Hillary Clinton Debates Trump
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens during the third presidential debate in Las Vegas last night. Credit: AP Photo/John Locher

Climate advocates and scientists struck out last night in their bid to push moderators to ask a question about climate change during the debates between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump.

In the first two debates, the issue came up briefly—raised once by Clinton and another time by a town hall audience question regarding energy and the environment. During the third and final debate last night, Clinton briefly brought up the issue again, in response to a question that moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked about the economy.

Calling for the “biggest jobs program since World War II,” Clinton specified several categories of jobs that her administration would focus on, including “new jobs in clean energy. Not only to fight climate change, which is a serious problem, but to create new opportunities and new businesses.”

Call for Climate Questions

The lack of a climate change question occurred despite a widespread call to insert the issue into the debates.

The lack of a climate change question occurred despite a widespread call by advocates, and by some scientists, to insert the issue into the debates. More than 170,000 people had signed petitions by the League of Conservation Voters and other groups. A question about steps the next president should take to address climate change was the fourth highest vote getter at Open Debate Coalition, a nonpartisan group crowdsourcing questions that moderators consider. In addition, a climate question had topped a New York Times reader survey.

Climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, N.J., tweeted about the debate, “Let’s hear about the real debt—the Climate Debt we are building in the atmosphere that our children will pay for!”

“No questions on the biggest existential threat of our era?”

Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm tweeted, “What about climate change? No questions on the biggest existential threat of our era?” Granholm, a Clinton supporter, currently is a senior research fellow at the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

Advocacy groups also expressed dismay about the lack of a climate question. “It is a tragic failure that a question about the most pressing crisis we face on this planet was never asked,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Oakland, Calif.-based environmental group the Sierra Club, in a statement. “Yet the fact that Hillary Clinton proactively recognized the climate crisis and the need to grow the clean energy economy in each and every state underlines exactly how clear the choice is this election.”

Hot Year, but Not a Hot Debate Topic

“Debate concludes with no Qs on climate change, though 2016 is expected to be the hottest year on record,” tweeted Climate Nexus, a New York City-based nonprofit group that highlights the impacts of climate change.

Republican candidate Donald Trump has called climate change “a hoax” created by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive. At an 11 October rally in Florida with former Vice President Al Gore, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton called climate change “one of the most important issues at stake in this election.”

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer


Showstack, R. (2016), Climate change omitted from presidential debate questions, Eos, 97, https://doi.org/10.1029/2016EO061575. Published on 20 October 2016.

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