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 InsleeOvernight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate John Kerry calls out lack of climate questions at debate CNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate MORE, who has made the issue the central one of his campaign, mentioned energy sources when criticizing President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview 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 Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges Warren's surge brings new scrutiny to signature wealth tax 'We lost a giant': 2020 Democrats mourn the death of Elijah Cummings 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 WarrenTrump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash Ocasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment Ocasio-Cortez tweets endorsement of Sanders MORE (Mass.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGabbard hits back at 'queen of warmongers' Clinton The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges Former public school teacher: Strikes 'wake-up call' for Democratic Party 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."