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2 September 2019updated 08 Sep 2021 3:21pm

Seven questions the moderators of Wednesday’s CNN Climate Crisis Town Hall should ask

There are answers to the looming and catastrophic climate crisis – but only if we ask the right questions.

By Ibrahim AlHusseini

Ahead of the second round of Democratic primary debates in July, CNN polled their audience to find out which key issues they wanted to hear questions on the most. By a wide margin, the climate crisis resonated as the number one issue – more than the economy, health care and immigration. 

But unfortunately for us, less than 10 per cent of the questions in the debates were focused on climate change, and the questions that were asked missed the mark. 

Now CNN is making up for it with a first-of-its-kind “Climate Crisis Town Hall” – offering candidates a long overdue and crucial platform to tell the American people how they’d handle the greatest crisis humanity has faced to date.

We’re well past the point of debating whether it’s real. We’re past the point of playing the blame game. And we’re past the point of thinking that government is going to be able to tackle this issue alone.

We all know the challenges that this crisis will bring to bear if we don’t confront it – extreme weather, destruction of our coastlines, droughts, economic collapse, and more – it’s a daunting and nearly unfathomable thought. But it’s not too late to act, and as one of the most powerful people on earth – the future president of the United States will have the opportunity and responsibility to ensure we take action on day one.

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The American people want to know how our future leader will tackle the climate crisis head-on, and the presidential debate stage offers a golden opportunity to lay out how they’ll do it. The first two rounds of debates were a missed opportunity, but the “Climate Crisis Town Hall” offers an opportunity to make up for it – as long as the moderators ask the right questions.

But it’s not enough just to talk about the climate crisis. Substance matters, and it’ll be up to the moderators to ask the right questions. Instead of focusing on a scorecard of who supports “The Green New Deal” and who doesn’t, moderators should ask the questions that matter. 

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Here’s where they can start.

1) The Business Roundtable – an influential group representing some of our country’s most powerful business leaders – has recently come out with a strong statement saying shareholder interests can no longer be the sole consideration behind corporate decision-making. Do you think climate change should be among those considerations, and what role do you see corporate America playing in the fight against the climate crisis?

2) The climate crisis isn’t just about the environment, with the US intelligence community formally recognizing climate change in its worldwide threat assessment as a threat that is “likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.” How great of a national security risk do you think climate change poses, and would you recommend marshalling our national security resources to address it?

3) The oil industry is one of the most heavily subsidised industries in America – from deductions for the cost of drilling wells, to oil and gas production deductions, to tax breaks on the cost of oil shale exploration, and more. Meanwhile, new and innovative clean energy technologies do not receive permanent tax breaks. If you are elected president, would you support a tax on carbon, and what tax incentives would you propose to spur clean energy investment and adoption?

4) According to the World Bank, more than 140 million people could become climate refugees by 2050, with 2.1 million people from Mexico and Central America migrating to the US. What role do you think climate change has in immigration policy, and as president, how would you work with other world leaders to address this issue?

5) It was US government investment, and research and development, that spurred the development of penicillin, GPS, cellular technology, the internet, and more. On climate change, many of the solutions already exist, but lack the funding to grow. As president, what are three crucial investments in the clean energy and climate change space you would include in your first budget?

6) Unless Democrats have 60 seats in the Senate, they’ll need Republican support to do something big and meaningful on climate change. And there are Republican ideas out there. For instance, a few months ago, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said Congress should double funding for energy research to put the US on a path to cleaner, cheaper energy. What are other Republican proposals you believe could become part of a larger, clean-energy and climate change package that could pass Congress?

7) On its current trajectory, the climate crisis will negatively impact the way we live our lives – hitting some of our most vulnerable communities the most, from the erosion of our coastal cities and towns due to sea level rise, flooding, and hurricanes, to the destruction of our agricultural communities due to extreme levels of heat and cold, and ultimately, water and food shortages. As president, how would you go about protecting those who stand to lose the most from climate change, and how would you ensure your message resonates from rural to urban communities?

Ibrahim AlHusseini is founder and CEO of FullCycle, an investment firm focused on addressing the climate crisis. He was an early investor in Tesla Inc. He tweets @ialhusseini.