Climate Desk

Five Minutes and 27 Seconds on Climate Change

And that’s actually more time than was spent in other election cycles.

Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) debates with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump
Hillary Clinton debates with Donald Trump on Wednesday in Las Vegas.

Mark Ralston/Getty Images

This story originally appeared on Grist and is reproduced here as part of Climate Desk.


Five minutes and 27 seconds were spent on climate change and other environmental issues in the three presidential debates, 2 percent of the total time—and that was pretty much all Hillary Clinton talking. (Surprise, surprise.)


There wasn’t a single question on climate policy and only one that directly related to energy—thank you, Ken Bone.

How does that compare with debates in past years? We ran the numbers on the past five election cycles to find out.

The high point for attention to green issues came in 2000, when Al Gore and George W. Bush spent more than 14 minutes talking about the environment over the course of three debates. The low point came in 2012, when climate change and other environmental issues got no time at all during the presidential debates. Some years, climate change came up during the vice presidential debates as well.


2016 total: one minute, 22 seconds in the first presidential debate, and four minutes, three seconds in the second. Climate got just a split-second in the vice presidential debate. Clinton only name-dropped climate change once in the final debate, adding a whole two seconds to the grand total.

2012: zero minutes.

2008: five minutes, 18 seconds in two presidential debates. An additional five minutes, 48 seconds in a vice presidential debate.

2004: five minutes, 14 seconds in a single presidential debate.

2000: 14 minutes, three seconds in three presidential debates, and five minutes, 21 seconds in a vice presidential debate.


In total, over the five election seasons we looked at, climate change and the environment got 37 minutes and six seconds on the prime-time stage during the presidential and vice presidential debates. That’s out of more than 1,500 minutes of debate. Not an impressive showing.

A note about how we arrived at these times:

We parsed questions asked of candidates and searched the transcripts for keywords such as “climate,” “environment,” “energy,” and “warming.” We cross-referenced the transcripts with video of the debates. Only the mentions that pertained to fighting climate change, cleaning up the environment, and reducing emissions counted. President Obama’s passing reference to clean energy jobs in 2012 didn’t count, nor did discussions of energy security, because they were in the context of the economy and not fighting climate change.