Schieffer had every reason to ask about the problem in the third debate. Earlier in the day, Michael Levi, the energy and environment expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, explained why:

Those who aren’t seized with the importance of dealing with climate change on its merits should still be concerned: U.S. allies around the world care about what the United States does. Europe remains fixated on the issue, and might reconsider carbon tariffs on the United States down the road. Scores of countries in Asia and Africa care deeply about what climate change will do to their safety and prosperity—and the United States is battling with China for their allegiance. Do the candidates think that these concerns matter? How would they deal with them?

Unfortunately, as Levi suggested, the debates’ moderators seem to view climate change as a “special interest issue.” Candy Crowley, who presided over the second encounter, caught a bunch of flak from media-gazers for saying, in CNN’s post-debate coverage: “Climate change. I had that question. All of you climate change people. We just, you know, again, we knew that the economy was still the main thing so you knew you kind of wanted to go with the economy.”

Schieffer, who’s now punted as well, might say the same thing: “Oh, national security and violence in the Middle East, and Islamic extremism were the main thing.” That sounds reasonable to a point—or at least, reflective of a common media mindset. But these debates are each an hour and half long. The notion that five minutes could not be spared for climate change is ridiculous. Obama and Romney won’t be returning to the debate stage, but the rest of the press corps has a few weeks left to try to rectify that oversight.


Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.