Chris Hayes: Climate Silence In The Debate Is ‘Like Talking About Smoking And Not Talking About Cancer’

by Brad Johnson

In last night’s debate, climate change was yet again ignored, while President Obama and Governor Romney touted their plans to burn more oil, gas, and coal. With only one debate left, there’s a real possibility that this will be the first series of debates since 1988 where climate change and carbon pollution is not mentioned at all.

After the debate, MSNBC contributor Chris Hayes responded with disgust to their climate silence, criticizing Obama and Romney for competing to be the candidate “who is most hastily speed our headlong flight of disaster”:

Having an energy conversation without talking about climate is like talking about smoking and not talking about cancer. You can’t talk about it unless you talk about what the stakes are for the climate. It’s unlikely we’ll see it in the third. Who is the more pro-coal candidate? Who is the more pro coal-candidate is who is going to most hastily speed our headlong flight of disaster towards a climate future in which we have not higher gas prices, higher temperatures. And the thing that’s so frustrating is the future farmers of america who will see livelihoods destroyed are not voting in the election. The people who live in inland coasts who will see their habitats destroyed are not voting in the election. the people working in coal companies now are voting in the election. I understand what their livelihood means to them. there’s an asymmetry between the people voting and the future people who aren’t. We talk about it all the time in terms of deficit be we don’t talk about it in terms of climate.

Watch it:

Moderator Candy Crowley pressed them on $4 gas but didn’t get to the consequences of a fossil-fueled future. After the debate, Crowley admitted that there was a person in the town hall audience who wanted to challenge the candidates on climate change, but wanted “all you climate people” to know she just couldn’t get to the question because “the economy was still the main thing.”

Time Magazine senior national correspondent Michael Grunwald responded to Crowley on Twitter that the “proper term for people affected by climate change is ‘people.’

"Climate change people" are people

Before the debate began, CAP Fellow Van Jones recommended that President Obama break his climate silence and use global warming as a wedge issue to win voters in the key swing state of Ohio. Jones noted that Ohio is being ravaged by drought but also has had manufacturing jobs restored through the president’s clean-energy investment:

Climate change hasn’t been talked about at all. Just because it’s not part of political reality, doesn’t mean it’s not part of the drought and other things going on. He’s killing two birds with one stone by taking on climate change and talking about energy reform. I think he can do that in Ohio.

The inability of our presidential candidates to discuss the catastrophic consequences of a fossil-dominated energy policy is gaining increasing notice among media elites. Moderator Bob Schieffer is not expected to bring up climate change in the final debate next Monday, so it will be up to the candidates — or the American people — to choose to break the climate silence.

Brad Johnson is campaign manager of Climate Silence.

20 Responses to Chris Hayes: Climate Silence In The Debate Is ‘Like Talking About Smoking And Not Talking About Cancer’

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Good one, Brad, and thanks to Chris Hayes. The candidates’ fighting over who can claim to drill the most wells on public land was quite sickening. As mentioned earlier, it reminded me of Southern Senators trying to “outseg” each other during election campaigns in the early 60’s. This kind of talk disgraces the whole country.

    Crowley, Obama, and Romney’s failure to mention climate change was no oversight. They all got the memo from the same source: Exxon, Koch, Peabody, Chevron, and the banksters and wealthy investors who profit from them. We no longer have a democracy, and our mainstream media is quite complicit here. It’s up to the people to awaken, and soon.

  2. Mark E says:

    I’ll venture one note of optimism though it may not sound like optimism to any kneejerk thinkers….

    If the dems win the election, perhaps we’ll have just one more really lousy harvest next year before a spate of mediocre years. Given the UN’s recent warning that food reserves could not deal with crop failure next year at first blush this might not sound like optimism.

    And of course for people already at the ragged edge, I’m hoping for conditions that will be fatal to them. I’m not the heartless bastard that makes me sound like…. because a lot worse hunger is down the road on the BAU pathway.

    So my optimism is hoping the dems have control, and we get hungry – temporarily – as a much more dire wake up call. To emphasize: the optimism part lies in “TEMPORARILY” and “SOON ENOUGH TO MATTER”. Because we’re not really gonna budge until we follow our stomachs. Might as well be sooner and with as little suffering as possible, right? Go dems! Go drought! (At least, temporarily. Both the drought and the dems fixation with nonstop economic growth are equally fatal, long term.)

