Confronted by activists during a fundraiser for the Florida Democratic Party over the weekend, DNC chairman Tom Perez insisted it would be impractical to make one of the dozen scheduled 2020 presidential primary debates solely about the global climate crisis and candidates' proposed solutions.
"Not even our so-called 'leaders' are courageous enough to tell the truth about the emergency we are in. Climate isn't one issue, it's every issue."
—Garrett Blad, Sunrise Movement
"A lot of young people say we should have a single debate focused on climate change," Perez told activists after delivering a speech at the gala. But, the DNC chairman added, "once you have one single issue debate, then every debate leads to become a single issue debate in order to address the concerns."
"So these debates, and we will have issue areas in debates, including but not limited to climate," Perez said, "but it's just not practical for us to have one debate on democracy reform, one debate on voting."
Perez's remarks provoked further outrage from grassroots groups that have been demanding a climate-specific debate, particularly given that past presidential debates have largely ignored the crisis—even in the face of scientific evidence showing that immediate and drastic action must be taken to avert catastrophic warming.
"What's actually unrealistic: the Democratic establishment saying we'll stop climate change when they aren't even willing to have a debate on it," the youth-led Sunrise Movement tweeted in response to Perez's comments, which came just days after he announced that the DNC would not host a climate-specific debate and would punish candidates who attend a debate hosted by a different organization.
What's actually unrealistic: the Democratic establishment saying we'll stop climate change when they aren't even willing to have a debate on it.
— Sunrise Movement (@sunrisemvmt) June 9, 2019
The @DNC is on the wrong side of history.
— Sunrise Movement (@sunrisemvmt) June 10, 2019
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Garrett Blad, national press coordinator for the Sunrise Movement, called Perez's comments "pathetic" and "disastrous for my generation and millions everywhere."
"Not even our so-called 'leaders' are courageous enough to tell the truth about the emergency we are in," Blad added. "Climate isn't one issue, it's every issue."
Blad's response echoed author and activist Naomi Klein's point that the climate crisis "is not an 'issue'—it's the backdrop for all other issues."
"It's the fabric of life on Earth," Klein tweeted last week, "and it is unraveling."
The DNC's refusal to hold a #ClimateDebate b/c it is "single issue" highlights the deepest misunderstanding of our age. Climate is not an "issue" - it's the backdrop for all other issues. It's the fabric of life on Earth and it is unravelling. Candidates, be bold: defy the ban. https://t.co/xwIC7fKpFa
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) June 7, 2019
Perez's comments came as he is under growing pressure from environmental groups, 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, and DNC members to reverse his decision against hosting a climate-specific debate.
As HuffPost reported Friday, more than "50 voting members of the Democratic National Committee have submitted a resolution calling on DNC Chairman Tom Perez to hold a presidential debate devoted exclusively to the topic of climate change."
"The signers plan to collect more signatures and submit the resolution for official consideration at a DNC meeting in Pittsburgh at the end of the month," according to HuffPost. "Perez would be free to reject it, even if it had majority support in the DNC. In the meantime, it is intended to function as an open letter and source of pressure on Perez."
Additionally, the Sunrise Movement said hundreds of thousands of people have signed its petition calling on the DNC to host a debate focused on the climate emergency and 2020 candidates' plans to confront it.
"Climate change is not just a 'single issue' but something that impacts all other issues," the petition reads. "Americans understand that. It's why climate is a top issue in this election. Our survival is at stake. It's time for the political and media establishment to act like it."