Here’s debate moderator Candy Crowley explaining afterward how she decided which questions to ask and which to skip:
I had that question for all of you climate change people. We just, you know, again, we knew that the economy was still the main thing so you knew you kind of wanted to go with the economy.
“All of you climate change people.” I don’t want to read too much into this. But I very much want to read a little into it. So I will.
When I hear “all of you climate change people,” I expect to hear this coming right after it: “Or whatever kids are into these days.” I see a dismissive wave of the hand, a little smile acknowledging that the speaker is treading into terrain that isn’t her own but that she recognizes as popular.
Do you know what One Direction is? It’s a pop band from the U.K. Very popular, apparently, in the Bieber/Jonas/Beatles-circa-1962 vein. I don’t listen to them. I also don’t listen to Mumford and Sons and Gotye or whatever, pop music for those a few years older. My point isn’t that I’m a hipster. It’s that I’m old. I listen to A Tribe Called Quest and the Pixies. Why? Because I have for decades (oh God is this what aging feels like) and I like them. They’re comfortable. I am aware of One Direction, but it’s not something that I’m interested in exploring. Could they be the next Beatles? Sure, who knows. But I doubt it. And Tribe is working out just fine.
Climate change is just not what the old established media hands listen to. The sort of media institution that would be tapped to moderate a presidential debate is someone who has been immersed in politics for decades, has learned the intricacies of the differences between various “entitlement” programs and government investment mechanisms, knows generals in the field and staffers on Capitol Hill. At some point a decade or so ago, someone came into these reporters’ offices and handed them (or their assistants) a briefing packet on climate change. Climate change was added into an already saturated mix. And as time has progressed, political debate — clearly intertwined with media engagement — has provided only sporadic occurrences to force reporters to deal with the topic. It’s new and it’s not talked about very much.
This is not only a problem with established reporters. It is also a problem with established Americans. That is to say: older people. The Pew poll released on Monday (and which I mocked yesterday; sorry, Pew!) outlined the difference in acceptance of climate change by age.
Here’s how acceptance of climate change varies by age. A slight drop-off for those over the age of 65, but not huge.
More telling, here’s how those who accept climate change attribute the cause.
But this is the chart that correlates most closely to the point at hand: How serious people in various age groups consider the threat of climate change.
Clearly, the younger the respondent, the more severe he or she considers the threat. The distribution is remarkable.
I am not arguing that Crowley dismisses climate change because of her age (which, for the record, is in the 50-64 range). I am suggesting that climate change is a more immediate threat and issue for younger people. That climate change has been a constant topic of discussion and concern for a greater percentage of their lives than for the lives of those older. For a new reporter, climate change has always been an issue to consider. For a reporter with decades of experience, climate change as a political topic is fairly new and somewhat trendy. It’s One Direction for a crowd that prefers A Tribe Called Quest. (Ha ha. More like Bruce Springsteen.)
How oversimplified is this? Oh, man. Very. Very oversimplified. Attitudes on climate are an immensely tangled web of privilege and age and philosophy and class and experience, far more complex than indicated in the graphs above. But it’s impossible to not read into Crowley’s comment some dismissiveness.
All of you, you know, Justin Bieber fans know what I’m talking about.