When it comes to national security and foreign policy, there's no question that defeating ISIS and preventing attacks like those in Paris and San Bernardino have to be at the top of presidential candidates' minds. These are undoubtedly priorities that America needs to talk about and take action on, and so it makes sense that they dominated Tuesday night's Republican debate. What's unfortunate, though, is that the the debate completely ignored climate change, an important issue that is also connected to foreign policy, and which is the responsibility of leaders at home and around the world.
Whether they mentioned it tonight or not, the next president of the United States will have to deal with climate change — and he or she will have to do so on an international level. President Obama showed how critical that kind of cooperation is just this past weekend, when he reached a substantive agreement with leaders from roughly 180 nations to fight global warming and to help each other in doing so. The agreement states that countries will work to limit global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius, and it sets the expectation that countries will adjust their goals every five years.
Despite this much-heralded agreement, Tuesday's debate mostly ignored climate change as a foreign policy issue. In fact, only one candidate even mentioned the phenomenon. John Kasich briefly used the agreement to demonstrate how an international coalition to fight ISIS should function.
Now wait, I probably know what you're thinking. How can climate change and ISIS be put on the same level or be squeezed into the same debate? Ultimately, terrorism should have taken center stage at Tuesday's debate, as it did for most of the evening, because of Paris and San Bernardino. Still, in the two hours set aside for the prime-time event, it seems strange that another timely, important issue that involves cooperation among nations was not discussed during a foreign policy debate.
This isn't to say that the lack of a climate change discussion was all the candidates' faults. The moderators bear some responsibility as well for not asking stronger questions that could tie in with the issue. From the very first moments, in which a dramatic video montage introduced the evening, it was undeniably clear that CNN's two hours were going to be devoted to talking about ISIS.
Perhaps this points to a larger issue about the way we as a society think about global warming. For years, we've often pushed it to the side. After all, we know that hybrid and electric cars are better for the environment, but we continue to buy gasoline-powered cars in droves. It seems that when it comes down to it, we don't think of climate change as a foreign policy issue, but rather as an "other" issue that either doesn't fit into a predefined debate category, or as someone else's issue entirely.