THE BLOG
11/15/2007 05:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Next Democratic Debate

I don't know how tonight's CNN debate in Las Vegas will turn out. I'm not sanguine -- seven candidates, 90 second answers, race tightening or sewed up, depending on your poll. Expect a lot of mixed metaphors about gambling, boxing, and horse-racing in post-debate coverage. Expect to be depressed.

To fortify your spirits and find some nourishment to see you through this endless campaign, tune in to the next Democratic debate. The first environmental debate of the campaign, on Global Warming and America's Energy Future, will be held this Saturday in Los Angeles. (webcast on November 17, 2pm PST, by co-sponsor Grist.org.)

Let's savor the moment. On global warming, the most vital challenge for our generation, every Democratic candidate is promising bold action.

For everyone who insists there's no difference between the Democrats and Republicans, consider the Republicans on the climate crisis. Romney doubts humans are very responsible and doesn't like the Kyoto Protocol. Ditto Huckabee. Giuliani at least says he has to believe the scientists, but before you know it, he's off on how those terrorists are sitting on our oil supply. They all want to shower more subsidies on the nuke and oil industries, and drill for oil on America's coasts and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Only McCain has shown basic common sense and leadership on the issue. He supports capping emissions, but he too is more keen on nukes and "clean coal" than on renewables, and his plan is far less aggressive than that of every leading Democrat.

So, how did Democrats, the same folks that brought you Mukasey and Peru Free Trade this week, find their backbone on global warming? You'll get a glimpse of how it happened if you watch Saturday's debate.

Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich will be on stage, questioned by environmentalists in half-hour segments. (Barack Obama declined the invitation to participate.) But when the camera pans around, pay attention to the audience. Yeah, there's a writer's strike and things are slow in town, but still, this was the hardest ticket to score this week. Some of the high-profile celebrity environmentalists will surely be in attendance. But many of the roughly 2,000 people who will be in the hall are active in the environmental movement. I do not use that word loosely. These are people who go to endless meetings, organize their neighbors, file lawsuits against corporate polluters, go door-to-door on election day to elect pro-environment politicians, send delegations to their reps in the California legislature, hold community forums, testify at public meetings, and do any other number of the difficult and often tedious tasks required to make political change.

It's not a coincidence that California was the first state to set its own car emissions standards, the first to pass legislation capping and reducing its carbon emissions. The environmental movement in California isn't a mass movement, but it's deep, broad, diverse, and bold. These victories would be inconceivable without that movement.

If we want our candidates to lead, we have to push them. While you're listening to the great (not perfect) proposals Clinton, Edwards, and Kucinich have to cut our dependence on fossil fuels and tackle global warming, think about the setting. Then try to visualize a crowd of, say, 2,000 civil libertarians listening raptly to a debate on torture and spying, while 3,000 others clamor to be let in. Get the picture? Looking forward to seeing you Saturday -- virtually -- with all of us pushy Angelenos.