OPINION: Presidential debates need to talk about climate change

There should be significantly more attention placed on climate change during the presidential debates



Climate change is one of the most important topics of our time, and it needs to be discussed more in the debates.

MEGHAN HENRY, Evergreen managing editor

There is a feeling of helplessness building in our country. For people of any age, we are seeing our leaders fall into pettiness when they should be rising to respectability.

People continue to be  infected with COVID-19, and smoke is rolling across the sky, choking out the sun until sunlight is blood red. It fits the mood — many of us are terrified. Many more don’t know where to begin making a constructive change in any of these issues.

I believe it starts by educating ourselves on our role in the climate crisis we are experiencing worldwide. This issue affects every other topic covered in the first presidential debate: the economy, crime and violence, COVID-19, the Supreme Court nomination and race relations.

The three debates leading up to the election in November are meant to be informative and revealing. They are intended to provide the most widespread view of the Republican and Democratic candidates.

But how is this possible if we aren’t asking all of the right questions? The environment should be among these vital topics.

Jennifer Hassan from The Washington Post wrote an article in September, which covered the unveiling of a digital clock in Manhattan’s Union Square.

This clock, dubbed the Climate Clock, was created by artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd. It counts the time the Earth has left until its’ carbon budget is depleted. The carbon budget is the number of carbon emissions permitted over a certain period of time to keep the Earth’s temperature within acceptable limits. As of 1:30 p.m. Sept. 21, there were 7 years, 101 days, 17 hours, 29 minutes and 22 seconds remaining. This period of time occurs between 2024 and 2028.

I won’t even be 30 years old by the time our Earth has reached its irreversible limit.

We don’t have the luxury of tip-toeing around this topic anymore. The environment can no longer be political — this is a life or death issue.

“With the pandemic, we have all seen how inequities have been laid bare, and are much more visible to people who maybe weren’t as aware,” said Jaime Nolan, WSU Student Affairs associate vice president for community, equity and inclusive excellence.

These same inequities caused by lack of access to adequate medical resources, housing in areas of poor air quality and lower overall incomes, make people of color in our country more susceptible to the negative effects of climate change. Without an informed education on how all of these aspects of life in the United States intersect, we are unable to ask the important questions of our presidential candidates.

With this understanding, we see how the environment should be the first logical question in our debates. The environment ultimately affects all of these other issues too heavily to ignore.

“I feel like it’s a big portion of the differences between the two candidates. Trump pulled us out of the Paris Accord, and Biden wants to put us back in,” said Tyler Volta, junior mechanical engineering major. “Climate change will drastically affect the economy, and the wildfires are clearly impacting everyone. It’s just a very relevant topic that I think we should be talking about right now.”

Many people my age live disconnected from the larger world. In large part, we hardly think about politics until the debates are the event of the season. For too many of us, the tragic deaths of the summer that led to worldwide Black Lives Matter protests were the mark of the wool being pulled from our eyes.

“More white people are embracing that challenge [of educating themselves, and growing as a result], and realized when George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and others were murdered, it blew open some peoples’ worlds,” Nolan said. “I think there is an awakening happening.”

This awakening is entirely necessary if we are to make an impact on our world’s future in this election. It is no secret that the young vote is impactful. We have seen behind the veil now — there is no avoiding the reality that if young people don’t show up to the polls, this election will look drastically different.

But how do we make the right decision?

By educating ourselves on the important topics — even if the candidates won’t be asked those questions. There was a petition started before the first presidential debate to call for questions on the environment, but nothing was done. By using our influence as a voting block to call attention to the issues we need to be covering, we can make a change before anyone even takes office in January.

“Issues of social justice are definitely core to the work I do,” Nolan said. “This is something I think means a great deal to our students, whether you are a member of an underrepresented community or not. I think in this moment, the work is about helping everyone see themselves in this work.”

As many people are beginning to understand the extent of racism in our country, we must also begin to see how we play a role in such institutionalized issues. In the same way, we play a role in the continued ignorance of our country if we do not call attention to our world’s environmental issues.