Will This Be The First Time The Debates Are Silent On Climate Since 1988?

By Brad Johnson

The Final Debate: End Climate Silence Now

Click the image to speak out before the debate.

1988. That was the year of James Hansen’s now famous congressional testimony on climate change. It was also the first year that climate change came up in the presidential debate cycle. On October 5, 1988, Chicago Tribune reporter Jon Margolis asked Vice Presidential candidates Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle about climate change and fossil fuels:

We’ve all just finished – most America has just finished one of the hottest summers it can remember. And apparently this year will be the fifth out of the last nine that are among the hottest on record. No one knows, but most scientists think, that something we’re doing, human beings are doing, are exacerbating this problem, and that this could, in a couple of generations, threaten our descendants’ comfort and health and perhaps even their existence. As Vice President what would you urge our government to do to deal with this problem? And specifically as a Texan, could you support a substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels which might be necessary down the road?

Both agreed that it was time to act.

Watch it:

Today, the science of climate change is incontrovertible. The past 17 years have been hotter than 1988 — the hottest year ever recorded at the time. Crushing impacts like drought, wildfires, flooding, sea level rise, and ocean acidification are now hitting American communities. Instead of a substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels, consumption and pollution have grown exponentially. And, yet, if Barack Obama and Mitt Romney don’t discuss climate change tonight, it will be the first time since 1988 that the issue was ignored during a presidential debate cycle.

That’s right: in 1992, vice presidential candidate Al Gore shamed Dan Quayle and James Stockdale with an impassioned call to action on climate change as they promoted myths of scientific uncertainty; in 1996 Jack Kemp attacked Gore for sowing “fear on climate”; in 2000 Gore made an even stronger case for action as Bush questioned the science; in 2004 Kerry blasted Bush’s anti-scientific record; in 2008 even Sarah Palin described how climate change was damaging Alaska. In a debate with John McCain, Barack Obama blasted McCain’s efforts on climate change for their insufficiency:

So it’s easy to talk about this stuff during a campaign, but it’s important for us to understand that it requires a sustained effort from the next president.

Watch a compilation:

In 2012, however, the candidates and the moderators are locked in a conspiracy of silence. The moderators think only “you climate change people” care that the candidates talk energy, the economy, and national security without mentioning the greatest threat to civilization. The Obama campaign hopes environmentalist voters will be satisfied with targeted messages and offhand mentions in campaign rallies, while the president focuses swing-state attention on a drill-baby-drill, Mr. Coal, all-of-the-above message. Romney’s silence on climate change allows him to maintain the support of the carbon barons that rule the Republican Party, while still being able to act on the national stage like something other than a pro-pollution conspiracy theorist. In short, both candidates are more concerned with the political strength of the fossil-funded Tea Party than either the outrage of environmentalists or the immorality of treating climate catastrophe like a fringe concern.

The refusal of the candidates for president and vice president to confront climate change is a clarion call for anyone who cares about the fate of humanity. We shall be represented by two of the four men for the next four years — their choice of silence in the face of calamity renders us mute as a nation. We have no choice but to redouble our efforts in demanding that our politicians, corporate leaders, and the media recognize that global carbon pollution is the single greatest threat to our economic well being, our health, our national security.

For the past two months, members of Forecast the Facts, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen, Energy Action Coalition, and other groups have been protesting the climate silence of both candidates. We will continue that protest today. In Florida, young people are marching to the debate location to demand that Romney and Obama break their silence. Across the internet, people are covering their profile pictures with duct tape, symbolizing how the men who call themselves leaders have taken away our voice.

In solidarity with the climate activists marching in the streets in Florida, and those blockading the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Texas, leading climate activists from Bill McKibben to Jane Fleming Kleeb have added the CLIMATE SILENCE twibbon before the final presidential debate. While we can’t guarantee that those in power will respond, one thing we can guarantee today, tomorrow, and every day hence: we will be heard. Please take a moment to join us.

Brad Johnson is the campaign manager of Climate Silence.

15 Responses to Will This Be The First Time The Debates Are Silent On Climate Since 1988?

  1. Paul Klinkman says:

    Failure to plan for innovation leads to climate failure.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Good one, Brad, those are fascinating clips.

    We have had three debates now, and organizations such as yours insisted before each one that climate be discussed. MSM moderators blew you off with empty excuses, as did the candidates.

    We know why Romney and Ryan won’t talk about it, because they don’t even acknowledge it to be a problem. More worrisome are the Democrats, who could easily exploit this issue. The claim that people only care about gas prices is just a theory, and there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Obama could energize his base, and forcefully tell the American people that it’s time that leaders paid attention to their long term survival.

