Would Climate Change Questions at the Presidential Debate Be Useful, or Have You Been Paying Any Attention Whatsoever?

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Would Climate Change Questions at the Presidential Debate Be Useful, or Have You Been Paying Any Attention Whatsoever?

In an opinion column for The Hill on Wednesday, American University lecturer Paul Bledsoe argued in favor of a robust discussion of climate change and climate policies at Thursday’s presidential debate, which will be moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.

Noting that essentially every previous debate dating back decades has avoided the subject almost entirely, Bledsoe writes: “It is time for both the debate moderators and the presidential contenders themselves to address climate disasters in a detailed and serious way.” The litany of billion-dollar climate change-related crises, the burgeoning health impacts of heat waves and floods and more, the avalanche of science indicating how off track the world is — these all make continued silence on the debate stage “unbelievably irresponsible,” he argues.

What this blog post presupposes is — maybe it isn’t? Perhaps this is a more general confusion at how watching Joe Biden and Donald Trump avoid answering Serious Jake Tapper Questions for two hours could illuminate literally anything about the differences between the candidates or their policy preferences, but what exactly would asking the candidates about their positions on withering insurance markets, or offshore wind power lease sales, or the potential for green hydrogen actually tell the voters? The argument in favor of climate questions made a lot of sense in, say, 2012, when Barack Obama had been tilting at the emissions windmill somewhat and his opponent was not an incoherent lunatic. This election is not that.

Bledsoe himself notes the ample existing evidence on the subject from both men, including Biden’s centering of climate change in his administration’s priorities and “putting in place legislation and regulations to cut methane and reduce fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emissions through clean energy,” and Trump’s plan for “a deliberate doubling down of a fossil fuel economy, and asking the oil industry for a billion in contributions.” Truly, a baffling choice!

Perhaps there is a voter out there who thinks “climate change seems like a real problem and I hope the government does more about it” but who also is unclear on which candidate’s platform matches that concern and who also plans to watch a presidential debate — let’s call him Steve. It’s a big country, who can say.

Maybe watching Trump make it clear that he thinks “clean coal” is somehow cleaner when it comes out of the ground, or making things up about wind turbines and birds, or simply say over and over that he wants more drilling literally everywhere, will have an effect on Steve’s voting plans. Maybe.

But there’s also a chance that Trump just bloviates past Biden trying to tout his administration’s accomplishments and the ongoing solar power boom and so on, shouts a lot and claims the current administration has destroyed American industries and all we end up with are New York Times headlines like “Biden Tried to Make His Climate Change Case, But His Age Was Showing.” Trump and his allies’ plans to burn it all down, figuratively and literally, don’t penetrate Steve’s diligently curious but distressingly thick skull, and he goes about his voting business much as he was going to in the first place.

Bledsoe writes that “both candidates should provide clear plans for how they plan to protect our people, our economy and the world.” They already have.

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