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Activists said Democratic debates failed to address climate ‘crisis’



Dozens of climate activists from the Sunrise Movement gathered at the Spotify offices in lower Manhattan to watch the second night of the Democratic presidential primary debates on Thursday night, a day after fellow activists in Washington protested at the headquarters of Democratic National Committee over their refusal to hold a televised debate on climate change.

Many were disappointed by what they didn’t hear. Out of four hours of airtime, climate change garnered only 15 minutes of discussion from a sprawling primary field of 20 candidates.

Read more: DNC Chairman Tom Perez still won’t hold a climate-change-focused debate, despite mounting calls from Democratic activists

Sunrise activist Iliana Walsingham-Johnson told INSIDER that she believes a wide-ranging discussion is needed to grasp the enormous scale of the “crisis” and the complexities in dealing with it.

“This climate crisis is going to affect every part of our society and our economy,” Walsingham-Johnson said. “It’s an all-encompassing problem that requires more than just a few questions here and there. It requires so much more.”

She backs the Green New Deal, a sweeping proposal that would transition the economy to renewable energy and curb greenhouse gas emissions. Reflecting how far the issue has moved into mainstream Democratic politics, four of the bill’s Senate co-sponsors were on the second night’s debate stage: Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Aracely Jimenez, a 22-year-old Sunrise digital organizer, told INSIDER she is frustrated with DNC Chairman Tom Perez’s decision to deflect on the issue.

“Tom Perez keeps saying the rules don’t let him do it. But the DNC wrote those rules,” Jimenez said. “So what is holding him back? That would be my question to him.”

Calls are mounting for the Democratic National Committee to set up a televised debate around the threat of climate change and how to address it. Shortly after the NBC debate ended, MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted that he supported a climate debate.

The DNC did not respond to a request for comment from INSIDER.

The DNC’s “exclusivity clause” bars candidates from taking part in sanctioned debates if they participate in unsanctioned ones. DNC officials say its meant to limit the number of debates and maintain an orderly nomination process, but it drew much criticism in 2016.

Over 15 candidates signed a petition backing Gov. Jay Inslee’s call for a climate debate. But Perez shot it down in a Medium post earlier this month, saying that amending the rules “would be putting our thumb on the scale.”

Read more: None of the Democratic candidates even come close on climate change to where voters want them to be

In a recent interview with INSIDER’s John Haltiwanger, however, Perez promised there would be plenty of space for the candidates to discuss their climate plans, saying, “We’ll make the time, and we have 12 debates.”

Despite the lack of detailed climate policy, there was no shortage of laughter and groans in the audience throughout the debate. Author Marianne Williamson drew laughs and quizzical looks when she said she would call the prime minister of New Zealand on the first day of her presidency. And it frustrated some to hear former Vice President Joe Biden try to explain his position on federally mandated busing.

The loudest cheers came when the climate portion of the debate started. Harris described climate change as a “climate crisis” that “represents an existential threat to us as a species.” She talked about visiting wildfire-ravaged towns in California, while South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg described the impact of historic Midwestern floods in his city.

But the activists’ satisfaction was short-lived. The climate discussion among the candidates only lasted around seven minutes.

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