The October 22 presidential debate, the last of three meetings between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney, bookended a campaign marked by silence on climate change during all four debates. In fact, the 2012 campaign is the first in a generation in which climate change was not addressed at a presidential or vice presidential debate.
24 years before Obama and Romney failed to adress climate change and Republican vice presidential nominee Representative Paul Ryan labeled the Obama administration's energy stimulus programs as "green pork," climate change was being discussed at a campaign debate on the national stage.
Chicago Tribune reporter Jon Margolis asked the 1988 vice presidential candidates, Senators Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen, what they would do to deal with global warming and whether they would support "substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels which might be necessary down the road."
While the 1988 vice presidential debate may be most remembered for Bensten's quip, "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy," it is historic for being the first debate to see the candidates questioned on climate change. That same year, NASA scientist James Hansen told Congress, "Altogether the evidence that the earth is warming by an amount which is too large to be a chance fluctuation and the similarity of the warming to that expected from the greenhouse effect represents a very strong case."
Since then, questions related to climate change have been posed during at least one of the debates in every campaign through 2008, according to Forecast the Facts. In the 1996 vice presidential debate, Vice President Al Gore said, "President Bill Clinton will protect our environment and prevent the kind of attacks on it that we saw in the last Congress and that are included in the Republican platform." Jack Kemp responded, "The only thing [the Democrats] have to offer is fear."
In 2000, Gore maintained that climate change was manmade and urgent action was needed for the sake of future generations. Governor George W. Bush suggested that climate science was unsettled. "I don't think we know the solution to global warming yet. And I don't think we've got all the facts," Bush claimed. He also posited, "There's differing opinions."
Governor Sarah Palin acknowledged climate change in 2008 and its impact that is observable in Alaska "more so than any other state." Yet she insisted it was not worth debating the causes of climate change and offered "cyclical temperature changes" as a likely cause.