In the past few months, the two presidential candidates have shared the national stage for a total of 180 minutes during the first two presidential debates. During that time, climate change — an issue that will literally decide the fate of the planet — has been given passing mention, at best.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton decided to change that on Tuesday, dedicating almost an entire speech in Miami to the subject of climate change. At Clinton’s side was former Vice President Al Gore, who has, in the past decade, become one of the most recognizable voices for climate action.
When the Clinton campaign announced last week that they had tapped Gore to help bolster Clinton’s climate credentials in the hopes of courting Millennial voters — a demographic Clinton has struggled to woo away from third-party candidates — responses were mixed, with some climate activists telling ThinkProgress that Gore’s presence alone would not be enough to earn Clinton the climate vote. To really convince voters that care about climate to vote for her in November, they said, Clinton would need to deliver a strong message herself.
Clinton’s speech was heavy on climate details, both with regards to the consequences of climate change and her vision for how the United States can adapt to the challenges ahead. She reiterated her plan to install 500 million solar panels across the United States by the end of her first term — a promise Gore later called “right at the limit of what we can do” and “exactly the kind of ambitious goal that we need from the next president of America.”
She hit both Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) on their climate denial, telling Florida voters that they deserve a Senator who believes in the threat of climate change (Rubio’s challenger, Patrick Murphy, introduced Clinton at the rally).
Clinton spoke of adaptation projects across the country, like the push in New York to plant native oyster beds to help protect against storm surge, or porous pavement in Philadelphia to help deal with more frequent downpours. She spoke of how climate change and environmental issues often disproportionately impact low-income populations and communities of color, and reiterated her pledge to include these communities in the transition to a clean economy.
Of the global work needed to address climate change, Clinton praised the Paris Agreement as “our last, best chance to solve the climate crisis,” and criticized her opponent’s promises to cancel it.
The speech demonstrated her strengths as a candidate — her ability to understand the magnitude of a problem as well as her capacity to delve into the various and nuanced ways to solve it.
Gore’s contribution to the speech was more scientific, if less thrilling, than Clinton’s. He spoke of how warmer temperatures drive increased precipitation, leading to the kind of extreme rainfall events seen in places like Texas, West Virginia, Louisiana, and, most recently, North Carolina. But he also spoke of the deep connection that Florida voters have to the issue of climate change, telling the audience that “in this election, the future of Miami and cities up and down the West coast and East coast of Florida are on the ballot as well.”
That is a message that has already resonated with Florida voters. A recent University of South Florida and Nielsen poll found that the environment is the second most important issue to Florida voters, with 18 percent of voters saying that climate change is the most important environmental problem facing the state. That represents a 13 percent increase from last year, the largest increase since last year’s survey.
“When it comes to the most urgent issue facing our country and the world, the choice in this election is extremely clear,” Gore said. “Hillary Clinton will make solving the climate crisis a top national priority. Her opponent, based on the ideas he has presented, would take us toward a climate catastrophe.”