The Slatest

Climate Change Was Shut Out of the Debates for First Time in 24 Years

President Obama and Mitt Romney squared off on stage last night and, for the third time this campaign, never faced a question about global warming

Photograph by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

Here was CNN’s Candy Crowley consoling environmentalists and climate hawks after leaving a question about global warming on the cutting room floor during the second presidential debate:

“Climate change, I had that question. All you climate change people. We just, you know, again, we knew that the economy was still the main thing.”

And here was CBS’s Bob Schieffer getting that same group’s hopes back up heading into last night’s third and final debate:

“That last segment [the rise of China and tomorrow’s world] will be sort of a round up of things we didn’t get to, and it could include things like climate change, or the response to the European debt crisis.”


Needless to say, climate change remained one of the “things we didn’t get to” last night, marking the first time that the topic didn’t make an appearance in the round of presidential and vice presidential debates in more than two decades, and providing the latest example of how green issues have been largely left out of this year’s election.


[Related, Slate’s Will Oremus explains why climate change and the econmy are not too separate issues, as Crowley suggested.]

For those of you who are wondering, the first time climate change came up in a debate was during the 1988 VP match-up between Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle. The question from Chicago Tribune reporter Jon Margolis (via ThinkProgres, emphasis theirs):


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?

For what it’s worth, according to the website Climate Silence, which as it’s name suggests tracks these things, global warming was largely the domain of VP candidates during its first few debate appearances. The first time it came up during the main event wasn’t until the second presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000.