Not once in the three presidential debates this fall was a question pertaining to climate change posed. If we have one more election cycle without at least one question regarding climate change, one could say that a pattern has emerged, given that this is the second election cycle where no questions about climate change have been asked in the three presidential debates.
There are all sorts of graphs depicting those who do and do not believe the (frankly, irrefutable) science proving that climate change exists, and these graphs seem to go from, “No One in America Believes that Climate Change Exists,” to, “Studies show majority of Americans are concerned with climate change.” Indeed, there is probably truth behind the idea that people will hunt for or be exposed to via social media a news title with which they agree. Regardless of these seemingly misleading graphs, it is probably true that at least a large portion of U.S. citizens are concerned with climate change and its ramifications, and rightfully so. The U.S., by copious use of nonrenewable resources and considerable outsourcing (just to name two of many variables), is widely considered one of the top polluters in the world.
Given the probability that climate change and energy use is a topic of concern, would it not have been pertinent to pose a question about that very topic during the presidential debates this fall? Granted, there are a host of subjects a moderator is in charge of bringing up. The moderators themselves are tasked with the job of creating the questions for the debate, and in these questions, their goal is to shine light on the different views of the candidates. The views of the two major party nominees certainly contrast — in fact, the Republican nominee has yet to propose any sort of climate change policy. In debate, the Republican contender would likely have been unprepared if posed with such a question. Regardless, given the concern for climate change in the U.S. and the increasing severity in weather disasters, the topic of climate change ought to have been posed to either candidate during the recent presidential debates. The general public’s concern with climate change aside, the topic ought to have come up given the U.S.’s massive contribution to factors catalyzing climate change.
In this election cycle especially, it is perhaps safe to say that the job of debate moderator has not been coveted. By now, just days from the presidential elections, talk of the most recent debates and the lack of discussion on climate control policies have worn thin. Despite that, the looming effects of climate change transcend the reach of the private sector and the general population and end up on the government’s plate. Looking at the work of other developed countries, it is clear that the U.S.’s path to a sustainable future – a future where the symptoms of climate change are mitigated — is through governmental action.
Though it would have been yet another inflamed point of contention between the two candidates, the topic of climate change and energy policy ought to have come up at least once. In a way, the U.S. has a civic duty to the rest of the world to aid in assuaging the symptoms of climate change, ideally in proportion to the waste created (although this is unlikely to ever happen). Why, then, did the topic of climate change and energy use never come up? This is not to say that other topics covered in the debate were not important— on the contrary, the topics discussed were concerning and immediately applicable to specific groups of people. Perhaps a question about climate change would have been posed had other concerning factors, such as allegations of sexual assault, not had an understandable priority. However, it still stands that the U.S. is indebted (via lax environmental regulations) to other countries with fewer carbon emissions.
So, it stands that climate change, for whatever reason, was not included in the list of questions for any of the debates. I have two theories — more queries than theories, really — about why this was the case. Perhaps the debate moderator, knowing other serious issues that needed to be discussed, did not feel it was important to bring up the topic of climate change. Essentially, climate change fell short in relation to other topics in the realm of what is and is not important. Another more disturbing thought is that each candidate’s stance on climate change was assumed, as the two major political parties are generally polarized on policy matters pertaining to climate change — that is, Democrats generally are more likely to approve measures that would assuage environmental issues, and Republicans are more likely to vote against such measures.
One of my favorite quotes from the writer Alexandre Dumas is, “All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.” One reason the U.S. conducts presidential debates is to debase assumptions held by people who have not yet researched who they will vote for. Granted, this election cycle has mockingly flown in the face of the purposes certain aspects of the election cycle hold. Nevertheless, it is assumption and generalization that can lead to unexpected actions and/or unexpected victories. As the climate change narrative from each candidate was minimal — or nonexistent — it would have been to the voter’s advantage to learn exactly what roadmap each candidate has sketched for the future of climate change and energy policy.
Sarah Liebig is a senior studying English Writing and Global Studies: Worlds in Dialogue. Liebig’s principal interests lie in social justice and environmental concerns. Upon graduation, she intends to study law. Liebig is originally from Lincoln, NE and is the only child of two soil scientists. She shares permanent residence with two cats, Oscar and Ophelia.