    It’s time to accept that the Democrats’ unwillingness to discuss climate change was not an oversight, nor even a political calculation. Our once great country and both political parties have been captured by a fossil fuel company coup d’etat, enabled by media prostitution and Wall Street machinations. Brave people like Boxer and Sanders are impotent outsiders. Until we stand up to the dark side, and hold politicians and the media accountable, nothing will change.

  3. Susan Redlich says:

    Here in Massachusetts we are raising our voices together for a week of a Vigil to End Climate Silence by the candidates, especially the two candidates for Senate. The Vigil starts Tuesday Oct 23 at 5:30 PM in Government Center at Boston City Hall Plaza. Please join us. Sign up at ( or just show up!

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Hasn’t the USA gotten itself into a catch 22 here? If Obama comes out with a strong statement about CC, there is likely to be a loud and vociferous reaction from the anti-science crowd that could influence just enough votes against him to put Romney in. And then you have lost the only chance you have, ME

  5. Raoul says:

    Regional nuclear war erupting in the Mid-East about 2 or 3 months after Mitt Romney becomes president will pretty much obviate any need to deal with climate change.

  6. paula burkhart says:

    I think we really need not to only open our eyes but our mouths on climate change….silence will not provide a viable future for my grandchildren.

  7. Calamity Jean says:

    Not really. If two or three bombs go off, it will be cold from “nuclear autumn” for five years or so, but ocean acidification will continue. And when the literal dust settles, the warming will come back. With mideast oil off limits, many of the things we need to do anyway will become more pressing.

  8. Aussie John says:

    It is very disappointing that during today’s foreign affairs debate all parties involved ignored what is surely the most important issue threatening international stability – climate change. The US is failing to lead the world on this most fundamental international issue.
    The professed desire by both parties to ensure continued US leadership and dominance in world affairs proves very hollow when the major issue confronting mankind is ignored.

    As one of the worlds biggest contributors of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, the US has a moral obligation to accept its responsibility; it should lead the way – join with other industrially powerful countries in addressing de-carbonisation of our atmosphere.

    It is time the citizens of the US (and the world?) demonstrate their concern directly to US political leaders.

    I suggest all climate activists should follow the lead of the successful on line campaign that was so spectacularly successful against disgraceful comments by a bullying radio “shock Jock” regarding our Australian Prime Minister.

    If the many and various pro science climate aware internet sites could unite in seeking signatories to a petition requesting action for presentation to both political leaders.
    The petition could perhaps call for a fourth presidential debate on the subject of climate change; or perhaps indicating an intention to vote informally by writing “no carbon” on ballot papers.

    If this petition was distributed worldwide it may attract a million or so signatures – could any politician continue to ignore such a display of voter discontent?

    Our only hope to save the environment is to challenge the current “status quo” of big business controlling our media and fearful subservient politicians is to take back control by employing on line “people power”.

    It is surely worth a try!!

  9. Susan C. Harris says:

    Climate change “loads the dice” and makes extreme weather more likely to happen.

  10. Brad Johnson says:

    It is a sad state of affairs that even climate activists are more afraid of the Tea Party than they are of civilizational collapse. There is zero evidence that Obama talking about climate change would increase mobilization among the right wing. There is substantial evidence that it would instead mobilize undecided voters and youth to support the president.

    The assumption that the supporters of fossil fuels are more passionate than supporters of civilization is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  11. J says:

    Waiting for that first “holy shit we;re screwed” moment.

  12. Merrelyn Emery says:

    They don’t have compulsory voting over there Aussie and I think they have forgotten what coordinated, cooperative action is, and can achieve, ME

  13. Seth says:

    Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein is talking about the climate.

    “Stein and the Green Party will shut all oil, coal and nuclear plants by 2025. Dr. Stein will ban mountaintop removal coal mining, the hydrofracking of natural gas and the development of the tar sands oil and Keystone XL. Jill Stein will stop oil drilling off shore, on public lands, under the Great Lakes and in the Arctic.”

  14. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Brad, here in Oz we endured a heavy and filthy attack by deniers, some of it manufactured in the USA. They lost because all our activist orgs came together with the scientists and ordinary people in a long, bitter fight, in families as well as the public spaces and media. The American public has been slow to organize and counter-attack and I wish you well in speeding that effort up, ME

  15. Big bird says:

    I think the reason climate and global warming is being left out out the debate, is because it’s NO Longer a debate. The data is in the REALITY is we must get down below 300 ppm and fast. Climate change “loads the dice” and makes extreme weather more likely to happen.