Democratic presidential candidates will gather for the penultimate debate of the primary season tomorrow night, just three days before the Nevada caucus.
Polls show that the climate crisis is now one of the most important issues for voters, but so far, the debates haven’t reflected that very well. This debate cycle has featured more climate questions than previous elections, but that’s a low bar; the 2016 debates did not feature a single question about climate policy. This time around, we’re getting climate questions, but moderators have quarantined the topic and largely failed to ask how candidates plans in other areas like trade, immigration, and the economy will affect the climate or vice versa.
That may change tomorrow night, because for the first time ever, a climate journalist will be among their ranks. Vanessa Hauc has been a reporter for more than two decades, and she currently leads the investigative unit on environmental issues at Telemundo’s Planeta Tierra.
Personally, I think having a climate reporter on the debate stage should be the norm. In fact, I think the climate crisis should have been the topic of its own debate (editor’s note: ditto). But I have to admit, this development is happening at a particularly important time.
As my colleague Yessenia Funes wrote, Nevada is in some ways the first true climate test of the Democratic presidential contest. A League of Conservation Voters (LCV) poll found that 86 percent of Democratic voters in the state think climate change and the environment are very important or “the most important issue,” and a Data for Progress poll showed that 93 percent support a Green New Deal.
Interest in climate action is even stronger among Latinx caucus-goers, who make up nearly 20 percent of Nevada voters. Among Latinx voters, the LCV poll showed climate change was the most important election issue. The Data for Progress poll similarly shows support for the Green New Deal is highest among Latinx likely caucus-goers.
That same trend is visible nationally as well with Latinxs feeling much greater alarm over climate change. And Mijente, a grassroots organization that mobilizes Latinx and Chicanx voters, announced on Tuesday that they’re endorsing Bernie Sanders, who has proposed a larger climate policy plan than his opponents.
Earther spoke with Hauc about the state of climate media and the ways Latino communities are particularly affected by the climate crisis. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Earther: You’ve been a TV reporter for more than two decades. How did you come to focus on climate and the environment specifically?
Vanessa Hauc: For the past 20 years, my job has been to do the stories that are impacting my community. So sometimes it’s education, sometimes it’s immigration or health, but over the past 15 years, or maybe a bit longer, I found myself more and more covering the impacts of climate change; storms are every year stronger, unstoppable fires, like the ones that we saw in the Amazon jungle or in California, or the ones that are burning today in Australia, and droughts and floods, and so many consequences of our warming climate. I realized that this was one of the most important stories of our time and definitely the story that I needed to tell to my community.
Earther: Public concern about the climate crisis is really surging. It’s a major priority in this presidential primary. Why do you think it is that people are really waking up to these crises at this moment?
Hauc: You’re absolutely right. A new Pew Research Center poll now says that the majority of U.S. adults believe that climate change is one of the most important issues we’re facing. For the first time, environmental protection is as important as the economy for voters.
I think that two things have changed fundamentally. The first one is that we are seeing the impacts of climate change today as something that is affecting our communities, not a distant phenomenon.
The other thing that happened, I think, is that youth created a very, very, very powerful movement to demand climate action from from the government. In September, more than 6 million students went to the streets to demand climate action. They are going to be the ones that are going to face the most difficult consequences of our changing climate. So I think they brought climate change and the environment and the importance of it today to the table of conversation.
And the last thing, of course, is we have the scientific reports. The IPCC, the National Climate Assessment—they all say we only have 10 years to turn around our economy and make it a renewable one, and we need to act fast.
Earther: How has environmental coverage in the media changed over the course of your career?
Hauc: It has changed a lot. In my earlier years doing stories about the impacts of climate change, many people didn’t connect the dots between what was happening to our environment and fossil fuels, for example. At least, not for most of the public. So at the beginning, first it was a lot of education for myself. I had to really learn to tell the story in a way that was compelling.
But then over the years, our planet has changed and more and more people are concerned. Now, climate is something that everybody cares about. We see that in the national polls and also all around our planet.
Now of course, we have to explain less about what is happening. Now, we have to focus on solutions. And that’s what I’ve been working on with my reporting on Planeta Tierra. We tell the stories but from a solution point of view. Today, we have the resources to make a difference and really turn around our economy and make it a renewable one. So really, we just need the will of people, the will of the government.
Earther: The climate crisis intersects with so many other issues. And you report on other issues, too. For instance, at the Iowa caucuses, you reported on immigrant detention centers. How do you show your audiences the connections between these issues?
Hauc: I try to give them information in a way that resonates with what’s important for them. My audience on Telemundo is mostly Latino. When you think about the Latino community, the environment is a very important issue for them. Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than children of any other ethnic group. Half of our community lives in the 25 most polluted cities in the country. Latino people are disproportionately affected, and so are African Americans and other minorities. When they go to choose a candidate, they are going to take this into account. They are going to for sure make sure that the plans that they have are going to address these very important issues.
Climate change affects the economy. It affects our ability to put food on the table. We have seen great droughts in Central America, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. People lost crops, and that’s their livelihood. Many have to migrate to the United States because they don’t have any other choice.
We have to understand that it’s all connected. We live in a closed system. Our environment and our systems are all related. So when we talk about climate change and the environment, we should show how it really affects every single area of our life.