Two presidential debates and a VP debate have come and gone, with no mention of climate change. Instead, there have been some exchanges about energy policy, about whether enough public land has been drilled, and who was more of a "coal man." Both candidates claimed to be pro-oil and pro-coal, and said positive things about oil and gas pipelines such as the KeystoneXL pipeline. To be fair, President Obama also included renewables in his discussion, and he emphasized the need for demand reduction through efficiency as an important non-drilling strategy to lower gas prices. After the second debate, moderator Candy Crowley of CNN indicated that she had a climate change question ready but was unable to get to it. It is time to end the climate silence. Despite the campaign's intense focus on speaking to "swing voters" in suburban Ohio, climate change needs to come up at the third debate. It's the biggest issue facing our civilization, and it's relevant to foreign policy because we need international cooperation to address it.
Ultimately, while relevant to domestic policy, climate change is more at home in a foreign policy debate where we juggle our national interests (which is to say: fairly carbon intensive economic growth) with the needs of others (others' rights to industrialize, like China or India) and where the effects (both favorable and unfavorable) will be experienced globally.
With all the campaigns' discussion of fiscal policy, budgets, and the economy, the American people can handle a little bit of Bill McKibben's New Math.
Here are three potential climate change debate questions that could break the climate silence:
- National Security: The Pentagon has stated that climate change and its related increase in extreme weather events, water shortages, and more "will pose a threat to U.S. security interests." Do you agree with this statement? If not, please explain why Americans should be subjected to increased risks to national security if you are elected president? If so, would you declare a "War on Climate Change" to protect our national security by mobilizing government, the private sector, and communities around the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
- New Math: James Hansen and Bill McKibben describe a New Math of climate change, which can be summarized as follows: Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons of carbon fuel in their reserves, but scientists say we can only burn 565 more gigatons worth of carbon and stay below 2°C of warming -- anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. How will you, as president, make sure that the 2,230 excess gigatons stay in the ground?
- American Exceptionalism, and an International Climate Treaty: The United States contains around 5 percent of the world's population, yet emits about 25 percent of the globe's greenhouse gas emissions. According to the New Math (above), there is a decreasing budget for remaining fossil fuel use and emissions this century. Should the industrialized world limit their use of fossil fuels in order to "create space" for less-developed countries to be able to increase their energy use toward a goal of global per capita equity? Would you work with other countries and the United Nations to implement an international climate treaty centered around Contraction & Convergence?
- (Bonus question) In your closing statement, please explain to your grandchildren either how we succeeded in meeting the challenge of climate change in the early 21st century, or apologize to them for why we failed.