After 2020 Democratic presidential candidates spent less than ten minutes on the global climate emergency during the first primary debate in Miami, Florida Wednesday night, environmentalists and progressive critics argued it is now clearer than ever that the DNC must agree to host a debate focused specifically on the crisis that poses an existential threat to human civilization.
"It's absurd to host a debate in Miami and spend only a few minutes on the climate crisis. This is downright irresponsible and shameful."
—Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement
Climate journalist Kate Aronoff noted in a blog post for The Guardian that it took "nearly an hour and a half" for NBC moderators to ask the first direct question about the climate emergency, which "could make large swathes of the planet horrifically uninhabitable by the end of this century."
"NBC should be ashamed of itself. So should [DNC] chairman Tom Perez," Aronoff wrote. "Members of the Sunrise Movement—which pushed the idea of the Green New Deal into the national spotlight late last year—are sitting in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., pushing the DNC to organize a debate dedicated solely to the potential end of human civilization. As tonight proved, it's desperately needed."
There should be a climate debate and it should be moderated by someone with a basic fluency about the crisis. Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd's questions might as well have been written by the American Enterprise Institute.
— Kate Aronoff (@KateAronoff) June 27, 2019
Tamara Toles O'Laughlin, director of 350 Action, echoed Aronoff's assessment in a statement after the debate came to a close, pointing out that more time "was spent fixing microphones" than discussing the crisis that is already wreaking havoc across the planet.
"This sets up the election of our lifetimes with a tone of insufficient seriousness to address the magnitude of the climate crisis, its impact on communities, and the courage it requires to invest in real solutions," O'Laughlin said. "It is tone deaf to the calls of the people and a show of selective hearing from the Democratic National Committee."
When asked by moderator Chuck Todd to name the "greatest geopolitical threat" to the United States, just four of the ten Democratic candidates on the stage—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Beto O'Rourke, Julian Castro, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)—answered "climate change."
China, Russia, climate change and nuclear proliferation... each candidate lists what they believe to be the greatest geopolitical threat the United States faces today. #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/kmCkanuNUz
— CNBC (@CNBC) June 27, 2019
O'Laughlin pointed out that the Green New Deal, a far-reaching and popular proposal to confront the climate emergency while creating millions of decent-paying jobs, was not mentioned once during the debate.
According to a Washington Post transcript, the phrase "climate crisis" was used just twice Wednesday night—both times by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee—while "climate change" was mentioned eleven times over the course of the two-hour debate.
As HuffPost reported, "Only five of the ten candidates onstage had a chance to respond to four questions on the issue directed at individual contenders, making it impossible to compare everyone's stances. Discussion of a topic that only first came up 10:22pm local time ended abruptly at 10:29pm."
O'Laughlin said she is "unimpressed by the ongoing disregard for a real presidential platform for candidates to dig deep and commit to real action and solutions to the crisis at hand."
"We deserve a climate debate to give these issues a serious hearing, where we can truly inspect the candidates leadership as we face this existential crisis as a nation."
The first of two scheduled debates in Miami came as youth activists with the Sunrise Movement camped out at the headquarters of the DNC to pressure the committee to host a climate-specific 2020 debate.
Good night from Day 2 outside the @DNC.
We're feeling disappointed & angry after tonight's #DemDebate, and we're sweaty & tired, but our spirits are high.
It's clear that we need to be here. The adults in power don't have their act together. Our survival depends on what WE do. pic.twitter.com/Vni5xnxK8L
— Sunrise Movement (@sunrisemvmt) June 27, 2019
As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Perez announced that the DNC would not host a climate debate despite grassroots demands, but promised that the primary debates would feature "more robust" climate discussions than ever before.
But Wednesday night's debate suggested that Perez's promise was hollow, green groups said.
"It's absurd to host a debate in Miami—a city where millions of people could lose their homes due to sea level rise that's also only 20 miles from the Everglades where massive fires are out of control—and spend only a few minutes on the climate crisis," Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, said in a statement. "This is downright irresponsible and shameful."
"Tonight's debate made it crystal clear that the media and the political establishment are out of touch with our generation. Our survival is worth more time than vague, irrelevant, and trivial questions posed 80 minutes into the debate to a few minor candidates."
While expressing disappointment with Wednesday night's debate, Prakash said the fact that tens of thousands are speaking up and pressuring the Democratic leadership to treat the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves is a reason to be hopeful.
"There is something big happening in this country," Prakash said. "Young people are 32 hours into a sit-in at the DNC. Tens of thousands of people are organizing and raising their voices to demand our leaders start taking the climate crisis seriously. We are growing stronger every day and we are going to win."