After a Democratic presidential debate in which a looming global climate crisis got only seven minutes discussion, Gov. Jay Inslee and environmental activists are renewing calls for a dedicated debate on the issue.
More than 80 minutes passed during Wednesday night’s two-hour debate in Miami before a climate question was posed. Only half the candidates on stage were asked about the subject, including Inslee, who used his brief moment to highlight his record promoting clean energy in Washington state.
On Thursday, Inslee and allies in the climate movement complained about the short shrift given to the subject by NBC News moderators, saying it proved that a climate-focused debate is needed.
“Yesterday, the DNC and the media clearly showed that they will not give this critical issue the time it deserves. I promise to do exactly that, but I need your help to stay in the debates and highlight the climate crisis that we all face,” Inslee wrote in a fundraising email to supporters.
On Twitter, he called again for a single-issue debate on climate change, publicizing a report by the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters, which calculated just 6 percent of Wednesday’s debate questions were devoted to climate.
The group criticized questions by moderator Chuck Todd as “particularly poor” because they emphasized costs of climate policy rather than the price of inaction. An Inslee adviser, Sam Ricketts, singled out Todd on Twitter, attacking him by name, only to later delete the tweet he said was “born of frustration with the really bad questions.”
DNC Chairman Tom Perez has continued to reject a climate-only debate, saying the party made it clear at the outset of the campaign it would not hold any single-subject debates. He also said he had made it clear to media outlets sponsoring debates that the party wants climate to be a top subject.
That answer has not proved acceptable to climate activists, including dozens of youthful Sunrise Movement protesters who have camped out this week in front of DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C. The group organized more than 100 debate-watch parties in cities from coast to coast.
“Aside from a few bright moments, all of the young people who were at these watch parties across the nation left in deep anger and disappointment,” said Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash in an interview with Democracy Now!
Prakash said young people have watched for too long as the media and political establishment have neglected to treat the climate crisis as a truly dangerous and imminent threat, pointing to flooding, fires and storms that are all predicted to increase in intensity.
Some DNC members plan to raise the climate debate issue during a meeting of the party’s executive committee this weekend in Pittsburgh. A petition led by Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski has garnered support from more than 60 DNC members, said state party spokesman Will Casey.
“People want this issue to get the attention it deserves,” said Casey. “Obviously it’s complicated, and it touches a lot of other issues … there is a growing number of candidates who clearly want to dig in on this issue.”
More than a dozen of the 24 declared Democratic presidential candidates have joined calls for a climate debate. That list includes some of the best-known contenders, such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Democratic primary voters this year have ranked climate change high on their list of concerns. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday helps explain why the topic could prove politically fraught.
The poll of more than 3,000 people found that nearly 70 percent of Americans — including a majority of Republicans — want the U.S. to take “aggressive” action to combat climate change, Reuters reported.
But when asked if they’d make sacrifices, support among those polled dropped precipitously. For example, only about a third said they’d be willing to pay an extra tax of $100 a year or give up their gasoline-fueled cars for electric models. Fewer than half said they’d carpool or take public transportation to help.
Along with his favored issue, Inslee himself struggled to be heard at the debate, receiving the least amount of speaking time among all the candidates.
Inslee’s biggest moment in the debate came in an answer in which he didn’t mention climate change at all.
When candidates were each asked to briefly name the top geopolitical threat to the U.S., Inslee said, “The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump.”
The line got the biggest applause of the night and was widely replayed on post-debate news highlights. It was called “the home run” of the night by MSNBC host Chris Matthews.
It was left to other candidates on Wednesday’s stage, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, to call out climate change as the biggest threat. Their answers got weaker applause in the debate hall.