Science, especially climate science, has again gotten so little attention in the presidential campaigns that a group of more than 50 science organizations is seeking to push it into the conversation.
The group, which includes the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The National Academy of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union and Duke University, represents more than 10 million scientists and engineers nationwide. It is calling on the U.S. presidential candidates to address a set of questions related to science, engineering, technology, health and the environment, including climate change. It is also encouraging the media, the moderators that ask the debate questions and voters themselves to ask these questions of the candidates in the course of the campaign.
“Science issues are coming to influence more and more of the policy dialogues, and politicians seem to be having a hard time incorporating complex science information into their policymaking process,” said Shawn Otto, chair of ScienceDebate.org, which is organizing the initiative.
It is the third consecutive presidential election the coalition has tried to push science into the campaign debate, having little success in the 2008 or 2012 campaigns. And neither Republicans nor Democrats made climate change a central issue at their respective conventions this year.
The Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has denied that climate change exists, has vowed to abandon the Clean Power Plan that is central to the Obama administration’s climate action plan and cancel the Paris climate agreement. Hillary Clinton, despite being pulled to the left on many platform policies including energy and climate change by primary opponent Bernie Sanders, barely mentioned those issues in her convention speech.
“We go back to Jefferson’s idea that when the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government,” Otto said. “So we’re seeking to get them better informed about the candidate’s view of these major science issues that collectively impact voters lives at least as much as the economic, foreign, faith and values issues that the candidates often debate.”
The group asked scientists and the public to propose what the questions should be, and a committee culled those into the top 20 questions that the group could support unanimously. The questions tackle everything from nuclear energy and mental health to the candidates’ positions on vaccinations.
Three directly reference climate change, and one tackles the issue head on: “What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?” The group is requesting that the presidential candidates submit their answers by September 6.
The group first formed in 2008, born out of frustration at how little the candidates were being pushed to address the issue of climate change.
“The five top TV news anchors had asked the candidates 2,975 question in 171 different interviews,” said Otto. “And out of all of those questions, just six mentioned global warming or climate change. Three questions were about UFOs.”
Things have improved slightly. In March, Media Matters reported that out of 1,477 questions asked during the presidential primary debates, only 22 or 1.5 percent were about climate change.
“As a tool to draw attention to the issue, depending on how the call is used, it can be really effective,” said Craig Auster, director of PAC and advocacy partnerships with the League of Conservation Voters, which is not part of the coalition.
Having on-the-record official responses to questions such as “If you are elected, what steps will you take to ensure access to clean water for all Americans?” also means voters can hold candidates accountable to those statements if they are elected, he said.
But will the candidates to respond?
“President Obama and Sen. McCain responded in 2008,” said Otto. “And President Obama and Romney responded in 2012, so I have reasons to expect that the candidates will all respond.”