Why Was Climate Not an Issue in the Presidential Debate?


Image courtesy NASA

Almost lost in this week’s news of the financial crisis, Presidential debate, and the North Korea nuclear deal once again heading toward the rocks were two discomfiting announcements about the environment.

The Global Carbon Project said carbon emissions have been growing about four times faster since 2000 than during the previous decade, despite the increasing international sense of urgency and efforts to curb emissions in a number of Kyoto Protocol signatory countries.

Although the melt season did not break the record for ice loss (set last year), NASA said its data showed that for a four-week period in August 2008, sea ice melted faster during that period than ever before.

So I was a little disappointed that climate change merited only a brief, passing mention in last night’s first Presidential debate between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.


Clearly, the world is a deeply troubled place right now and the candidates were preoccupied with issues such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the resurgent Russian empire, North Korea, and the biggest financial crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression.

The 90-minute debate was supposed to focus on national security and foreign policy issues such as these. But isn’t there one enormous security issue that was not discussed?

Only three months ago U.S. intelligence agencies told the U.S. Congress that global warming was likely to increase illegal immigration, create humanitarian disasters and destabilize precarious governments and could add to terrorism, all of which could threaten U.S. national security.

The NASA graphic shows the extent of Arctic sea ice this week, compared with the average for this time of year (orange lines).

Two weeks ago, John Ashton, the UK foreign secretary’s special representative for climate change, told the BBC that human-induced climate change must be treated as an immediate threat to national security and prosperity. “We must secure a stable climate whatever the cost, as failure to do so will cost far more.”

Do you think someone will ask the Presidential candidates in one of the remaining debates about this issue?

I would like each one of them to state clearly what he personally believes about the seriousness of the threat of climate change to the planet and civilization, and what he will do about it as President of the United States.

All the problems discussed in last night’s debate are serious. But imagine how much more intractable regional disputes and spats over energy and strategic resources such as water are going to be if climate change continues to accelerate.


Graphic courtesy NASA

More from National Geographic News:

Arctic Ice in “Death Spiral,” Is Near Record Low

Seas Will Rise Much Faster Than Thought, Study Says

Earth Hotter Now Than in Past 2,000 Years, Study Says

More from Other News Media:

Running Out of Time (Globe & Mail, Canada)

Carbon Output Grows, Hindering Global Warming Fight (Bloomberg)

Australian emissions still rising rapidly (Sydney Morning Herald, Australia)



Changing Planet

Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn