Why Won’t Politicians Debate Climate Change?

It’s one of the biggest threats to our future existence. Millions, if not billions, of people around the world will be affected by impacts of the climate emergency like drought, rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events. Despite that, and the cost of the climate emergency to countries, action on tackling it still seems so slow.

In the last year or so, people have taken to the streets to protest the climate emergency. In cities all over the world, children walked out of school, following the likes of Greta Thunberg who refused to go to school every Friday, instead, she sat outside the Swedish Parliament. That one action turned into a global movement of schoolchildren asking the leaders of many countries why they are doing so little to tackle the climate emergency and protect their future. In May, Extinction Rebellion protests brought a number of cities around the world to a standstill, protesting the lack of action in fighting the climate emergency.

Millions of people around the world are demanding action on the climate emergency, so why do politicians tiptoe around the subject?

The Conservative Leadership

Living in the UK and being actively interested and involved in sustainability and the climate emergency, I’ve followed with interest the actions taken by schoolchildren all over the country and how Extinction Rebellion brought London to a standstill.

Unfortunately, we have that little thing called Brexit that takes priority across the news channels and programmes and has overshadowed the majority of debate in Parliament in the last few years. Not just the climate emergency but almost every other issue affecting the country seems to have taken a back seat.

I do understand. Brexit has huge ramifications for this country and the (almost) 70 million people that live in the United Kingdom, and ensuring the future prosperity of the country whilst simultaneously tearing ourselves away from our biggest trading partner is a huge priority. But so is the climate emergency.

After Theresa May announced she’d step down as Prime Minister as soon as her replacement was found, Conservative MPs have been fighting for the keys to Number 10. Boris Johnson is still the outright favourite, worryingly, despite ducking interviews, ignoring questions on his recent home bust-up, and continually lying about how he plans to take the country forward.

The process of selecting the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister has had no short of TV air time for those in the running. From single interviews to debates featuring a number of those in the running, there has been plenty of opportunities for candidates to get their plans on a number of subjects across. Unfortunately, the climate emergency has rarely come up.

Whether that’s because the candidates or the hosts of the interviews or debates do not see it as a big issue I don’t know. What I do know is that the singular mention of the words ‘climate change’ or ‘climate emergency’ in any of the televised debates came from a young old girl called Erin Curtis. Erin asked if any of the Conservative leadership candidates would take the radical action required to tackle the climate emergency.

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For a Conservative Party that has done so little to tackle climate change, it was no surprise that the response from each candidate was nothing more than meaningless platitudes. No candidate at the time of running had any plan of how to tackle the climate emergency or even where to start, just promises that would likely never be kept. It’s no wonder that so many people like myself and Erin Curtis were left so disappointed.

When I saw that this was the one mention of anything related to the climate emergency I was disheartened but not surprised. The Conservatives have always had a poor record of tackling the climate emergency and environmental damage. Also, with Brexit being such a critical issue for the next Conservative leader to deal with, there is a very real danger that the climate emergency could continue to be pushed to the back of the queue.

Climate Silence in the Democratic Primaries

On Wednesday and Thursday night the Democratic primaries kicked off with a live tv debate held in Miami and hosted by NBC’s Rachel Maddow. This was the first chance to see a large number of candidates fight for the opportunity to take on Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential candidate, in 2020.

Under the Trump-Republican presidency, it’s no surprise that climate regulations have been reversed given the anti-climate emergency science stance that many of the GOP take. Federally protected land is being opened to fossil fuel exploration and regulations on air pollution are being rolled back at an extraordinary rate.

The debate was held in the city of Miami, likely to be one of the most climate emergency-affected major cities in the US, by the party that, supposedly, understands the need to tackle the climate emergency urgently. Surely these televised primaries would be an opportunity for Democrats to take a stand and lead the climate emergency debate? However, there must have been no more than 10-15 minutes across either debate where the candidates discussed climate change. And even where there was, the questions were soft and very little or no response included any detail on how they would tackle the climate emergency.

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In a poll taken among democrat voters on what issues they wanted to hear discussed more than any other, the climate emergency came out on top. The democrat voters, the climate emergency is the single biggest issue, yet the Democratic Presidential candidates offered very little in detail of how they’d tackle it. So given its importance amongst Democratic voters, why isn’t it touched as a subject?

Why is there No Conversation?

Scientists have given 12 years to tackle the climate emergency before we experience the worst impacts. Sea levels are already rising and destroying coastal and island communities. Right now, temperature records are being broken all over Europe as a heatwave hangs over the European continent. There have been mass protests all over the world, and yet so little is still being done.

Tackling the climate emergency is an immense issue. Although it is primarily an environmental challenge, the climate emergency is ingrained in so many other polarising issues in countries all over the world; immigration, the economy, national and international development, the list goes on…

There doesn’t appear to be any Conservative leadership or Democratic presidential candidate that recognises the deep-rooted nature of the climate emergency in so many of the national issues though. I hardly expected the climate emergency to be raised as an important talking point in the race for the Conservative Party leadership but certainly expected more in the USA. Across the pond, there have even been calls for a debate solely on the climate crisis rejected by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Those in the position to tackle the climate emergency just don’t seem to understand the importance of doing so. They don’t seem to understand the role that the climate emergency is playing in so many other national and international issues. The migration ‘crisis’ at the USA southern border is only being exacerbated by climate change. Economies are being negatively affected by the millions of subsidies being paid out to the oil and gas industry to keep fossil fuels profitable. It’s all linked.

Neither the Democrats in the USA or Conservatives in the UK see the climate emergency as enough of an issue compared to others because it’s still seen as a future issue. Right now Brexit is seen as the most important issue to tackle – the climate emergency can wait. What must be addressed is the understanding that some of the biggest issues in countries all over the world are all connected to the climate emergency we face. The climate emergency must become central to our conversation and must be considered in every decision we make. With pressure from the rich oil and gas industry and the staggering level of climate science denialism on the political right, it’s no shock that the climate emergency is rarely discussed and it isn’t an issue that will make or break somebody’s political career. With a new, younger wave of politicians entering the political environment change will come, but will it be too late?

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