I came away from last night's first televised Republican presidential debate feeling pretty disappointed in the lack of both questions and answers on climate change or clean energy. The closest anyone came to the topic was when Jeb Bush mentioned that Hillary Clinton doesn't support the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. Despite the 7 in 10 conservative voters in early primary states (New Hampshire and South Carolina) who want the next president to have a clean energy plan, and the three-quarters of those same voters who want their state to submit a plan to comply with the EPA's Clean Power Plan, Fox News remains firmly in league with those who insist on continuing to deny both science and the will of the American people. Fox News provides a safe harbor for candidates who deny the science of climate change and gives them a microphone to spread inaccurate scare tactics about rising electricity prices and other myths.
I'm trying to look at it another way though. Many of the topics that were covered last night are indeed closely related to climate change.
At least one-third of the debate was devoted to issues of homeland security, terrorism, and the Middle East. But what Fox doesn't want to admit is the fact climate change is a significant contributor to instability and conflict and therefore a major threat to our national security and the people whose duty it is to protect us. The Department of Defense and the CIA agree. Climate change is a factor in the rise of groups like ISIL; severe drought in Syria helped spur the civil war that led to the rise of terrorist Islamic State. I hope the candidates get asked about this at the next debate.
Ben Carson noted his background as a doctor and a neurosurgeon several times. And yet, he didn't echo the message of the medical community, who are strongly in favor of limits on pollution from power plants because elevated ozone and particulate air pollution is linked to asthma attacks, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.
Donald Trump and John Kasich seemed to be the most willing to say things that are unconventional among fellow candidates. Trump gave a shout-out to Canada for their single-payer health care system (not exactly a conservative talking point!). Kasich defended his decision to go against some in his own party and increase Medicaid enrollment in Ohio. I hope they will both be willing to part from their party's extremists and call for a future in clean energy and a move away from dirty fuels.
Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio spoke about their experience being a leader in the state of Florida. But you can't truly do a good job leading a state with 1,350 miles of coastline and millions of people who live next to the rising sea (and the hurricanes and storm surges can come with it) if you aren't willing to acknowledge that humans are contributing to the problem and need to be part of the solution.
At the end of the debate, most of the candidates spoke about their religious convictions. From Pope Francis, to the Episcopal Church, to the many religious Americans of all denominations who believe it's morally imperative we care for our planet and the most vulnerable people on it, there are good examples out there for these candidates to follow.
Overall, Fox News did a disservice to its viewers and to the candidates by not asking questions about climate change and a clean energy future. Once these candidates step off the friendly Fox News stage and into the real world, they will be asked about it by the American people. And right now, the contrast between what voters want and what GOP leaders are offering them is quite large. I think they can all do better.