The Democratic presidential candidates should hold a climate debate

Illustration of Democratic debate on climate change
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

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Last weekend, the Democratic National Committee, or DNC, gathered in San Francisco to, among other things, vote on whether the party would hold a climate-centered debate for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. In a disappointing move, the DNC voted down​ a resolution to host a climate debate.

The decision for the DNC to not hold a climate debate shows that the majority of DNC members do not seem to value these connections. A debate focused purely on the climate would allow Americans to hear about the substantive differences between the various candidates’ plans to address the climate emergency. As ​the United Nations let the world know​, we need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes” to our economy to prevent ​catastrophic warming, sea level rise, displacement and more​. We advocate for a Green New Deal, meaning structural change to our society and economy. Voters deserve to hear the candidates discuss the merits of their plans on stage together; they deserve to know how our next president will confront a rapidly deteriorating biosphere.

Pressure for this debate comes from groups across the nation, including the Sunrise Movement, an organization I joined only a week ago. Sunrise​ is a movement of young people fighting to stop climate change through political action. Currently, Sunrisers across the country are working hard to make sure that climate change is an urgent political priority in the Democratic primaries — that’s why we’ve been focusing so much energy on a climate debate.

I first heard about Sunrise in November 2018 when a group of young people staged a ​sit-in​ at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. I was further galvanized when a ​confrontation​ of young movement members with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein went viral. It wasn’t until the West Regional Summit, a training weekend with young people hailing from Alaska to Arizona, showed up just miles from where I live in Berkeley that I joined the movement. The summit brought together hundreds of young people eager to fight for a livable future. Fellow Berkeley students showed up in large numbers to join the movement.

As a youth-led, forward-looking community, we believe climate action must center the impacts faced by marginalized communities. The fossil fuel extraction economy and climate disasters disproportionately impact communities of color, indigenous people, folks with disabilities and others with marginalized identities. Seeing the connections between social justice and environmental justice is critical to stopping climate change and securing a just transition from an extraction-based economy to a livable future.

The DNC’s decision against a climate debate demonstrates its failure to appreciate the urgency and intersectionality of the climate crisis. Despite endorsements from ​15​ Democratic presidential candidates and thousands of people across the country, the DNC failed to treat climate change with the sense of urgency that morality and science demand.

We will not be stopped by this setback. We will continue to organize and sing, create and inform. The upcoming Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20th will be one of many massive demonstrations showing the seriousness of the fate to which we are currently bound. We are calling on our elected officials to act responsibly and courageously on the global, existential threat that can and will destroy us without their bold action. We will come back again and again until the sun rises on a day with representatives that support us, clean air and water, jobs that protect us, and a livable future.

Joshua Hauser is a member of the Sunrise Movement and a sophomore at UC Berkeley.