Why we need a televised science debate

Hurricane Sandy reminds us that global warming is not a topic to be swept under the rug. However, when Shawn Otto, CEO of ScienceDebate.org asked both presidential candidates to participate in Climate Desk Live, a science debate held in D.C. on Nov. 1, neither showed up. The Obama campaign sent a surrogate and the Romney campaign sent no one at all.

ScienceDebate.org, an initiative set up in 2008, has done a great job bringing important science questions to the forefront. Topics like ocean preservation, energy and climate change were posed toward candidates then and now. Both sides have responded to the website’s questions and their answers can be viewed online.

But a post online does not compare to 60 million viewers in one night. Televised science debates are key to bringing the public, policymakers and the media together. I was disappointed in all three moderators for not making the link between energy and climate issues to the economy and foreign policy.

The U.S. was never brought up in the context of a responsible global leader when it comes to science-based solutions. Remember science? That thing that makes the taste of toothpaste tolerable? What about that thing that allows you to tweet every aspect of your ‘first world’ life?

What is said during a nationally televised debate is repeated endlessly on news channels till the end of the election. A science debate would force national discourse on topics like climate change and clean energy. The rhetoric of the environmental science movement would be on everyone’s mind.

Why No One Said the C-Word in the Debates,” an article written by Chris Mooney for the online news website Mother Jones, highlights the absence of the topic of climate change in the October debates. Mooney suggests that the American view on science has actually regressed. According to Mooney, Romney’s citation of the size of the Navy in the early 1900s hints at an out-of-date approach to technology.

“In the end, though, the climate change omission certainly hurts the most. That’s not just because it’s the most high profile science-focused issue today, but also because there are so many ways that it relates to other realms of obvious public concern—from innovation and the clean energy economy to our diplomatic relations with the rest of the world,” Mooney wrote.

Both candidates remained silent, even Obama, who discussed climate change at length during the 2008 election. Even worse, so did the moderators. It didn’t matter that thousands of people requested science related issues to be discussed during the debate. Candy Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent and the moderator for the town hall debate, mentioned that ‘you climate change people’ had given her questions but she didn’t have the time to get it.

Both candidates discussed energy policies briefly and Obama mentioned the need for more math and science in schools, but that was it. There was nothing on climate change or the need to revolutionize our energy policy. ‘Radical’ concepts like high altitude wind farms or robots that maintain solar panels — even energy outside of this planet — have to be looked at if we want to reduce our dependence to foreign oil.

But this “inconvenient truth” was overlooked by many Americans due to largely silent media on this issue. The presidential debates were dominated by pocketbook issues. Obama and Romney sounded more like CEOs going about business as usual than pioneering world leaders.

New ideas and energy solutions need to be injected into public discourse. A science debate would have given room for Obama and Romney to inspire a country teeming with inventors and entrepreneurs.