what it would otherwise be, with the possibility of a much larger impact. Yikes.
The Supreme Court rules on some of the most controversial and contentious issues in the country, and how to address climate change is definitely one of those issues. Industry groups and fossil fuel companies are eager to sue the government over efforts to address climate change through regulations and executive actions, taking any opportunity to throw a wrench in the works of things like Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The Supreme Court judges that the next president nominates will likely have a large impact on determining how quickly the United States reduces its greenhouse gas emissions.
Foreign Hot Spots
Not really sure what this means. Russia? China? In any case, every country is part of the geopolitical conversation around global warming. With more global pacts and multinational agreements focusing on climate change finally coming into force, it will be increasingly important for countries to maintain open dialogues and meaningful negotiations around these issues. Obama has done a great job of this when it comes to China both on a multinational level and a bilateral one.
Fitness to be President
This topic has been brought up maybe a million times already and should simply be replaced with one of these questions about climate change.