Key Climate Questions to Ask Candidates as Elections Heat Up

Voters need to know how candidates at all levels of government plan to tackle climate change. We’ve got questions to help you get the answers.

Moderators and CNN anchors Jake Tapper (L) and Dana Bash speak ahead of the fifth Republican presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Jim Watson via Getty Images)

The first US presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump, which airs tonight on CNN, begins a new chapter in this year’s US election cycle. For the first time, journalists will get to question both major party candidates, and the differences between Biden and Trump on climate could not be starker. Yet polling shows that most Americans know very little about their respective climate records — and the vastly different futures they portend.

Biden, who says that climate change is an “existential threat to all of us,” signed the Inflation Reduction Act, the first major investment in climate action in US history, in 2022. If elected to a second term, Trump is expected to dismantle the IRA, withdraw from the Paris Agreement, shred emissions regulations, and increase US oil and gas production.

In 2019, when CNN’s Dana Bash, Jake Tapper, and Don Lemon hosted a Democratic primary debate, few of the questions were about climate change, according to a Media Matters analysis. The planet has since seen year after year of record-breaking heat, as well as historic policy action on climate in the US — both of which should inspire more nuanced climate questions at this debate. Tapper, in particular, should be praised for his recent and consistent on-air linking of fossil fuel use to climate change

The inescapable truth is that climate isn’t a one-question issue. There are plenty of ways for debate moderators to grill candidates on how they intend to cut fossil fuel use; transition to an equitable, green economy; and help people survive worsening climate impacts, like this year’s record-breaking extreme heat. Stopping climate change, after all, requires action in every sector of the economy.

“Presidential debates shape public policy and voter perception, making them crucial for presenting and scrutinizing the candidates’ approaches to the pressing issues around climate change,” Evlondo Cooper, Media Matters’s senior writer on climate, wrote this week. “Voters deserve a thorough and comprehensive climate change discussion that highlights each candidate’s strategies for tackling climate change and environmental justice.”

For reporters covering this year’s presidential race — and for outlets covering any race for office — here are some questions to ask candidates that will help audiences understand what they intend to do about the most pressing issue on the ballot:

  • What will you do to stop climate change? 
  • Where do you stand on the IRA? 
  • How will you ensure low-income and vulnerable Americans are equitably included in the green transition? 
  • Do you accept donations from fossil fuel companies?

For an in-depth look at these questions and more, read this week’s issue of CCNow’s election newsletter, Climate on the Ballot, and subscribe for more reporting ideas and inspiring examples.

From Us 

Disinfo webinar. Read key takeaways from our recent Talking Shop webinar on how journalists reporting on climate can deal with allegations of disinformation and censorship. Take me there.

Climate elections. #ICYMI see our guide for integrating climate into your elections coverage. En español. 

Happy 4th! For those in the US, enjoy July 4th! The Climate Beat newsletter team will be taking the day off too. See you in two weeks. 

Noteworthy Stories

Do more. Eighty percent of people globally want their governments to do more to stop climate change, according to a new poll of 75,000 people by the UN Development Programme, Oxford University, and GeoPoll. In 62 of 77 countries surveyed, a majority of respondents favor a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. Read more at The Straits Times…

Climate homicide. The nonprofit Public Citizen has released a preliminary “prosecution memorandum” that concludes US local and state prosecutors can bring cases against fossil fuel companies for climate-related deaths (eg., from heat waves). Former prosecutors, criminal law professors, and other legal advocates collaborated on the memo, which former Justice Department prosecutor Cindy Cho co-authored. By Matthew Rozsa at Salon…

Extreme heat. Extreme heat poses health risks, as highlighted by Victoria St. Martin, a health and environmental justice reporter at Inside Climate News. She explores the increased risk of heart problems, the specific dangers faced by young people, and the vulnerabilities for pregnant people. 

Exxon in Guyana. ExxonMobil’s huge Stabroek Block oil project in Guyana could lead to significant financial gains, resulting in the country becoming one of the last petrostates. Critics denounce it as a “carbon bomb” that will contribute to climate change, exploit locals, and negatively impact the country. By Jamie Smyth and Joe Daniels for The Financial Times…

  • Read “A hotter world is a negative-sum game,” by The Financial Times’ Editorial Board.  

Dump Big Oil. In a Los Angeles Times column, Sammy Roth urges his beloved LA Dodgers baseball team to stop taking advertising money from fossil fuel companies, like Phillips 66, and to remove the “76 gasoline ads plastered throughout the ballpark.” Big Oil companies knew for decades that burning fossil fuels caused climate change — and lied about it. Read it at The Los Angeles Times…

Industry News

Internews’ Earth Journalism Network recently published a new report, “Covering The Planet: Assessing The State Of Climate And Environmental Journalism Globally,” with recommendations including:  

  • “Media outlets should publish and broadcast more climate and environment stories and make them more prominent.” 
  • “Newsrooms should consider collaborating with climate and environment news specialist organizations.”
  • “Journalists need to build their knowledge on attribution science.”
  • “Journalists need to work together to ensure climate/environment issues suffuse more reporting.” 
  • “Journalists need to make clear humans’ dependence on the natural world.”

See the full list of recommendations. 

Resources & Events

US housing market. The Global Strategic Communications Council is hosting a media briefing about the climate risk to the US housing market and economy. July 2. RSVP. 

Latin America. The Global Investigative Journalism Network is holding a webinar, “How Latin America Connects to Your Story: Investigating the Region’s Global Reach of Illicit Money, Illegal Mining, Drug Trafficking, and Environmental Destruction.” July 9. RSVP.

Climate actions. Third Act working groups will hold events across the US to demand that Wall Street banks stop funding the climate crisis. July 8-13. 

Extreme weather. #ICYMI The Yale Program on Climate Change Communications held a webinar on understanding and communicating the links between extreme weather and climate change. Watch. 

1.5 explainer. Bangladesh’s The Daily Star wrote an explainer worth emulating called “Why is the limit of global warming 1.5 degrees Celsius?”   

Lawsuits. The Grantham Research Institute is launching, “2024 Global Trends in Climate Change Litigation Policy Report,” today. Learn more. 

Local News

“Bottomless well.” CNN’s chief climate correspondent Bill Weir recently urged local reporters to lean in to covering climate change because “there is a bottomless well of story ideas for every local newsroom in North America to help their viewers survive and thrive.” 

  • Covering Climate Now’s initiative The Climate Station helps local US TV newsrooms do just that. To learn more about our free, customized training for local reporters, producers, and meteorologists, reach out to Elena González at elena[at]coveringclimatenow[dot]org.

July 4th. Next Thursday is July 4th, US Independence Day, and many US towns and cities are shifting from traditional fireworks, which are linked to climate impacts such as heightened wildfire risks (and scare the dogs!), to mesmerizing drone shows. Global heating is contributing to more and stronger wildfires, scientists have found. Contact your local government to find out their July 4th plans. Are they opting out of fireworks? Why or why not?

Jobs, Etc.

Jobs. The Center for Investigative Reporting/Reveal is hiring a reporter – disinformation, extremism, and technology (San Francisco, Calif.). The New York Times is recruiting a reporter/meteorologist for its Weather Data Team (San Francisco or Los Angeles, Calif.). The Pulitzer Center, the Financial Times, and One World Media are looking for an experienced filmmaker for a short documentary on how climate change is affecting lives and work in the Global South.

Fellowships. The Bertha Foundation is accepting applications for the 6th Bertha Challenge, a yearlong fellowship starting January 2025 focused on farming and the climate crisis. Apply by July 12. 

Awards. The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing is accepting applications for Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award for a young science journalist. Apply by June 30.