Editorial: DNC Prohibits Climate Debate

Lyle Griggs

This summer has been humbling those skeptical of human-caused climate change. July, for example, was the hottest month since record-keeping began. In such hot conditions, huge tracts of forest in Siberia, Alaska, and the Amazon burned and Alaskan sea ice melted completely for the first time in history. Across the world, alarm bells are ringing, and calls for action have grown impossible to ignore.

Recognizing the crisis, environmental activists recently urged the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to hold an official climate debate before the 2020 presidential election. Such a contest would prioritize the issue of climate change in the election and encourage candidates to emphasize their environmental policy. After significant pressure from voters, most Democratic candidates agreed to participate in the event.

But then, three weeks ago, the DNC ruled decisively against hosting a climate debate and threatened to sanction any participating candidate. Defending their controversial decision, the committee argued that it would be unfair to prioritize a single issue–that it would make the committee appear biased. DNC chairman Tom Perez, vehemently opposed to any single-issue debate, attempted to reassure climate activists, promising that the committee would “do more on climate change . . . than has ever been done.” But despite his apparent commitment to climate action, Perez refused to consider reversing his organization’s decision, infuriating some of his party’s most dedicated supporters.

For many Democrats, the DNC’s bizarre move to stifle debate on climate change legitimizes their dissatisfaction with the party establishment. It exposes the rigidity and obstinance of many party leaders, who would rather adhere to obscure precedents than allow debate on a critical issue. With one decision, the party has sewn the seeds of division just over a year before an election of historic significance, weakening its influence and damaging its prospects. And this issue cannot be solved gradually; it requires rapid change, so the DNC’s resistance is dangerous.

There is, however, a way to circumvent the DNC’s ruling. Although the committee resolved to sanction participating candidates, they cannot punish every candidate. If all contenders defy the prohibition, the DNC will be powerless to stop them. Paradoxically, this act of rebellion could unite Democrats behind a common cause, alienating only the most obstinate, regressive party leaders. It would bolster support for Democrats and advance debate on the single most important issue of this century: climate change.