Democratic debate takes heat for watered-down climate questions

Democratic debate takes heat for watered-down climate questions
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Green groups and politicians alike are criticizing the first Democratic primary debate moderated by NBC News on Wednesday night for failing to ask enough substantive climate change questions.

While debate moderators spent nearly 10 minutes asking various candidates about issues related to their climate action plans, critics who have been calling for a single climate-focused debate are arguing it was significantly lacking.

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“I don’t think that we are discussing climate change the way we need to be discussing climate change,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said on "The Late Show with Steven Colbert" after the debate. 

“It is such a huge, broad systemic issue and you can’t just say, 'Is Miami gonna exist in 50 years?' We need to say what are you going to do about this.”

Candidates on the Miami stage were asked a variety of pin-pointed questions, including could their climate plans alone save Miami from sea level rise, how could they make carbon pricing economical and how they can spread the message of a climate crisis.

But critics argued the questions at times lacked important context and made large assumptions about the state of climate change, letting candidates answer with broad-strokes responses.

“It’s absurd to host a debate in Miami — a city where millions of people could lose their homes due to sea level rise that’s also only 20 miles from the Everglades, where massive fires are out of control — and spend only a few minutes on the climate crisis,” said Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement a youth-led climate action group.

“Only four candidates had the opportunity to discuss it at all. This is downright irresponsible and shameful.”

The group, along with other environmental organizations, has been asking for a stand-alone climate change debate. Activists with Sunrise staged an all-night sit-in earlier this week at Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in Washington, D.C., to demand a climate debate.

But it wasn’t that candidates didn’t want to breach the issue of climate change, a topic that most have acknowledged is a global problem that needs addressing. 

The first mention of climate change came within the first minute of the debate. Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBloomberg, Steyer focus on climate change in effort to stand out Our government and public institutions must protect us against the unvaccinated Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far MORE, who has made the issue the central one of his campaign, mentioned energy sources when criticizing President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE for failing to embrace wind turbines.

"Donald Trump is simply wrong. He says they cause cancer. I say they cause jobs."

Former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules Elizabeth Warren moves 'bigly' to out-trump Trump DNC goof: Bloomberg should be on debate stage MORE (D-Md.) attempted to jump in many times to highlight the fact that he co-sponsored the first congressional bill on carbon pricing.

And former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Biden, Sanders tax plans would raise less revenue than claimed: studies MORE (Mass.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two Patrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' Booker ahead of Trump impeachment trial: 'History has its eyes on us' MORE (N.J.) all mentioned climate change when asked to name the biggest geopolitical threat facing the U.S.

Critics, however, took issue with the fact that debate questions didn’t get to climate change until nearly an hour and a half through the event.

The issue of the Green New Deal, the progressive climate plan championed by Ocasio-Cortez and several Democratic hopefuls, was never mentioned by name. 

Nevertheless, DNC Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE pointed out that the debate had more discussion about climate than any before.

"Is that enough? Absolutely not, but we have already done tonight more than we did in 2016," he said, according to Politico. "I said repeatedly we will talk about climate change early, often, and in depth. We saw that down payment tonight."