Near the end of the presidential debate last night, Bob Schieffer lobbed out the meatiest question of all: “Mr. President…what do you believe is the greatest future threat to the national security of this country?”
Obama didn’t open his mouth right away, he let the question hang out there for a few seconds while he considered his answer. Now I love talking foreign policy, but in this pregnant pause I saw a genuine opportunity to push a different agenda. I yelled CLIMATE CHANGE! in to void and then clenched my teeth and fists in wild expectation that I might hear the answer I wanted.
Unfortunately, once all of his thoughts were collected, Obama instead muttered something about terrorists, China, and outsourcing jobs. As one who prides himself on unflappability, I was surprised at the intensity of my disappointment in his response. I felt as though a great opportunity had been missed, because I really do believe climate change is the greatest threat to America’s national security. Obama could have
- …framed climate change as a threat multiplier for our military.
- …laid out the risks from climate change on America’s energy security.
- …shown the impacts of climate change on regional stability for the Middle East and North Africa.
- …talked about climate change as a matter of food security.
It’s not often you feel yourself standing at a pivot point in history, but that moment was definitely one of them. Imagine the headlines today if Obama had mentioned climate change there…people would have been shocked! For most folks it’d be an answer outta left field, the last thing anyone would expect to hear during a foreign policy debate. In that moment, the words “climate change” would have sparked bewilderment, fascination, uproar. Today the media would be lit up by clashes between euphoric liberals and scornful conservatives. The nature of the reaction is immaterial though…what matters is just having the discussion. An utterance of “climate change” last night might have advanced the issue by years.
Obama chose not to discuss climate change however, and so the world today is as oblivious as it was yesterday. Three debates have come and gone, three missed opportunities to put climate change in a proper spotlight. Despite a year of record breaking heat, drought and Arctic melting, the presidential debates ignored climate change for the first time since 1988.