Silence on climate change at the debates

Four years ago, when Barack Obama and John McCain met for a town hall debate, they met as two men who each accepted the scientific consensus that fossil fuels were warming our planet. They met as two candidates with competing plans to deal with this challenge, though their plans differed on the details. And over the course of the evening, they were even asked a direct question about the issue.

Questioner: I want to know what you would do within the first two years to make sure that Congress moves fast as far as environmental issues, like climate change and green jobs?

McCain: We can move forward, and clean up our climate, and develop green technologies, and alternate — alternative energies.

Obama: and we’re not going to be able to deal with the climate crisis if our only solution is to use more fossil fuels that create global warming.

In the wake of this week’s debate, that moment in 2008 seems like something excavated from the ruins of a destroyed civilization. Despite the fact that this past September was tied for the warmest in the 132-year history of record keeping, the word “climate” crossed neither candidate’s lips, nor was it mentioned by moderator Candy Crowley or the audience of undecided voters selected to ask questions. Crowley explained the omission of the issue this way:

Bash: You called through all of these questions that these – undeclared voters brought in this morning. I know that this was such a big concern of yours. How did you decide which ones to choose?

Crowley: We wanted to cover subjects that maybe folks hadn’t heard about but still were interested in and I think…

O’Brien: Immigration, gun control, and women’s issues.

Crowley: Gun control and immigration and women’s issues were the three big ones. Climate change, I had that question. All you climate change people. We just – you know, again, we knew that the economy was still the main thing.

“Climate change people” is a revealing phrase. It suggests that climate is a boutique issue, like NIMBY opposition to an unsightly development down the block, or advocating for the metric system. But I can’t really blame Crowley for the omission, because the candidates both spent much of the night talking about the related, and entirely inseparable issue of energy, and had every opportunity to at the very least mention or single greatest governing challenge.

Instead, the entire debate about energy, such as it was, was a debate over who can most ruthlessly facilitate the total and utter exploitation of every last ounce of fossilized carbon sitting beneath the continent.

The story is continued, including footage of the original telecast, at Up w/ Chris Hayes.

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