It’s Been 12 Years Since a Moderator Asked a Climate Question During a Presidential Debate

Washington, D.C. —  It’s been 12 years since the candidates running for president and vice president have been asked about their views on the climate crisis by a moderator during a general election debate.

The last time a moderator directly asked about climate change was 2008 in the vice presidential debate between then Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. That question asked the two candidates to debate what is true and what is false in the ongoing discussion of the climate crisis (Thankfully that debate has been put to rest as climate change is now considered a fact).

Bob Schieffer indirectly mentioned the crisis during an October 2008 debate between then Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain when asking about reducing the U.S. dependency on foreign oil.

Before that, it was the 2000 contest between Al Gore and George Bush when climate change — then called global warming — made an appearance when Gore was asked if he still believed we needed a “transformation to save the planet.” Twenty years ago.

To put that into perspective, a child born in 2008 is entering middle school this year. And a 20-year-old is voting in their first presidential election come November.

It was in 2008 that California became the second state to legalize same-sex marriage (it would be another seven years before marriage equality was the law of the land). Also in 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and the government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in an attempt to stave off a financial crisis. In 2000, we were just months removed from believing that Y2K was going to send us back to the stone age.

Iron Man — the first one — and the Dark Knight were some of the favorite movies of 2008, and Usher, featuring Young Jeezy, and Flo Rida, featuring T-Pain, were topping the charts with “Love in This Club” and “Low.” Back in 2000, “Breathe” by Faith Hill was the year’s most popular song. That was also the year of the first ‘Subway Series’ between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets since 1956.

We’d say it was truly a different world, except for the fact that Chris Wallace — the moderator for the first presidential debate of the 2020 cycle — announced topics for next Tuesday’s debate between Biden and President Trump and climate change was nowhere to be found. Wallace’s decision has been widely questioned since the announcement.

We cannot go another four years without a direct and extended focus on climate change during the presidential debates — there is just too much at risk. This week, 37 Senators sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates asking that the moderators push each presidential candidate on their plans for addressing climate change. The senators join 45 climate and progressive organizations and 71 Members of Congress who’ve previously pushed the commission and moderators to give climate the focus it requires during the debates.

These leaders know that voters want to hear plans for climate action from candidates. According to a Yale survey from September, three-out-of-four voters want climate questions to be asked at the presidential debates. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the federal government should act more aggressively to combat climate change, and almost as many say the problem is already affecting their community in some way, in a June Pew Research Center survey

An April Yale Program on Climate Change Communication survey also found that voters are 55 percent less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who opposes taking action on climate – liberal/moderate Republicans are 35 percentage points less likely to vote for a candidate opposing action.

The jobs of the future are here NOW. This is our moment to act on climate change and build a clean energy economy that creates millions of good-paying jobs.

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