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The Huffington Post, October 1, 2012

Denver Debate Shouldn't Skip Tough Climate Questions

By Kassie Siegel

Remember your last job interview? Did you get to pick the questions or ignore hard issues?

Me neither. So why are the two candidates interviewing for America's top job dodging tough questions about their specific plans for tackling climate change?

And why aren't our political watchdogs — from pundits to debate moderators — forcing them to address an issue with enormous consequences for our country's future?

The upcoming presidential debate in Denver is a case in point. Debate moderator Jim Lehrer announced recently that the Oct. 3 event will focus on the economy, health care and the role of government. Global warming is apparently off the menu.

That needs to change. Both candidates should be pressed to disclose exactly where they stand on climate change — and to offer a detailed plan for confronting the problem.

Getting straight answers won't be easy. Giving climate change the silent treatment is apparently a tactical move. Voters, the idea goes, don't care enough. But even that bad excuse for dodging this critically important issue is undermined by a new poll.

Sixty-one percent of undecided voters say global warming will be one of several important issues determining their vote for president, according to a national survey recently conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Sixty-four percent of undecideds also want the government to do more on the issue — and 83 percent believe America should use more renewable energy sources.

What's driving this public concern? No great mystery there: Our crazy weather has people understanding why experts are so concerned about climate change.

The United States just racked up the hottest first eight months on record. This summer, a freak "derecho" windstorm in the mid-Atlantic states knocked out power to millions, who then sweated out a brutal heat wave. And a scorching drought killed endless acres of crops and led to disaster designations for more than half the counties in America.

Voters are worried. And so are scientists like NASA's James Hansen, whose research ties increasing extreme weather events to global warming. Other recent studies offer dire news about the future: Because of unprecedented melting of Arctic sea ice, which plays a critical role in regulating our climate, we can expect more extreme and deadly weather.

Rising global temperatures — nine of the world's hottest years on record have occurred since 2000 — will have serious consequences. Drought will challenge our farmers. Rising sea levels will threaten our coastal cities. Climate disruption threatens to commit a staggering one-third of the world's plants and animals to extinction within the next 40 years.

The good news is that America has plenty of guts and know-how, as well as an existing law — the Clean Air Act — that could be a potent weapon against greenhouse gas pollution. We've tackled tough challenges before, from saving the ozone layer to landing rovers on Mars.

But we have to move quickly. The window of opportunity for averting climate change's worst impacts is closing, according to a recent report from the respected International Energy Agency. If the world keeps spewing more than 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere, we will pay a terrible price — and so will our children and grandchildren.

Yet our major-party presidential candidates aren't even giving much lip service to this critically important issue.

This shouldn't be allowed to continue. These men want the most important job in America. That requires facing tough questions. And it means giving us straight answers on climate change.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton