Back in the 2016 presidential election, there were zero questions on the climate crisis in the general election debates. That’s right, zero. And in the preceding Democratic primary debates, the few questions that were asked were shallow and inconsistent, not spurring the kind of robust debate required to address one of the most critical issues of our time.
Those days of climate silence are over. Thanks to the tireless commitment of grassroots activists across the nation, families from coast to coast who are seeing the effects of climate change and recognizing the urgency through first-hand accounts, and specifically the dedicated young people who have been making some serious waves, the climate crisis has become a top-tier issue in the Democratic primary.
In this critical 2020 election season, we’re joining allies in demanding that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) acknowledge the importance and urgency of the climate crisis – as well as its renewed political prominence – by devoting one of the presidential primary debates entirely to climate change.
Due to our collective efforts, the debate is changing and the bar for climate leadership is being raised – in a big way. A new poll released from CNN shows that, for the first time ever, climate change is the number one issue of concern for Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters. This is big. A full 96% of respondents in these groups feel it’s important that Democratic candidates support “taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change.”
A Monmouth University poll specifically of Iowa Democratic voters — some of the first voters who will have an official say on the nomination — released last month showed that climate change is a top issue, right after health care, and polling on voters in early primary states from February found that climate is a key motivating issue and that “having a plan to address the climate crisis is seen as essential and is a driver of vote choice.”
It’s should be no surprise, then, that candidates are paying keen attention to the electorate and coming out with detailed climate plans that start to meet the scale of the crisis. In addition, the list of major presidential candidates signing on to the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge has now hit twelve as more than half of the field of Democratic candidates refuse contributions from the PACs, lobbyists, and executives of fossil fuel companies. When the primary debates start this summer, we expect those candidates still accepting fossil fuel money to represent a small minority of behind-the-times holdouts –marking a historic shift from past election cycles.
Now, we need to hear detailed explanations of candidates’ climate plans through a full debate focused on climate change. A climate debate will leave room for an informed moderator to take the time needed to press candidates beyond the usual platitudes and seek out specific details of their plans to tackle Big Oil, Gas, and Coal and ensure a just transition. This way, voters will be able to know that whoever is nominated to take on Trump in 2020 has what it takes to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and fight for the bold solutions to the climate crisis that this moment requires.
Calls for a climate debate are getting louder by the day, and presidential candidates are raising their own voices in support. On Earth Day, Gov. Jay Inslee penned an open letter in support of our movement’s grassroots call for a robust climate debate, urging his fellow candidates to join him. He wrote, “together, as Democratic candidates, we can speak with one voice and demand that our party truly debates the future of our planet.” Fellow candidates Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Julián Castro have publicly voiced their support. Who will be next?
As of now, the DNC is planning for twelve Democratic debates during the 2020 primary season, six in 2019 and then six in 2020. Specific details are still being hammered out, but we know the first Democratic primary debate will be June 26-27 in Miami, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. We’ll be joining allies to push for substantive climate questions in every single debate – but we’ll keep up our concerted push for a debate dedicated exclusively to the climate crisis as well.
We need even more pressure to convince the DNC to host a full debate on the climate crisis. Here’s how you can take action today:
- Sign the #ClimateDebate petition to the DNC and spread the word far and wide.
- Share the #ClimateDebate petition on Twitter.
- Share the #ClimateDebate petition on Facebook.
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