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Climate, Progressive Groups Demand the Climate Crisis Be a Major Focus of Presidential Debates

Leaders from dozens of prominent organizations request debate moderators focus on the climate crisis in the presidential debates
Protest sign saying "there is no planet B"
marc kjerland / CC BY-SA 2.0
September 3, 2020
Washington, D.C. —

Today, the leaders of 43 prominent progressive, climate, and environmental groups called on newly-announced debate moderators Chris Wallace, Steve Scully, Kristen Welker, and Susan Page to make climate change a central issue in the upcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates. 

Not one question on climate change was asked during the three presidential debates or the single vice presidential debate in 2016. At this turning point in the climate crisis, as the nation faces extreme weather, hurricanes, heat waves, and pollution, that cannot be the case in 2020.

“The climate crisis is here — the crisis is not a chart or a graph, or in some far-off future. It is happening now, in communities across America,” the leaders wrote. “From the rising asthma and cancer rates in frontline communities, predominantly communities of color and low-income communities, who’ve been subject to toxic air and water, to the increasingly devastating extreme hurricanes, heatwaves, wildfires and violent storms that have destroyed homes and small businesses, wrecked communities, and killed friends, neighbors, and family — we are living with the consequences of climate change every day.”

“Any discussion on the economy, racial justice, public health, democracy, national security, or infrastructure must include the climate crisis. Voters deserve media coverage that takes the climate crisis as seriously as the science tells us we must and as the millions of people across the country who are currently suffering from the impacts deserve,” the letter continues. “As moderators, it is your responsibility to ensure all candidates provide clear answers on their specific plans to protect communities from the climate emergency starting on day one and throughout their term.”

Read the full text of the letter:

(View as PDF)

Dear Chris Wallace, Steve Scully, Kristen Welker, and Susan Page, 

Debates are among the very few, but significant, opportunities for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates to speak directly to the American people. Where candidates must clearly state how they will address our nation’s most pressing issues. 

The 43 undersigned organizations stand with the vast majority of voters who favor bold government action to address the climate crisis. Together, we are asking you — the debate moderators charged with shaping these moments — to ensure the climate crisis is a central focus of all presidential and vice-presidential debates this year. It is imperative the candidates seeking our nation’s highest office explain how they will address and prepare us for the current and increasing effects of the climate crisis and how they will combat the environmental injustice that has plagued Black and brown communities for decades. 

In 2016, moderators didn’t ask a single question about the climate crisis during any of the four debates. That was unacceptable then and would be nothing short of negligent and dangerous in 2020. This election will be a defining moment for our country. We are truly at the point of no return if we do not act boldly and immediately starting in 2021. 

This is not a partisan issue. Research from Stanford University in August of 2020 found that 68% of voters want the U.S. government to do more about global warming — with 82% saying the government should at least do a moderate amount to address the climate crisis, an all-time high for public opinion on the issue. While Pew, in March, found concern over climate change growing with 60% now viewing it as a major threat, up 7 points from 2016 and 16 points from 2009. And scientists worldwide are telling us we must act: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change we must cut nearly half of all global emissions by 2030, and reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

The climate crisis is here — the crisis is not a chart or a graph, or in some far-off future. It is happening now, in communities across America. From the rising asthma and cancer rates in frontline communities, predominantly communities of color and low-income communities, who’ve been subject to toxic air and water, to the increasingly devastating extreme hurricanes, heatwaves, wildfires, and violent storms that have destroyed homes and small businesses, wrecked communities, and killed friends, neighbors, and family — we are living with the consequences of climate change every day.

We are a country deep in crises, and how we respond to one crisis magnifies the others. As we look to our leaders to rebuild and recover from a pandemic-fueled economic crisis, the type of jobs we create are the defining question of how we get people back to work and if we are going to take genuine steps toward the clean future we need to tackle the climate crisis. We’re at the edge of a cliff, and voters must know what direction our next president will take us.

Any discussion on the economy, racial justice, public health, democracy, national security, or infrastructure must include the climate crisis. Voters deserve media coverage that takes the climate crisis as seriously as the science tells us we must and as the millions of people across the country who are currently suffering from the impacts deserve. As moderators, it is your responsibility to ensure all candidates provide clear answers on their specific plans to protect communities from the climate emergency starting on day one and throughout their term.

Thank you for providing the candidates with the opportunity to address their records and explain their plans on an issue vital to the present and future of everyone in this country — and our entire planet. 

Sincerely, 

198 Methods: Drew Hudson, Founder

314 Action: Shaughnessy Naughton, President & Founder

350 Action: Tamara Toles O'Laughlin, North America Director 

Alianza for Progress: Marcos Vilar, Executive Director

Black Millennials 4 Flint: LaTricea Adams, Founder, and President

Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund: Brett Hartl, Chief Political Strategist

Center for American Progress Action Fund: John Podesta, Founder

Clean Air Moms Action: Felice Stadler, Director

Climate Cabinet: Caroline Spears, Founder

Climate Hawks Vote: RL Miller

Climate Nexus: Jeff Nesbit, Executive Director

Climate Power 2020: Lori Lodes, Executive Director

Climate Reality Action Fund: Ken Berlin, CEO

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles: Angelica Salas, Executive Director

Earthjustice: Marty Hayden, Vice President of Policy and Legislation

Elected Officials to Protect America: Alex Cornell du Houx, Co-Founder and President

EDF Action: Joe Bonfiglio, President

Evergreen Action: Jamal Raad, Co-Founder and Campaign Director

Friends of the Earth: Karen Orenstein, Director of Climate and Energy

Generation Green: Destiny Hodges, Founder, and Executive Director

Green Latinos: Mark Magaña, President and CEO

Greenpeace USA: Annie Leonard, Executive Director

Good Energy Collective: Co-Founders Jessica Lovering and Suzanne Baker, Board Chair Rachel Slaybaugh

Hip Hop Caucus: Liz Havstad, Executive Director

Indivisible: Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin, Co-Executive Directors

League of Conservation Voters: Tiernan Sittenfeld, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs

Leaders Igniting Transformation Action Fund: Darrol Gibson, Managing Director

MoveOn: Dan Kalik, Senior Political Advisor

National Wildlife Federation: Mustafa Ali, Vice President of Environmental Justice, Climate, and Community Revitalization 

National Urban League Young Professionals: Ray B. Shackelford, President 

NRDC Action Fund: Kevin S. Curtis, Executive Director

Physicians for Social Responsibility: Antonia Herzog, Climate and Energy Program Manager

People’s Action: Kaniela Ing, Climate Justice Campaign Director

Poder Latinx: Yadira Sanchez, Co-Executive Director

Progressive Democrats of America: Alan Minsky, Executive Director

Sierra Club: Ramon Cruz, President

Sunrise Movement: Evan Weber, Co-Founder, and Political Director 

The CLEO Institute: Yoca Arditi-Rocha, Executive Director

The Next 50: Zak Malamed, Co-founder and Executive director

Union of Concerned Scientists: Erin Burger, Federal Action Campaign Director 

WE ACT for Environmental Justice: Peggy Shepherd, Co-founder, and Executive Director

Working Families Party: Maurice Mitchell, National Director

World War Zero: Secretary John Kerry