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Mr. Schieffer, Ask the Candidates: “Where Do You Stand on Climate Change?”

Climate change is a national security issue, and it must be discussed during tonight’s third and final debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney.
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Forest fire by US Air Force-555.jpg

The Nebraska National Guard attempts to douse a fire in High Park. Photo by Official U.S. Air Force.

The final presidential debate tonight will focus on foreign policy. Among the topics sure to come up: the war in Afghanistan, the conflict between Israel and Iran, the changing landscape in the Middle East and new terrorist threats, and the rise of China on the world stage.

What is less clear is whether the moderator, Bob Schieffer, will press the candidates on one national security threat that has yet be addressed: climate change.

The Defense Department in a 2010 report called climate change a prominent military vulnerability and an “accelerant of instability and conflict.” The report identifies climate change and energy as two key issues that “will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment.” The report notes that:

“climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.”

Thus far, both the debate moderators and candidates have been skirting around the issue, discussing energy issues repeatedly without mention of climate change. This prompted Chris Hayes of MSNBC to compare the silence on climate change during the energy portion of the debate to “discussing smoking without discussing cancer.”

And town hall moderator Candy Crowley, during CNN’s post-debate coverage, explained that time constraints prevented her from getting to climate change, saying, “I had that question for all of you climate change people. We just, you know, again, we knew that the economy was still the main thing so you knew you kind of wanted to go with the economy.”

Broad consensus on security risks of climate change

Dismissing the effect that climate change has our economy is one thing, but excluding climate change from a debate on foreign policy, effectively ignores U.S. military planners’ warnings that climate change poses massive threats to global security. Ignoring it does an enormous disservice to Americans and all those “climate change people,” such as:

  • Navy Secretary Ray Mabus: “Our responsibilities, our concerns, have to be tied into the effects of climate change.” 
  • Angela Merkel, Chancellor of U.S.-allied Germany: “A failure to take action against climate change will have dreadful consequences for the whole world.”
  • Nobel Prize-winning chemist Mario Molina: “It’s important that people are doing more than just hearing about global warming. People may be feeling it, experiencing the impact on food prices, getting a glimpse of what everyday life may be like in the future, unless we as a society take action.”

But so far, instead of heeding the pleas of our own military, world leaders, and leading scientists, we’ve had to watch our presidential candidates vie for the hand of the fossil fuel industry to see who gets to be the next Mr. Coal. The energy-focused portions of the previous debates have been like watching a bad episode of the Bachelorette.

Where do the candidates stand on climate?

The good news is, it’s not too late to call the wedding off. The final debate offers a chance for the candidates to renounce this destructive relationship and address how they are going to use their position as a global leader to reduce the levels of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere and manage the already clear and present climate-change threats.

thermometer by Joe ChungTake Action!
Sign Public Citizen’s petition urging Bob Schieffer to ask the presidential candidates to tell us their plans to address climate change.

That opportunity will present itself only if the moderator joins the world and military leaders and acknowledges climate change as a national security threat.

In addition to the 2010 report, an October 2011 report by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense’s Defense Science Board task force warns that failure to anticipate and mitigate these changes in climate patterns, “increases the threat of more failed states with the instabilities and potential for conflict inherent in such failures.”

Recent events like the droughts that affected almost 61 percent of the lower 48 states this summer, the raging wildfires in the northwest, and new government data show that the Arctic sea ice could disappear by the end of this decade clearly demonstrate the domestic challenges we face as a result of unmitigated climate change.

Addressing these issues is going to take a global effort with strong leadership from the president of the United States and the American people deserve to know where each of the candidates stand on this issue.


Allison Fisher is Outreach Director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program. She is an expert in engaging and organizing communities to challenge dirty energy sources at the local and state level

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