Did a climate champion emerge from last night’s “debate?”

Dear Friends,

During the fifth Democratic “debate,” Big Media again reminded us why it is culpable in enabling humanity’s blind rush toward climate chaos. As was the case in the previous four debates, climate got short shrift.

Despite that, several candidates found opportunities to highlight the urgency of the crisis, inserting it into non-climate questions.

Pete Buttigieg. During his first minute at the mic, Buttigieg said, “climate is approaching the point of no return.” Later in the debate, Buttigieg mentioned that farmers need to be part of America’s solution to fighting climate change.

Tulsi Gabbard was one of the only candidates asked specifically about climate change. She talked about transitioning our country off fossil fuels and ending the nearly $30 million currently given to the fossil fuel industry. Her most interesting remark was a call to transition to a system of agriculture that focuses on local and regional food production.

Bernie Sanders referred to climate change as the “greatest existential threat of our time.” He reminded the audience that we don’t have decades to figure it out, and laid out his climate priorities succinctly and powerfully.

Tom Steyer spoke about climate change more than any candidate. He said, “I’m the only person on this stage who says that climate change is my number one priority.”

I was surprised that other candidates, especially Sanders, didn’t challenge Steyer on that. With Jay Inslee no longer in the race, the role of presidential climate champion is up for grabs. Tonight, Steyer took a big stride forward toward embracing that mantel. He was also the only candidate who spoke out against oil and gas pipelines.

The closing minutes of the debate made it clear that it’s not just Big Media that deserves criticism for relegating the climate crisis to the margins of political conversation. Eight of the candidates, when given free range during their closing statement, failed to even mention climate change.

Elizabeth Warren spoke of it briefly.

Steyer again told the audience that he’s the only person on the stage who will make climate change his top priority.

Maybe that’s true. A couple weeks ago, when the congressional champion of the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, came to Iowa for a Climate Crisis Summit with Sanders, it seemed Sanders might be poised to become the new climate candidate.

Maybe he is. He certainly gave climate more substantive talk during the debate than eight other candidates on the stage. But if Sanders intends to fill the climate candidate gap vacated by Inslee, he now has Steyer to compete with.