EDITORIAL: Time for a climate change debate

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Democratic presidential candidates wave to the crowd before the start of the first primary debate for the 2020 elections at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

One down, 11 to go.

With the first debate between the Democrats vying for the party's presidential nomination next year completed, it's time to take seriously the suggestion that one of the remaining debates focus on climate change.

Last month, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said the DNC didn't need a debate specifically to discuss climate change and the proposals the two dozen or so candidates have to deal with it.

Perez wrote in Medium that he didn't want to change the rules of the debates after candidates have signed on and that he didn't want to give the appearance that the party was favoring any candidate over the others.

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"When all is said and done, I’m confident that we will meet our North Star test of ensuring that the primary process was fair to everyone, that our debates focused on the key issues, and that the American people will know the Democratic Party has their back," he wrote. "I’m equally confident that climate change will receive more attention than ever before — and deservedly so."

And yet, when the top 20 candidates fielded questions for a total of four hours over two nights on June 26 and 27, only 15 minutes of time was spent on the topic. And this was in Miami, a city that already sees streets going underwater during storms and that is projected to see sea levels rise 1 to 3 feet by 2060. Developers there are moving to higher ground and building with climate change in mind.

Climate change is arguably the most complex issue facing the United States and the rest of the world. The effects are staggering and wide ranging, taking a toll on everything from economies to health.

Democratic presidential candidate former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, third from left, answers a question, during a Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Art, Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Even the immigration crisis is partially driven by climate change as people in equatorial countries begin to find their homes uninhabitable because of heat and storms, and island nations see their land mass erode until there's nothing left.

We don't expect the Republicans to address climate change at all — President Donald Trump has made it clear that he sees fossil fuels as the key to the future, somehow, and that he has no interest in coming up with any innovative plans. 

Congress has for years refused to take action to fight or even prepare for climate change, even after a 2011 report the U.S. Navy commissioned from the National Research Council showed that the Navy would be stressed by having to police new areas opened by thawing in the Arctic and that 56 naval bases would be threatened if the sea level rises 3 feet.

The Democratic Party acknowledges that climate change is real and caused by human activity, and it has called it an "existential threat" to our species. 

At least 15 of the Democrats running for the presidential nomination have their own plans for dealing with climate change. We would like to hear those plans in a forum where they can be compared and contrasted, with more than 30 seconds to discuss them and time for follow-up questions.

Some at the DNC have said that they don't want to debate a single issue because that would seem to give an advantage to some candidates. If those candidates are the ones who understand the problem and want to bring our country through this crisis with as little disruption as possible, we think they should be able to have that advantage. 

The DNC is also concerned that people will see a "climate change debate" as a debate on whether climate change is happening and is caused by humans. While there are certain segments of the population that are still debating that (#climatechangebrawl, anyone?), most reasonable members of the voting public, not to mention the scientific community, recognize that the world is changing around us and we need to do something before it's too late.

On July 1, the DNC voted to consider devoting an entire debate to the issue of climate change or, barring that, put together a less formal forum on the issue.

That's a step in the right direction. Everyone needs to realize that the threat is here and that we, as a country, need to get behind real, concrete actions to contain the threat. The next president will need to take the lead, and we deserve to hear, in detail, what the candidates have to say.