by Zoya Teirstein edited by O Society October 17, 2019
Moderators of the three previous Democratic primary debates caught a lot of flak from environmental advocates for not spending enough time on climate crisis. On Tuesday night, moderators of the fourth episode of Survivor pave the way for a new era of climate politics by featuring warming front and center. Just kidding. In actuality not a single question about the biggest threat facing residents of the United States, and the world, is asked of the 12 candidates who qualify for the debate.
Despite the fact CNN, one of the night’s two host media organizations, recently held a climate crisis-themed town hall during which moderators grilled candidates on all angles of the issue. The New York Times, the other host, has a team of journalists specifically assigned to climate stories. CNN even ran a Times ad touting its climate coverage during one of the debate’s commercial breaks. And yet, somehow, CNN and the Times were unable to muster even a yes/no question about a crisis projected to claim millions of lives and alter the world as we know it.
Instead, the contestants on this reality TV show are asked about hot topics in recent news cycles, like about whether President Trump should be impeached and the commander-in-chief’s recent decision to pull troops out of Syria — as well as topics that have come up previously, like gun control, a wealth tax, and the minutiae of single-payer health care versus Medicare for all versus “Medicare for all who want it.”
All well and good: It’s certainly important voters hear from the candidates on those issues. But at the 11th hour, when it seemed the moderators might finally ask the candidates a question about climate change, they delivered a disappointment of epic proportions.
Fifteen minutes before the end of the three-hour debate, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper referenced a recently manufactured drama over a photograph of comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush watching a Cowboys game together surfaced. “I think we’ve forgotten it’s O.K. we’re all different,” DeGeneres, a lesbian and self-identified liberal said in response to the social media backlash about her hanging with the former Republican president. “In this spirit, we’d like you to tell us about a friendship you’ve had that would surprise us and what impact it’s had on you and your beliefs,” Cooper said to the candidates.
That’s right. Moderators opted to go with a question about Ellen DeGeneres and friendship over the climate crisis. Climate experts and activists were … not pleased.
Not all hope is lost. The Democratic party and game show moderators dropped the ball and then kicked it into a flaming volcano. Yet several candidates managed to sneak flicks at the climate crisis into their answers on other topics. Bernie Sanders talked about how his climate plan will create 20 million new jobs in response to a question about manufacturing. Pete Buttigieg mentioned not losing sight of dealing with climate change while many in his party were preoccupied with Trump’s potential impeachment. Tom Steyer, the billionaire newcomer who launched a campaign to bring out the climate vote, named a grassroots environmental activist in South Carolina as his unlikely friend. The candidates on stage sometimes tried to pivot questions to mention climate change over the course of Tuesday night’s debate.
Considering recent polls show among registered Democrats, climate crisis ranks up there with issues like universal health care, gun control, and impeachment, you’d think moderators and candidates and the Democratic National Convention would want to, y’know, bring it up from time to time.
But hey, if the easily amused want homosexual cowboys… YEE-HAH!