Presidential Debate Questions for a Sweltering World
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JUNE 26: Signage for a CNN presidential debate is seen outside of their studios at the Turner Entertainment Networks on June 26, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. U.S. President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump will face off in the first presidential debate of the 2024 presidential cycle this Thursday. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Presidential Debate Questions for a Sweltering World

Among the issues the candidates will address, climate disruption belongs at the top.

What would a realistic presidential debate look like in a nation where 100 million Americans recently sweltered under a massive heat dome while their nation led the world in oil and gas production—and consumption?

It's a fair bet it wouldn't look like the debate we'll have tonight.

If past is prologue, CNN moderators will devote no more than 10 minutes to a topic that’s easily worth a whole debate. Among the issues the candidates will address, climate disruption belongs at the top.

Yes, voters may be focused on pocketbook issues—such as rising prices, jobs, housing, childcare and health. But it’s the moderators’ job to remind them how a rapidly changing climate could exacerbate or overshadow all of these concerns.

Worried about the immigrants on the southern borders? The Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) predicts that around 1.2 billion people could be displaced by 2050 due to climate change and natural disasters.

Health? Air pollution largely from fossil fuel burning already causes 7.5-8 million deaths a year due air pollution. It’s aggravated by higher temperatures. Hotter weather also spreads pest-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease and West Nile Virus.

Housing? Increased flood, fire, and hurricane risks lower property values. Rising seas threaten trillions of dollars worth of coastal property. Home insurance costs are already soaring, and policies are becoming less available in areas increasingly at risk from floods, hurricanes, and fire.

Heat waves meanwhile, aside from their health effects, erode purchasing power by increasing utility bills as people use more air conditioning. Blackouts and brownouts then become more frequent, as utility circuits are overwhelmed.

Dire as these issues may be, they pale in comparison to the apocalyptic outcomes scientists are now warning us against: irreversible melting of West Antarctica and Greenland, halting of the “conveyor belt” deep ocean current that distributes heat and moisture around the globe, and the release of vast amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the thawing Arctic permafrost.

The scientists who have correctly warned us about destabilizing the climate for years now are projecting that by 2050, global temperatures may rise 2ºC or more—curtains for nearly one in five land animals and a third of all insect species will be a high risk of extinction.

So if I were posing the questions tonight, I’d ask:

  • Are we doing enough as a nation to protect the climate by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions? If not, how will you protect Americans from the impacts of rapid climate change on food, energy and insurance prices?
  • As president, would you be prepared to declare a climate change a national emergency?
  • Isn’t it past time to end the hundreds of billions of dollars in explicit and implicit annual taxpayer-funded subsidies to fossil fuel companies?
  • Given the gravity of the climate crisis, do you support investing at least 2-3 percent of US GDP annually in an expedited national clean energy transition?
  • Knowing that 60 of the world’s largest banks have invested $3.8 trillion in fossil fuels since the Paris Climate Agreement, would you support stronger regulation of banks by the federal government to discourage them from investing in fossil fuel companies that are in the process of expanding their production of fossil fuels?
  • Would you support the legislation to implement adoption of a comprehensive scientifically based, National Climate Action Plan with enforceable deadlines? Or would you leave the mission of lowering U.S. emissions to free-market forces?
  • Do you support a national carbon-fee-and dividend to cause the costs of the damages caused by fossil fuels to be reflected in its market price, with revenue rebated to low-income and middle interest people?
  • Doesn’t our generation owe our children and grandchildren a stable climate, so they can have a healthy environment and a safe, prosperous future?
I’m frankly not hopeful that questions like these will be asked tonight. But if the CNN moderators won’t take them on, voters should start demanding answers, while we still have time.
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