At a campaign rally in Florida on Tuesday, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton spent a whopping 46 minutes on climate change—the most attention given to the issue so far in the general election. But for many media outlets, the news hook wasn’t that the star of An Inconvenient Truth was bolstering Clinton’s environmental bona fides in a state battered by climate change; it was his reminder that “every single vote counts”—that a protest vote for a third-party candidate could lead to a Trump presidency, just as Ralph Nader voters in Florida secured George W. Bush’s defeat of Gore in 2000.
This is par for the course for climate change’s profile in the 2016 election. The subject was discussed for just 325 seconds over the first two presidential debates—and even then, it wasn’t about climate change per se. During the first debate, Clinton noted that Trump once said climate change was invented by the Chinese. Trump lied, saying, “I did not.” During the second debate, an audience member asked, “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job layoffs?” No one remembers the answer—because the questioner in the sweater, Ken Bone, became an internet meme.
All of which is to say, climate change is once again taking a back seat in a presidential election—and activists and journalists are a bit despondent about it.
“A lot of environmental reporters are asking, ‘When are we gonna talk about it? Is it time?’ I feel like all of us are like, ‘Maybe this is our year!’” said Kate Sheppard, a senior reporter at The Huffington Post. “There’s even a running joke where, when we’re all watching the debate and climate change comes up, we’re all saying, ‘I finally get to write something!’”