For the first time, a climate journalist will moderate a presidential debate
Telemundo's longtime climate correspondent Vanessa Hauc will co-moderate the Feb. 19 debate in Nevada.
Al Gore speaks to Telemundo’s Vanessa Hauc in 2015. Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images.
For the first time in history, a climate journalist will moderate a presidential debate.
On Wednesday, NBC News announced that Noticias Telemundo senior correspondent Vanessa Hauc will be among the co-moderators of the Democratic presidential primary debate on February 19 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (There are three debates scheduled for this month—one tomorrow, one on the 19th, and one on the 25th).
If there is a broadcast journalist with a longer history of covering the climate crisis than Hauc, I do not know of them. Huac has been a reporter for more than two decades, and currently leads the investigative unit on environmental issues at Telemundo’s “Planeta Tierra.” She also created the network’s “Alerta Verde,” or “Green Alert” segment, which focuses on protecting the environment.
Hauc’s mere presence on the debate stage will itself be a symbol of how far debate coverage has come since the last presidential campaign cycle. The 2016 debates featured exactly zero questions about climate policy; candidates who wanted to talk about it had to bring up the subject themselves.
The 2020 campaign cycle has far been better in terms of the number of climate debate questions, but the questions themselves have often been lacking. That’s arguably due to the fact that many political journalists don’t seem to grasp the breadth of the climate crisis—or climate policy itself. Remember during the last debate, when Senator Bernie Sanders was talking about climate change, and a moderator interrupted him to say she wanted to “stay on trade”—and Sanders had to inform her that they’re inextricable? That’s what I mean.
Hauc’s presence on the debate stage represents an opportunity to avoid moments like that, which make climate journalists and advocates want to rip their respective hairs out.
I met Hauc back in September, when I was moderating an all-female panel on climate journalism for The New Republic. Panels can be boring and awful, but this one was awesome—in part because of Huac’s unique perspective as a reporter covering climate change on television. Television networks are notoriously bad at covering climate change; normally, they just don’t do it at all. But as Hauc rightfully noted on the panel, the Latinx community is disproportionately vulnerable to the climate crisis—and Telemundo viewers not only demand, but deserve consistent attention to it.
(I looked around for audio or video of the panel and couldn’t find it; here are some tweets from it, though:)
What I remember most about Hauc was her ability to balance objectivity in reporting with fierce compassion for victims of climate change. The dilemma many climate journalists struggle with today—how to make climate coverage interesting—is one Hauc figured out long ago. She realizes that passion about the planet and its inhabitants doesn’t hinder her reporting, but in fact improves it.
“I’m a firm believer that we have to do something—as a mother, as a journalist, as a member of this community,” she said in a Planet Experts feature story about her five years ago. That’s why she also created the nonprofit Sachamama, which attempts “to educate the Latino community on the importance of preserving our planet.”
I found out about Hauc’s debate co-moderating duties pretty close to press time of this newsletter, so I didn’t get a chance to ask her for an interview. But I did ask her, in a comment on her Instagram post about it, whether her presence meant that there would be a lot of climate questions.
Her answer: “You bet!”
I’ll be looking forward to seeing Huac in action on Feb. 19. In the meantime, tomorrow’s debate starts at 8 p.m., and is hosted by ABC.
Correction: a previous version of this article contained a few misspellings of Hauc’s last name.
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I'll be interested to hear what the candidates say about decarbonizing (and nationalizing!) the power grid. Most of us in California are fed up with PG&E's fires and blackouts; we would probably be happy to have our state go first.
I'd also like to hear big ideas on mass transit--not just investment in electric trains and busses but also expansion of coverage, more frequent stops, and (let's be bold here) a plan for making it free to all, just like our roads.