In 2016, climate change got exactly five minutes of discussion in the presidential debates. In the first debates of 2020, held in Miami just a month ago, it got 15 minutes.
Detroit: all eyes are on you to host a debate that includes a real and detailed conversation about a crisis that – without bold action -- will cost our economy trillions, damage our health, and leave a diminished world for our children.
After all, climate change should be as much of a topic in Detroit as it is in Miami, or anywhere. From coast to coast, we’re seeing more extreme weather –devastating flooding in the Midwest, more intense hurricanes in the Southeast, wildfires across the West, and extreme heat waves nearly everywhere. It is affecting our daily lives and it will only continue to get worse if we don’t take ambitious action soon.
The moderators and the candidates also need to understand that addressing this issue means more than just offering one “climate change” question. This slow motion disaster touches nearly every issue. It will raise the cost of health care, as asthma attacks and insect-borne disease increase. It will impact our farmers as droughts become more severe. It will hit low-income and communities of color especially hard. And it will, as the Pentagon has repeatedly said, create national security challenges as the world becomes more chaotic. So it should be part of a range of questions – and answers.
In short, you can’t cook the planet and expect it won’t have an effect on nearly everything we do. With more of these extreme weather events occurring, the financial toll the climate crisis will have on our economy will be enormous — including property damage, loss of productivity, and a strain on our healthcare system.
Environmental challenges, almost by definition, have an impact on a broad range of issues. From the Flint water crisis to the toxic algae bloom that has plagued the Great Lakes, it’s not hard to find examples of the connection between our natural resources, health and our economy. With global climate change, it is even more true. The conversation on the debate stage should be just as interconnected.
When looking at climate as a comprehensive issue, we can win the fight – safeguarding our environment for generations to come, strengthening our economy, and protecting public health. We can ensure everyone has clean air to breathe and water to drink. These are issues voters care deeply about, and they are counting on candidates for leadership.
Climate solutions must have a level of ambition that matches the scale of the problem. Any comprehensive plan needs to include the transition to a 100% clean economy by 2050. That means transforming our entire economy to ensure we aren’t producing any more climate pollution than we can remove. It is a transition that can and must be done, but it will be up to scientists, activists, workers, businesses – and most of all, elected leaders -- to make this a reality.
Detroit, we look to you for inspiration on how to tackle big problems. There are few cities in America that have endured economic upheaval and gritted through a transition like the Motor City. We know a move toward a 100 percent clean economy will take some work – but Americans are entrepreneurial and resilient and are up for the challenge. Crucially for Detroit, it will make our economy more resilient, and allow us to win the international economic race for the jobs of the clean energy era.
I’ll be watching these debates listening for how each candidate talks about climate change – a big problem, with very achievable solutions.