It finally happened. After three straight debates without a single moderator asking about climate change, Fox News’s Chris Wallace decided to focus the final presidential showdown on a slow-moving issue that would greatly affect future generations. He wasn’t going to let Trump or Clinton avoid the topic, either. He pulled out facts and figures and demanded to know why the two candidates were ignoring the problem.
Wait, sorry, I’m just kidding. Wallace didn’t ask about climate change at all. He wanted to talk about the national debt.
The national debt is an odd, recurring fixation in Washington. The fact that the US government borrows a lot of money each year just isn’t a huge problem right now. Interest rates are incredibly low. The US Treasury has no problem rolling over its debt and never misses a payment. The one thing that might be worth fretting about is that someday in the future, our children and grandchildren could have to pay higher taxes to pay down the debt if it gets unmanageable.
But if you’re that worried about the future, why not talk about global warming? It’s an issue that’s already affecting us today — but will also shape the next 10,000 years of life on this planet. And it’s not just a question of whether our grandchildren might have to pay somewhat higher taxes, it’s a question of whether multi-century droughts will ravage the Southwest, or whether the city of Miami will drown beneath the rising seas, or whether vital coral reefs will vanish forever. Quibbling over the payroll tax seems quaint by comparison.
But none of the moderators asked about global warming at all. Not in the first presidential debate. Not in the vice presidential debate. Not in the second presidential debate.* Not in the third presidential debate. Hillary Clinton name-checked the topic, occasionally, but that was it. Humanity is departing from the stable climatic conditions that allowed civilization to thrive, yet the most powerful nation on Earth can’t set aside five minutes to discuss.
It’s possible the debate moderators don’t understand what’s at stake. It’s possible they don’t care. Or it’s possible they’re afraid that any question on the topic might seem too partisan. After all, Clinton thinks the issue is pretty serious and has a bunch of proposals around it, whereas Trump says it’s all a hoax invented by the Chinese. Under the circumstances, even a halfway intelligent question about climate policy would sound “biased.”
The national debt is a safer topic — it’s something members of both parties have been chattering about for years. And if it’s bipartisan, it must be serious. Whereas with global warming, the entire GOP has nuttily convinced itself that all the world’s climate scientists must be making things up. So, for the sake of objectivity and balance, the moderators decided to ignore the issue altogether. Nice work.
* The closest anyone came was in the second presidential debate, when audience member (and coal-plant operator) Ken Bone asked the candidates: “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?” That’s not a direct climate question, but it certainly touches on crucial adjacent topics.