Climate change takes back seat at presidential debate — again

But several candidates said they would prioritize recommitting the U.S. to the Paris climate accord

Climate change was lightly touched on during the second Democratic presidential debate in Miami, Florida. California Sen. Kamala Harris, right, and former Vice President Joe Biden, left, speak as Sen. Bernie Sanders looks on. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The second night of the Democratic candidates’ debate Thursday dedicated just as little time to climate change as the first, leaving activists once again frustrated and amplifying their calls for a session dedicated to the issue.

“Adding only a single measly minute to the climate discussion compared to the first night was grossly insufficient — voters need to understand where every candidate stands on the most pressing emergency of our time,” Kassie Siegel, climate director at the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, said shortly after the debate. “That’s why we need a climate debate.”

[Democrats weave climate messages into spending bills]

On the debate stage, several of the candidates said they would prioritize recommitting the U.S. to the Paris climate accord early in their presidencies.

“I’d up the ante in that accord, what it calls for,” former Vice President Joe Biden said.

Biden also said he’d invest in 500,000 vehicle charging stations across the country so that the U.S. auto sector can be fully electric by 2030.

Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders vowed to “take on the fossil fuel industry,” and big money interests which he said “have unbelievable influence over the economic and political life” of the United States.”

But the first reference to climate change at Thursday’s debate came from former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper who referred to the Green New Deal as an example of the Democratic Party embracing socialism.

“If we don’t clearly define that we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us every way they can and call us socialists,” Hickenlooper said. “And if you look at the Green New Deal, which I admire the sense of urgency and how important it is to do climate change . . .  but we can’t promise every American a government job if you want to get universal healthcare coverage.”

Hickenlooper, who has supported hydraulic fracturing or fracking, touted his move as governor “to bring the environmental community and the oil and gas industry to address, aggressively address methane emissions.” He pointed out that methane, which can escape to the atmosphere from drilling operations, is 25 times more potent that carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas. Although methane is more damaging, it doesn’t linger as long as carbon dioxide.

DNC criticism

The Democratic National Committee has received criticism from environmental activists after its first presidential debate on Wednesday, which dedicated less than 10 minutes of its two hours to climate change.

Some of the activists are continuing to demand a full debate centered on climate change.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who has framed himself as the climate candidate, used Twitter to express his frustration with the time spent on climate on both nights of debate.

“Eight minutes tonight. Seven minutes last night. Fifteen minutes in four hours. The @DNC will not address the climate crisis with the urgency it requires,” Inslee, who had been on the debate stage the prior night, tweeted, slightly understating the time spent on climate. “We must hold a #ClimateDebate. Now.”

Inslee has launched a petition on his website to demand a climate debate.

The DNC didn’t immediately reply to questions on whether it plans to hold such a debate, although its chairman Tom Perez has opposed the idea.

There is no shortage of climate action calls among the 2020 Democratic candidates. Most, including Harris, have embraced the Green New Deal, a set of ambitious goals to address climate change through a massive remake of the entire U.S. economy across different sectors, from energy to transportation to social justice systems.

“I don’t even call it climate change, it’s a climate crisis,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said on the debate stage.

Harris added that President Donald Trump is the greatest national security threat to the country, partly because of his inaction on climate change.

“The fact that we have a president of the United States who has embraced science fiction over science fact will be to our collective peril,” Harris said.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg called for a carbon tax and dividend, and helping farmers adapt to the changes brought on by a warming earth.

“Rural America can be part of the solution instead of being told they’re part of the problem,” Buttigieg said.

In an extensive and sometimes heated segment on healthcare, author and candidate Marianne Williamson said tackling the country’s health care problems starts with overhauling the environmental policies that she said lead to illness. She also called for a Green New Deal and a move from a clean economy.

While most Democrats tend to point fingers at the fossil fuel industry for a huge chunk of the carbon emissions that are causing global temperatures to rise and for their outsized influence on politicians, Hickenlooper took the opposite stand Thursday.

“Can oil and gas co be real partners in this fight?” MSNBC TV moderator Rachel Maddow asked him.

“We can’t demonize every business,” Hickenlooper said. “We’ve got to bring them together to be part of this thing, because ultimately, if we’re not able to do that, we will be doomed to failure.”

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