Three debates down and one to go, and climate change has still not been addressed by the presidential candidates and their running mates in face-to-face confrontations.
The punchy debate last night between President Obama and Mitt Romney opened with testy exchanges on energy in which the president accused his opponent of ignoring renewable power. Romney, in turn, attacked Obama for presiding over rising gasoline prices and faking support for fossil fuels.
But with the election inside of three weeks away, the town hall-style debate at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island firmly established climate change as an outcast issue in the race. Advocates have attempted all manner of attention-getting to highlight the subject, from delivering reams of petitions to praying.
Bill McKibben, whose climate protests this year have been a thorn in the administration's side, said satirically before the debate that it would be nice if the candidates "happened in passing to note" the visible impacts of warming, like record melting of Arctic ice and the drought consuming 60 percent of the United States.
In what turned into a very feisty debate on other subjects, neither candidate mentioned those events.
"Look, climate change is the biggest thing that's ever happened," McKibben said. "And hence the silence about it is both odd and paralyzing. It keeps us from really talking about the scale of change that we need."
Looking for guidance from above
Others hoped for divine intervention. A group of about 20 religious activists associated with Young Evangelicals for Climate Action traveled to the debate to hold prayer sessions asking that both candidates embrace the "moral" challenge of climate change.
"We hope that Governor Romney sees the light," the Rev. Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network said as he drove toward the site. "We're going to be there providing the governor support for doing the right thing. And he can point to young evangelicals and say, 'They get it. It's their future.'"
Ben Lowe, a 28-year-old organizer of the young evangelical group, went to the debate to "bear witness to the lack of climate science" in the race.
"One of my biggest disappointments of the election so far is that neither candidate has shown the leadership that we're hoping for on the climate crisis," Lowe said. "For us, it's not just an energy issue, it's not an economic issue; it's a moral issue and it's a spiritual issue. And honestly, it's a pro-life issue."
Obama showed early in the confrontation that he had jettisoned his passive strategy of the first debate 12 days ago. He repeatedly jabbed back at Romney's assertions by saying, "That's not true." He also sought to cast Romney as old-fashioned on energy, describing the Republican's plan as one that fails to see 10 years into the future.
"So he's got the oil and gas part, but he doesn't have the clean energy part," Obama said.
Romney accused the president of being responsible for rising gasoline prices and reduced access to public lands for oil production, and being disingenuous about supporting fossil fuels. He also spoke to conservative voters by describing Obama as environmentally extreme, claiming that the administration tried to stop an oil well in North Dakota because "20 or 25 birds were killed."
Sparring over the coal vote
"This has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal," Romney said of Obama. "I don't think anyone really believes that you're a person who's going to be pushing for oil and gas and coal."
At another point, Obama leveled a similar criticism at Romney, who sought to close down a coal-fired power plant based on pollution when he was governor of Massachusetts.