If you watched the first presidential debate you witnessed our president dance around the question of climate change. Playing to an audience that may not believe is one thing, but when this act affects the whole of not only the nation, but the world, we want answers.

Freedom of thought is a foundational principle in American democracy, but where does that liberty cease? 

We denounce racists and terrorists for the harm to society that their beliefs cause, so does this mean we can decry any ideal that brings ruin upon our nation and world? If you’re like me, you’d assume that the answer is yes.  

Renowned historian and author of the “We the People” textbooks Thomas Patterson, declares that the liberties granted to the citizens of the United States are inalienable, or never to be broken, until those rights infringe on the safety or freedoms of another. In this sense it is logical to assume that those in our government should be careful in their beliefs so as not to allow their leanings to negatively impact the psyche of the country they protect and serve. 

Yet, for some reason, we still listen to “do you believe in climate change?” instead of “what is your plan to tackle climate change?” 

Now it is not my job to drag people to a belief, nor is it to think for someone, but why do we have such a distrust in this issue? 

Preferring to think for yourself is laudable, but you can’t work with half a toolkit. Choosing not to believe what the lab coats say, because they are an extension of a “broken system,” is akin to willfully excluding a hammer from your workbench when you need to drive nails into a board.

I understand the hesitation. Just this year, science seemingly failed us as COVID-19 tore through America. If scientists could misunderstand the magnitude of this (at the onset), could they misunderstand the scope of climate change?

But that doesn’t get us anywhere. Willful ignorance plagues progress like a popped tire, and with big issues like climate change we do not have that kind of time.

This brings us to the vice presidential debate, wherein Vice President Pence said that he’d “follow the science.” Whose science would that be, then, because why keep something empirical when it’s easier to deal with as an opinion?

Politics have begun to own more and more issues as the years go by, and they’ve grasped climate with ferocity. Because of the partisan divide, science has been quashed under the weight of unsubstantiated claims purveyed by social media.

When bona fide science points in different directions, it’s challenging to see through the fog. Many are left to write their own narrative. But the leaders of our government, level heads need to prevail.

So, if the majority of science points to the climate changing in a way that will negatively impact the world, why do the leaders of our country need to be asked whether or not they believe science? This is further aggravated by debate moderators granting concessions to disbelievers. 

Moderators are supposed to be exactly that, moderate, invisible and the voice of the people. The people want to know what’s being done on important issues, and climate has been called an “existential threat” to humanity by numerous scientists and politicians.

Why can’t the leaders of our nation stop grandstanding and listen to science? Is it because their base doesn’t? Is it because they themselves don’t believe? Regardless, their decisions are beginning to hurt others, and that cannot stand. 

California is on fire, the polar ice caps are melting, the Eastern Seaboard is battered by hurricanes at an alarming rate, yet this is normal? No. Our leaders have to combat misinformation, but first they have to stop believing it.

Let the general public believe what they will but the office of the presidency should not be free to hold beliefs that endanger the welfare of the country. In short, our moderators need to probe the candidates plans, not opinions. No longer can our leaders’ free thought on this issue ruin our future.

Dawson Neely is a staff writer. 

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