Arguing that DNC chair Tom Perez's refusal to allow a presidential debate focused solely on the climate crisis runs counter to the Democratic Party's own 2016 policy platform, a coalition of progressive advocacy groups and leading environmentalists on Tuesday published an open letter urging Perez to reverse his decision and devote at least one night to the planetary emergency.
"The last Democratic platform made clear that we desperately needed emergency action on climate—and since it was adopted we've had the hottest year in human history," Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and signatory of the open letter, said in a statement. "So it doesn't seem too much to ask that the candidates, who have months and months of campaigning, devote a single evening to coming to grips with this crisis."
"To avoid climate crisis in the next decade, we need to know where those vying to be our next president stand today."
—Annie Leonard, Greenpeace USA
Led by Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), the open letter highlights the section of the 2016 Democratic Party platform that declares: "Climate change poses an urgent and severe threat to our national security, and Democrats believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to wait for another nation to take the lead in combating the global climate emergency."
"We are committed to a national mobilization," the platform reads, "and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II."
In their open letter—which can be read in full below—the advocacy groups said Perez's opposition to a climate debate "despite the Democratic Party being formally governed by its commitment to leading a 'national mobilization' to 'address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II' defies common sense."
Alan Minsky, executive director of PDA, said the policy document makes clear that the "Democratic Party doesn't debate we're in a climate emergency."
"So why is it debating whether to have a climate emergency debate?" Minsky asked.
As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Perez defied the demands of grassroots climate activists and major 2020 Democratic presidential candidates by announcing that the DNC will not allow a climate-focused debate, despite the fact that previous presidential debates have almost completely ignored the crisis.
"You have my word that I will do everything I can to make sure our candidates are able to debate all of the critical issues during this primary," Perez said at the time.
Confronted by activists following his announcement, Perez defended his decision on the grounds that debate rules are already in place and insisted that the dozen scheduled presidential debates will contain "more robust" discussions of climate than ever.
But climate leaders said Perez's assurances are not enough to guarantee that the climate emergency gets the substantive attention it deserves.
"Climate change got almost no attention during the 2016 debate cycle," Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, said in a statement. "This time, we're not settling for soundbites. To avoid climate crisis in the next decade, we need to know where those vying to be our next president stand today."
"A climate debate," said Leonard, "is our chance to find out who has what it takes to deliver the visionary promise of the Green New Deal and confront the fossil fuel executives standing in the way of progress."
Read the open letter:
Dear Chairman Perez,
We are alarmed to learn that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is refusing to host a presidential debate on the climate emergency. For the DNC not to view the existential threat of global climate breakdown as a topic worthy of one of 12 debates scheduled for 2019 and 2020 is deeply problematic. It directly conflicts with the spirit, if not the intent, of the Global Climate Leadership plank of your own party’s platform.
The Democratic Party Platform, described as "the ideas and beliefs that govern our party as a whole," declares the following:
“Climate change poses an urgent and severe threat to our national security, and Democrats believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to wait for another nation to take the lead in combating the global climate emergency. According to the military, climate change is a threat multiplier that is already contributing to new conflicts over resources, catastrophic natural disasters, and the degradation of vital ecosystems across the globe. While Donald Trump says that climate change is a ‘hoax’ created by and for the Chinese, Democrats recognize the catastrophic consequences facing our country, our planet, and civilization.
We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II.”
For you to refuse to host a debate on the "climate emergency" despite the Democratic Party being formally governed by its commitment to leading a “national mobilization” to “address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II” defies common sense.
We respectfully insist that the DNC reverse its decision and commit to hosting at least one, if not more, of its presidential debates dedicated solely to the global climate emergency.
Alan Minsky, Executive Director
Progressive Democrats of America
Russell Greene, Senior Strategic Advisor, Progressive Democrats of America &
2016 Democratic Platform Committee Member
Andrea Miller, Executive Director
People Demanding Action
Tom Weis, President
Climate Crisis Solutions
Bill McKibben, Founder
Annie Leonard, Executive Director
Democratic National Committee Member, California
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., Civil Rights & Climate Justice Activist
Josh Fox, Oscar Nominated Emmy Winning Filmmaker &
2016 Democratic Platform Committee Member
Naomi Klein, Author
Avi Lewis, Filmmaker
Margaret Klein Salamon, Co-Founder
The Climate Mobilization
Ezra Silk, Co-Founder
The Climate Mobilization
Alexandria Villaseñor, Founder
Earth Uprising International
Russell Gray, Co-Founder
Extinction Rebellion US
Erich Pica, President
Friends of the Earth Action
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director
Food & Water Watch
Lindsey Allen, Executive Director
Rainforest Action Network
Kieran Suckling, President
Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund
Professor William J. Snape, III
American University Law School
Tim DeChristopher, Fellow
Climate Disobedience Center
Mark Z. Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Demond Drummer, Executive Director
Rhiana Gunn-Wright, Policy Director
Peter Kalmus, Climate Scientist & Author
Patrick Carolan, Founder, Global Catholic Climate Movement & Executive Director
Franciscan Action Network
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Founder and Director
The Shalom Center
Joel Segal, National Director
Justice Action Mobilization Network
Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali, Founder & CEO
Thom Hartmann, Host
Thom Hartmann Program