With three presidential debates in the can, the loser is…

By Tom Yulsman | October 20, 2016 12:07 am

Earth was hardly mentioned, and that means the loser is actually . . . us

NASA's EPIC camera aboard NOAA's DSCOVR spacecraft acquired this image of the home planet on Oct. 17, 2016 at 11:01:20 GMT. The spacecraft was 902,561 miles from Earth at the time. (Source: NASA EPIC Team)

NASA’s EPIC camera aboard NOAA’s DSCOVR spacecraft acquired this image of the home planet on Oct. 17, 2016 at 11:01:20 GMT. The spacecraft was 902,561 miles from Earth at the time. (Source: NASA EPIC Team)

The pundits will no doubt be yammering on for days about who won and who lost the final U.S. presidential debate.

But I’d say that we don’t need the pundits to tell us who the overall loser was. I think it was humanity.

During the debates, we heard a lot of shouting, but almost nothing about the most profound, long-term issue all of us confront: How 7 billion of us, probably growing to 9 billion in relatively short order, can live sustainably on the home planet. Perhaps I missed it, but during all three debates, not one of the journalist moderators asked a question related to this question. It took a citizen in a red sweater named Ken Bone to sort of bring up the issue.

It wasn’t exactly the sustainability question I had in mind. But at least it was in the ballpark. Maybe he should get a Pulitzer.

Conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, should have a robust debate about the best policies for responding to the sustainability challenges humanity confronts.  These include a warming climate, rising sea level, and increases in extreme weather events. They also include degradation of the ecosystems we depend on for clean air and water, healthy food, and materials to build our homes and economies.

But we’ll never discuss these issues and work towards solutions if during presidential debates they are deemed off-limits by the journalist moderators. Perhaps they were listening to polls that find environmental issues to be a low priority among voters. But how will these issues ever become a higher priority if we don’t challenge politicians to address them?

What a missed opportunity. What a deep and abiding shame.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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