  3. Harry Middlemas says:

    Chris Hayes’ comment was the one bright spot in an otherwise very frustrating debate to watch. It touched on a line of thought I have been having and that is that nothing else matters if climate is not part of the discussion. In the long term, and maybe even short term, discussing things like health care, the economy, and security is pointless without discussing the climate also. When people start going hungry, are forced out of their homes, and running out of water these other concerns will be forgotten. Climate is everything and we can’t even get our politicians to mention it. We are in trouble.


  4. Nathan Willcox says:

    Folks–I’m as frustrated as the next environmentalist about climate being absent from the debates, BUT the above infographic claiming that Obama/Biden won’t admit the link between global warming and extreme weather is just plain wrong. Obama highlighted the link in his convention speech, and actually touted the link again TODAY at a campaign stop in Iowa. Fine to keep pushing on getting this issue into the debates, but let’s not mislead the public into thinking both sides of the ticket are in denial on this link. My two cents.

    Nathan Willcox
    Environment America

  5. marjo tesselaar says:

    Yes I was also very upset about the climate change omission I expected it from Romney but not Obama they both sounded like “drill baby drill”. Romney said he will increase the Pell grants??? after embracing the Ryan plan that eliminates Pell grants and government loans
    how come Obama let him get away with that.

  6. Peter M says:

    Obama knows that we will not be able to prevent dangerous climate outcomes- in other words he knows that the Grand American Republic- its fate is now sealed. Romney? Hoping for a redux of the roaring 20s.

  7. You know…sometimes it gets to a point where I have to laugh a little at myself as a climate activist- On Yahoo there is an article on the NBC website entitled ‘5 issues missing from last night’s debate.’ FINALLY!- one of the ‘big boys’ is calling out the candidates for their painful omission of climate change! I clicked on the article: oops- not the first of the ‘missing 5’. (that was the ‘Fiscal Cliff’). Well, maybe the 2nd. Nope. Nor the 3rd, nor 4th nor even 5th. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Didn’t even make the ‘bench-warmers’. We are sooooooo stupid :)))

  8. Artful Dodger says:

    There’s a $trillion of cash sitting on the sidelines of this election waiting to play whack-a-mole with the first candidate that even hints at reducing fossil fuel profits. Jack Kennedy was recalled over far less. Get real about why our Politics is the way it is.

    Do you want to call out the real actors? It’s not the U.S. President. Go after the big banks that own fossil fuel profits. Figure out a way to do that, and then we can take real action on the climate crisis.

  9. Leif says:

    True enough. My view is that the very foundation of Western Capitalism is the ability of the few to pollute the commons for profit. The richest Corpro/People in the world, for the most part, are the receipts of that disparity. They fully expect to take that money to their tax sheltered private accounts as humanity is forced to deal with rising seas, polluted mammies, acidified oceans and global climatic disruption. Corpro/People refuse to acknowledge their complicity, in spite of over whelming international scientific evidence to the contrary. Profits from that exploitation has allowed the corporate interest to own the main stream media to secure their blood money. Corpro/People did not buy the media for the profits that they could make, (clearly a loosing propersition in its own right), but to disseminate propaganda to PROTECT their exploitative profits as long as possible. The GOP, as well as the Democrats, banks and Wall Street, are all beholden to the “profits from pollution paradigm.” Consequently the straight forward “STOP” answer remains elusive, as it affects the hand that feeds them all.
    Corporations are people now. So the question remains: How come Corpro/People get to pick the “people” laws that suit them, yet ignore the time tested civil law of not trashing your neighbors property or being? It is past time that capitalism recognize the value of earth’s life support systems to the commons, which they have now become part and parcel of, and learn to play nice with their elders.
    The GOP do not fund abortion. Fine. A precedent. Why must progressives in part, and humanity in general, fund the ecocide of the planet via tax subsidies and exclusive forced compliance to the ecocide fossil industry?
    Tax rebellion anyone? After all was that not what the original “Tea Party” was all about?

