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Why has climate change been ignored in the US election debates?

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While we rake over Clinton’s emails and Trump’s late-night tweets, climate has been the elephant in the room, leaving scientists and campaigners asking why there hasn’t been a single direct question about the crisis.

Climate change has been the elephant in the room during the past two US presidential debates. Ignoring this issue would be more understandable if this metaphorical pachyderm weren’t about to rampage through the lives of Americans, causing upheaval on a scale not seen since the start of human civilization.

“I’ve been shocked at the lack of questions on climate change. It really is fiddling while the world burns,” said Kerry Emanuel, a leading climate scientist. “This is the great issue of our time and we are skirting around it. I’m just baffled by it.”

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have yet to face a moderator question on climate change during two debates in which time was found to grill Clinton repeatedly over her use of emails and to ask Trump about a series of late-night tweets he sent about a former Miss Universe’s sex tape. Lester Holt, the moderator of the first debate, was reportedly set to ask a climate question but ran out of time.

Wednesday’s final debate is set to retread the same ground, with the debate referee, Chris Wallace of Fox News, planning to prod the candidates on immigration, the economy and “fitness to be president”.

Wallace has also decided to ask about “foreign hot spots”, but it appears unlikely that it will segue into talking about the diabolical heat suffered in Kuwait andIndia this year.

“It’s like a sort of collective cowardice,” said Emanuel of the omission. Michael Mann, another prominent climate scientist, added: “One has to wonder if television networks are compromised by the millions of advertising dollars they take from fossil fuel interests.”

Should the final debate also neglect climate, the only question related to the issue across four-and-a-half hours of TV will have come from Ken Bone, he of red sweater and short-lived internet fame, who asked about coal mining policy as the credits were preparing to roll on last week’s debate. Climate campaigners have been unable to contain their exasperation.


“Let’s be clear: a last minute question about energy doesn’t do justice to the threat of the climate crisis,” said May Boeve, executive director of climate group 350 Action, shortly after the debate.

“This crisis threatens our communities, our economy, and the future for our children – we saw that threat with Hurricane Matthew just this week – yet climate change doesn’t get a single direct question in the debate.”

Hurricane Matthew, which resulted in more than 20 deaths, is just the latest example of the type of extreme event, fromflooding in Louisiana to a historic drought in California, that will become more common as the world warms.

This year hasn’t exactly been short of climate conversation topics – 2016 is on track to be the warmest on record, beating a mark set just in 2015. The Paris climate accord has been ratified by countries around the world while the Obama administration has attempted to implement its Clean Power Plan in the teeth of fierce opposition from 27 states. Alaska barely had a winterthis year while some American communities are already having to relocate due to rising seas.


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