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The scariest issue the Republican field won't address

Climate change is the reason for a pivotal gathering of world leaders in Paris in 30 days. For some presidential candidates, it's still no reason at all.

In the days following the third Republican presidential debate, every campaign went on woulda-coulda-shoulda tour, elevating the issues they didn’t cover from the stage. But one issue in particular barely came up, and seems to be declining as a priority for the GOP candidates: climate change.  

It was mentioned just once in the main debate, and twice in the undercard event, commanding the attention of candidates with a combined 3% in the polls. Only Texas Sen. Ted Cruz mentioned climate change in the two days following the debate, and only to denounce the science behind it as a faux religion.

On Thursday, four Republican senators formed a climate change working group, pledging to braid together jobs, innovation, and environmental protection. But for the 10 top candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, the issue is apparently unworthy of a mention, almost as a matter of policy: None of the candidates mention climate change on their websites, not even to deny it.  

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Such ambivalence is strange when you consider that one of these people may soon be in the White House; it’s downright bizarre when you consider the broader context: Climate change is a defining issue of the Obama administration, a central concern of every Democratic presidential candidate, and the subject of a pivotal gathering of world leaders in Paris in just 30 days.

Many have called it a do-or-die moment for the planet, our last chance to cut emissions or consign ourselves to an overheated doom. And on Friday, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body in charge of saving the Earth as we know it, issued a report on how far we’ve come. The headline: We’ve not come nearly far enough.

Experts say that the emissions that result from powering the planet with oil, coal and gas has warmed the temperature nearly a full degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. They also say that if the world fails to cap warming at 2 degrees Celsius, we may roil the atmosphere to the point of self-destruction, unleashing a spate of storms, droughts, and floods we cannot manage.

The good news is that most of the world is ready to act: 146 countries have promised to reduce their emissions. Add them up, however, and the world is still on track to blow past its limits, suffering nearly three degrees of warming, according to independent reports acknowledged by the United Nations.

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That’s much better than four, five, or six degrees of warming, which was the likely path before Paris. It’s also only the start of what the Obama administration hopes will be a multi-decade effort to quit fossil fuels and commit to a future of clean, renewable energy.

But will the Republican presidential field support this effort? Not at all.

Late in the summer, back when they were at least talking about climate change, several of them attacked President Obama’s historic efforts to lead the world toward a solution. Obama announced a giant stride in the race to prevent catastrophy, limiting — for the first time ever — the amount of carbon power plan.

He openly staked his second term on the success of the program, and his ability to slash U.S. emissions by up to 28% by 2025, a figure he also promised to the world. He called it “the biggest step we have ever taken,” and he was right.

But it’s a step that many Republicans want to roll back. Candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz have voiced economic objections, framing the plan as yet another unconstitutional power grab by the president.

A month later, and just miles from the raging climate-driven wildfires of California, these same candidates reluctantly took up climate change at the second Republican presidential debate. They had to be prompted; they didn’t break any new ground, and – if the nation’s leading scientists and economists are right – they didn’t get it right.

“We’re not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government that we are under now wants to do,” Rubio said. “I am not in favor of any policies that make America a harder place for people to live, or to work, or to raise their families.”

“I agree with Marco,” added Christie. “We shouldn’t be destroying our economy in order to chase some wild left-wing idea that somehow us by ourselves is going to fix the climate. We can contribute to that and be economically sound.”

Some republicans have even tried to scuttle a deal in Paris by pledging to stall American promises, and block the $3 billion that Obama has set aside to help developing nation’s adapt to rising waves and scorching temperatures. That’s dangerous given the delicacy of the talks already.

So far, the Republicans who do deny climate change or who don’t believe in action haven’t cast a shadow over the talks in Paris, Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, told MSNBC last month. She said that the countries of the world are proceeding as though the GOP does not exist.

In a sense, until the Republican presidential candidates start talking about climate change, the countries of the world are right.