Elizabeth Warren, too, plays it safe on climate change

Updated
By Quinn Wonderling
Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren speaks during a debate with Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Springfield, Mass. last month.
Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren speaks during a debate with Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Springfield, Mass. last month.
AP Photo/Elise Amendola

For the first time since 1988 , climate change failed to get a mention in the presidential debates—a stark indication of how the issue has faded from the political agenda of both parties.

And here’s another one: Elizabeth Warren, perhaps the most popular and high-profile progressive icon in the country, running for office in deep-blue Massachusetts, also appears determined not to stick her neck out on perhaps the most urgent issue of our time.

Asked by msnbc.com about how she’d handle the issue, Warren’s campaign instead pointed to the consequences of a GOP victory.

“This election in Massachusetts could determine which party controls the Senate and there’s a lot at stake for the environment,” the campaign said in a statement. “Scott Brown will give Republicans control of the Senate and put Jim Inhofe, who says climate change is a hoax, in charge of the Environment Committee.”

All true, but not exactly a ringing affirmation that Warren, for all her progressive bona fides, plans to carry the climate change banner.

Warren took a similar tack in a recent debate, criticizing Brown for supporting oil subsidies, but declining to go further.

It’s not just Warren, of course. Cathy DuVall, the national political director for the Sierra Club, seemed to stretch to find evidence that the issue has a presence on the campaign trail. “When [Ohio Sen.] Sherrod Brown defends his decision to vote to keep a moratorium on drilling for offshore oil, or when [New Mexico Democratic Senate candidate] Martin Heinrich talks about making New Mexico the epicenter of clean energy economy, they’re talking about climate change.” DuVall said. “The debate is happening, front and center.”

In other words, most Senate candidates appear to be taking the same approach as Warren: talking about oil subsides or clean energy, but stopping short of a full-throated declaration of the need to act on global warming.

Craig Altemose, the executive director of the Better Future Project, said that’s a mistake on both policy and politics.

“Climate change is predicted to cause millions, if not tens of millions, of deaths,” Altemose said. “There are very few other issues out there with that range or depth. Not only is it a top issue, but it’s the top issue.”

“So actually, the politically smart thing to do is acknowledge this tremendous problem and then act in a serious, immediate way to stop it,” he added.

Elizabeth Warren, too, plays it safe on climate change

Updated