Students from the Washington, D.C., area lined up hours before doors opened at the MSNBC Climate Forum on Thursday, 19 September, at Georgetown University. Event staff said that two students actually arrived the night before, sleeping in the hallway of Healy Hall to guarantee their first place in line.
The 2-day televised climate forum gave 11 Democratic candidates and one Republican the floor for 1 hour each to discuss their stance on climate change. The forum may be fertile ground for presidential hopefuls: One in 10 eligible voters will be between the ages of 18 and 23 in 2020, and just 30% of the generation approves of President Donald Trump’s job performance.
The Climate Forum was cohosted by MSNBC and Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service and sponsored by Our Daily Planet and New York magazine. MSNBC journalists Chris Hayes and Ali Velshi moderated the conversations, and questions included those from the student-only audience.
“Whoever is elected president in 2020 will decide whether the U.S. leads the world in fighting the climate crisis or watches as it happens,” Mikail Husain, a junior at Georgetown University, told Eos. Husain attended four talks on Thursday. “I want to learn as much as possible about every candidate’s plan.”
The first day of the climate forum included Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, as well as Colorado senator Michael Bennet, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, author Marianne Williamson, former Maryland representative John Delaney, Ohio representative Tim Ryan, and former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro. The event comes weeks after CNN’s 7-hour climate town hall that scientists praised as substantive and unprecedented for cable news.
Eos spoke with students at Georgetown attending the event and heard many students list climate change as one of their top issues for the 2020 election. Generation Z, as well as Millennials, are more likely to attribute climate change to human causes, with 54% saying that human activities led to climate change, according to a Pew Research Center survey. In the same survey, 22% said they weren’t sure about a link between human activity and climate change, and the remainder said either that climate change is due to natural cycles (14%) or that the Earth isn’t warming (10%).
Angelene Leija, a Georgetown University freshman, said that young people must lead the way on climate change because older generations “don’t want to admit that they played a part in what’s happening right now.” She said that although the Obama administration was “doing a good job” addressing climate change, the Trump administration steered off course at a critical time.
“Right when we needed it the most, we’ve gone in the opposite direction,” Leija said.
Several students told Eos that they were troubled about the future. Georgetown freshman Soumil Dhayagute said that climate change “is our generation’s biggest worrying cause, especially for our kids.” Another student voiced concerns for her family who live in Seattle and their health from wildfire smoke, and another noted worries about environmental migrants displaced by rising seas.
Esmeralda Paez, a sophomore at Trinity Washington University, said she’s undecided about her top candidate but said it might be California senator Kamala Harris, who did not attend the forum. Four other Democratic candidates—former vice president Joe Biden, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, and former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke—also did not attend the 2-day event.
“I was disappointed that Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden didn’t come,” Georgetown University junior Kent Adams told Eos. Wearing a Bernie Sanders shirt, Adams voiced his support for Sanders, whom he’d arrived to watch.
Alexandra Bowman, a sophomore in Georgetown College, said that she’s “particularly interested” in Biden because “he seems to have the most relevant experiences to the presidency.”
The forum struck a chord with students. Over 700 seats in Gaston Hall were full, and a line of students stood outside waiting to get in during the event. “Political debates and town halls are my Super Bowls,” Bowman said. “I couldn’t pass this up!”
A second day of the climate forum begins 20 September, with New Jersey senator Cory Booker addressing the audience at 10:00 a.m. eastern standard time. The public may watch the event live at MSNBC’s live stream.
—Jenessa Duncombe (@jrdscience), News Writing and Production Fellow
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.