The Need to Question Candidates on Climate

Get candidates on the record about their climate change action — or inaction.

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Every Monday, in Climate on the Ballot, we pass along a topic to help you integrate climate into your newsroom’s campaign reporting. Consider sharing this newsletter with your colleagues on the politics beat. Vea la versión en español de “El clima en la boleta.”

This Week: Climate Questions

The 2024 election enters a new phase this week as President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump take the CNN debate stage on Thursday night. When it comes to climate change, the differences between the two candidates could not be starker, yet polling shows that most Americans know very little about the respective climate records of Trump and Biden and the vastly different climate futures they portend.

Biden says that climate change is an “existential threat to humanity,” and he signed the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate action and green energy investment in US history. Trump, if elected to a second term, has vowed to repeal the IRA, withdraw from the Paris Agreement, shred emissions regulations, and increase US oil and gas production.

The truth is that climate change isn’t a one-question issue (if it’s asked about at all, which too often has not been the case). It’s not about whether you believe or don’t believe climate change is real; the science is settled. The question for candidates is what will they do to slow a warming planet that already has produced record-breaking heat waves on every continent, and predictions for above-normal hurricane and wildfire seasons this summer. Curtailing climate change requires action in nearly every sector of the economy, and adapting for it requires modernization of our infrastructure, transportation, and energy grid. So this week, we’re offering some questions that could — and should — be asked of any candidate for office, from the presidency to city council.

Reporting Ideas

  • What will you do to fight climate change? We already have the solutions. What’s needed are political will and action. Some progress has been made under the Biden administration, but much work remains. So ask the candidates: What are your priorities, and what solutions do you support? What will you do to adapt to climate impacts that are happening and will get worse?
  • Where do you stand on the IRA? The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act have spurred hundreds of billions of dollars in investments and hundreds of thousands of jobs in climate-friendly technologies, mostly in Republican districts. Ask candidates: What would you do to build upon, change, or weaken these laws? Follow-up: If you are for repeal, what about the economic implications for your state or region?
  • How will you ensure low-income and vulnerable Americans are equitably included in the green transition? “Energy transition policies, if not carefully implemented, can create or exacerbate inequities, particularly affecting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), low-income, and other frontline communities,” write the researchers at UC Santa Barbara’s 2035 Initiative, that includes an equity evaluation framework for policymakers. Ask candidates: What will you do to help low-income Americans participate in this shift and not be left behind or hurt economically?
  • Do you accept donations from fossil fuel companies? “Under the Biden administration, oil and gas interests are more politically active than ever, spending millions to influence federal policy,” notes Open Secrets. Its new Climate Change Issue Tool offers the data. A majority of voters (53%) say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who accepts donations from oil and gas companies or CEOs, and some candidates have signed on to the No Fossil Fuel Pledge. Ask candidates why they accept funding from fossil fuel companies, if they do.

Take Inspiration

  • Legal Planet offers 22 climate-related questions that CNN’s Dana Bash and Jake Tapper could ask Biden and Trump in the first presidential debate, as well as the one question they should avoid. It’s a great list for any candidate.
  • This Inside Climate News guide offers tools and scorecards to help voters (and journalists!) find out which candidates are most likely to take climate action, or not.
  • In 2016, On the Media talked with CNN’s Jake Tapper about an interview he did with then-candidate Donald Trump in which Tapper asked 23 follow-up questions. “How to Interview Donald Trump” contains good advice for journalists interviewing any political candidate on the need for persistence when a question isn’t answered.
  • “By any reasonable journalistic standard, 2024 should be the year of the climate election,” write CCNow co-founders Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope in the Columbia Journalism Review. Elections are “crucial to addressing the climate crisis. But for voters to do their part, they first have to be informed, and journalism remains a singularly powerful tool for providing the information they need.”

Spotlight Piece

Plenty of ink has been spilled on the tactics being used to undermine democracies, especially disinformation campaigns, foreign interference, and voter suppression. But Foreign Affairs posted this article last week about a threat to elections and democracy that isn’t talked about often enough: climate change. “Although all electoral threats are serious, the ones brought by climate change have the potential to disenfranchise voters even in the absence of malevolent intent.”

Announcing Locally Sourced!

We’re excited to announce the launch of Locally Sourced, a new biweekly newsletter to help journalists make the global issue of climate change resonate with local audiences. The first issue focuses on extreme heat. Sign up.

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