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Waiting for the Rightwing MSM to start mentioning climate destabilisation (so much more subtle than the imbecilic denialist rants one sees in the Murdoch swamp)again is akin to waiting for Godot. It will not happen because the MSM is a propaganda system entirely staffed by Rightwingers or moles pretending to be on the Right. To start carrying on about climate disruption would be akin to hanging a sign around your neck saying, ‘I quit and I don’t ever want to work in this business again’. The prime duty of MSM droogs is to protect the interests of their business owners, primarily their monetary interests. And fossil fuels are the very bedrock of late capitalist ‘wealth’. Nothing short of a revolutionary upheaval will cause our Masters to cease greenhouse emissions through the combustion of fossil fuels.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Recalled with extreme prejudice’.

  12. Jack says:

    Not to mention 97% of climate scientists, but if the majority of Americans believe in climate change then what gives these future presidential candidates the right to represent Americans?

  13. jyyh says:

    Hmmph, can’t remember the soviet political joke properly, the punchline was anyway something like: “so, this great soviet achievement by the labour is scheduled to the 5-year-plan two decades from now, we can forget about this mess.”

  14. Brad Johnson says:

    Actually, Nathan, that’s not quite correct. In the president’s convention speech, he said that climate change would affect weather in the distant future: “More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future.”

    So when that graphic was made, the president hadn’t connected climate change to past or present extreme weather for two and a half years. And he certainly hasn’t done so in the debates.

    However, in Iowa he changed that up a bit, for the first time since early 2010 connecting climate change to extreme weather that Americans are seeing now:
    “The droughts we’ve seen, the floods, the wildfires — those aren’t a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future.”

    Unfortunately, in Iowa he also said: “Look, we all agree we got to increase oil production. We all agree we got to increase natural gas production.”

    More importantly, when he addressed the nation on the Colorado wildfires, he did not allude to climate change. When he addressed the nation on the 2012 drought, he did not allude to climate change. When he addressed the nation on the Irene disaster, he did not allude to climate change.

    Climate change is causing about $100 billion of direct damage to the US economy now, and more when you incorporate how it’s damaging the global economy. That should merit more than a single line in stump speeches, bracketed by pledges to increase the burning of fossil fuels.

    My perspective is that anything other than the president, his administration, and his campaign acting like climate change is the most urgent challenge of our generation (as he said in the 2008 campaign), that it’s the planet’s greatest threat (as he said in the 2008 campaign), and that we need to phase out the carbon-based economy (as he said in the 2008 campaign), and that we need to keep our targets — is avoiding telling the American people the truth.

    And if you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth, as Obama said so eloquently.

    I look forward to Environment America joining us to mobilize the American people to recognize the urgency of the climate threat, including breaking the silence on the fact that the Obama campaign has failed to present a clear plan to address climate change. Only if the American people demand leadership on climate change will we get it — and only if the environmental movement speaks out will the American people be mobilized. If we’re struck dumb by our fear of the risks of telling the truth, we will never succeed.

  15. In my darkest moments, which are deeper and more frequent, I also realize that getting off fossil fuels will require a revolution. Can it be peaceful? I hope so. But then I ask myself another question: What could persuade those atop the capitalist pyramid, which would not exist in the absence of fossil fuels, to set aside their privilege?

  16. Mike Roddy says:

    Good one, Brad!

  17. Chris Winter says:

    After the debate, Crowley admitted that there was a person in the town hall audience who wanted to challenge the candidates on climate change, but wanted “all you climate people” to know she just couldn’t get to the question because “the economy was still the main thing.”

    And yet, she and her selection team let through a question on foreign policy — specifically one about the assault on our embassy in Benghazi, Libya. That’s an important topic, to be sure. But it’s hard to argue that it’s more important than climate change. No, make that “impossible to argue.”

    By the way, the most useful transcript I found online comes from Fox News:

    It’s all on one page and easily searchable.

  18. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I’m afraid that too many USA citizens think violence is an answer to their problems to contemplate a peaceful storming of the Bastille, ME

  19. Merrelyn Emery says:

    There is dangerous and then there is Dangerous – still time to avert the worst, ME

  20. Dianne Radmore says:

    It is true that climate silence in the debate is like ‘talking about smoking and not talking about cancer’. it is equally true that talking about climate change and not talking about the contribution of global meat production to potential runaway global warming is another perilous blind spot. Please, join the conversation at The Elephant in the Room is a Cow: