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Should climate change have been on the agenda at last night s debate?

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The first rule of climate change is you don't talk about climate change. Getty Images.

If you were hoping to hear President and Mitt Romney get down on climate change at last night’s Presidential debate, you were left unfulfilled. President Obama and Governor Romney only peripherally approached climate change last night when talking about domestic energy issues like green jobs, Solyndra, and Romney’s love for coal.

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic posted an article late last night with a list of topics that he thought should have made the debate, climate change being one of them. I’m with Revkin in being content at not hearing climate change last night. It’s a complex global issue, which is not to say that relinquishes any one countries responsibilities, it just didn't belong in the domestic policy debate.

Now, climate change is something that affects, and will affect, many in this country. From farmers and ranchers who might lose crops or herds because of changing rainfall patterns or extreme droughts, to infrastructure that will become unusable, to increased diseases and outbreaks.

And at the end of the day, climate change is going to come down to dollars that people, businesses, and governments are going to have on the line for crops that will be lost, and insurance money on those crops that will be paid out, and government aid to cover even more losses. Etc.

But ultimately, while relevant to domestic policy, climate change is more at home in a foreign policy debate where we juggle our national interests (which is to say: fairly carbon intensive economic growth) with the needs of others (others’ rights to industrialize, like China or India) and where the effects (both favorable and unfavorable) will be experienced globally.

Even if climate change were a domestic policy issue, with the gift of hindsight, it’s clear that any prolonged discussion of science or climate change would have immediately become a train wreck, or mired in wonk speak. The debate was barely under control as it was.

The worst case scenario is climate change isn’t brought up at all in either of the next two debates, which cover foreign and domestic issues.

For those that didn’t catch the debate, The New York Times has a great transcript with fact checking.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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