Two weeks from today, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will square off in their first presidential debate.
While the candidates field questions of national security, immigration and the economy the scientific community expects a slew of other topics essential to the welfare and prosperity of the United States to go unaddressed because, well, they rarely, if ever, appear at presidential debates.
These are scientific questions, sure, but they are also questions of immigration, national security and the economy. Adopting clean energy technologies could catalyze a boom in new forms of employment and re-energize the economy. Re-structuring agricultural water allocation can help prevent the food and water shortages that lead to civil strife and threaten national security. Reducing U.S. climate impacts (as one of two nations responsible for highest all-around consumption) reduces environmental risks like sea-level rise and drought to other nations that will result in massive displacement and migration of people around the world and, inevitably, to the United States.
Permitting our presidential candidates to ignore questions of technology and climate change is par for the course in a country where a significant portion of our elected officials are suspicious of science; where a significant portion don’t believe in vaccinations or rising sea levels or evolution. Even though most of us are complicit in assuring the maintenance of this status quo, even those publicly urging presidential candidates and the media to address scientific issues like the non-profit ScienceDebate.org have had little success.
Water security is one of the most important scientific issues the next president will encounter and ScienceDebate.org has selected it from thousands of crowd sourced topics as one of its 20 debate topics in 2016. The question reads: The long-term security of freshwater supplies is threatened by a dizzying array of aging infrastructure, aquifer depletion, pollution, and climate variability. Some American communities have lost access to water, affecting their viability and destroying home values. If you are elected, what steps will you take to ensure access to clean water for all Americans?”
What steps, indeed?
It should come as no surprise to anyone following this year’s election that Republican candidate Donald Trump – who claims that climate change is an elaborate political hoax, a scheme for raising taxes and/or a means of disrupting business dealings – has little to say about water security. After all, acknowledging water security and drought means he might need to confront the fact that his golf courses, including those in the southern California desert, use over 300,000 gallons per day.
His water-related statements are few but Trump has helpfully assured Californians that there is “no drought” in California, only water mismanagement (which, to his credit, is a partially valid critique; water mismanagement has exacerbated California’s drought but the five-year drought is most certainly real). Beyond that, Trump’s water plans begin and end at plans rescinding the Waters of the United States rule, a 2015 executive action aimed at protecting waterways and wetlands.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, caught me completely off guard with her recognition of national water security crises. Yes, she’s paid lip-service to the Flint water crisis, the impact of the California drought on the state’s agricultural sector and the Dakota Access Pipeline’s potential impact on the Missouri River watershed but Clinton has actually gone beyond the polticial-water-crisis-of-the-moment to include water security among her campaign position statements. Her website states, “Clinton recognizes that the current long-term drought across much of the West poses a dire risk to the health and prosperity of Western communities and believes the federal government can and should be a better partner in supporting state and locally-led efforts to improve water security.”
Increased federal investment in water conservation, improvements in water infrastructure, the expansion of water reuse programs and the development of a “Water Innovation Lab” similar to existing energy innovation labs already in place around the country are each described as presidential goals for Hillary Clinton. So convincing is her rhetoric that Clean Water Action, a national water protection non-profit, has endorsed her for president (over Jill Stein who has a long record of environmental action protecting water and whom they awarded with the Not in My Backyard award in 1998).
Hillary Clinton’s position on water security should be a boon to her campaign; it should resonate with anyone who cares about maintaining access to clean drinking water, anyone who cares about food production, environmental conservation and economic security. Unfortunately for U.S. voters, we are unlikely to hear her address the issue in any capacity beyond that related to newsworthy water disasters. And if the media doesn’t address the issue, particularly in the upcoming presidential debates, it’s Donald Trump, with no pressure to deal what is increasingly a major issue in national security, who wins.