Climate change activists disrupt a campaign town hall meeting with Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S., January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

Democratic presidential candidates arriving at next Friday’s debate in New Hampshire will be greeted by dozens of climate justice activists demanding all of the candidates commit to phasing out fossil fuels, and holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate change. 

The Keep It in the Ground Coalition, made up of groups including 350 New Hampshire, New Hampshire Youth Movement, and Rights and Democracy New Hampshire, is one of the local grassroots groups organizing the protest. The coalition is also launching a campaign with the hashtag #OurFutureOurDebate calling on the moderators to make the climate crisis a major part of the debate.  

“We want to see moderators who are going to ask tough questions about climate,” said Rebecca Beaulieu, an organizer with 350 New Hampshire. “And we want the candidates to keep pushing to keep talking about their climate plan and to relate it to other issues, because it hasn’t looked that way so far.”

The debate takes place four days after Monday’s Iowa caucuses and four days before the New Hampshire primary. It’s hosted by ABC News, Apple News, and local Manchester, New Hampshire affiliate WMUR-TV.

So far, seven candidates have qualified for the presidential debate: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang. 

Any candidate who secures one pledged delegate in Iowa will also secure a spot in the debate. 

The Democratic National Committee rejected calls last year for a debate that focused entirely on the climate. They also criticised previous debate moderators, who they say did not adequately highlight the climate crisis threat, or the aggressive action needed to mitigate its impact, like the Green New Deal.

In January’s CNN-hosted debate, Bernie Sanders noted the opposition of major climate justice groups to Trump’s USMCA trade deal, but was told by the Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel to stay on topic: “We’re going to get to climate change but I want to stay on trade.”

Climate justice activists argue issues like trade, equity, and climate are in fact deeply intertwined: “The fossil fuel industry has taken advantage of the system and bought out our politicians and spent all this money to destroy our air, our water and our climate, and it’s not the billionaires who are suffering,” said Beaulieu. 

The #KeepItInTheGround campaign has released an environmental scorecard that rates the campaigns on four categories: Preventing new fossil fuel extraction, phasing out existing production, supporting a just transition from fossil fuels, and holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate change. The score card also identifies areas of improvement. 

“For Joe Biden we’re looking for a comprehensive plan that manages the phaseout of the existing oil and gas infrastructure,” said Lisa Demaine, field coordinator for  Rights & Democracy. “For Buttigieg we are looking for that same comprehensive plan to phase out fossil fuels in a managed decline along with making explicit plans to hold to fossil fuel industry financially and criminally accountable for their role in creating the climate crisis.”

“The seacoast of New Hampshire has a lot to lose in the climate crisis, and so do people all around the world,” said New Hampshire native Griffin Sinclair-Wingate of the New Hampshire Youth Movement. “It’s been really devastating that we haven’t seen the debates take seriously the climate crisis.”

Sinclair-Wingate was among the three dozen activists who disrupted a Buttigieg event in New Hampshire on Jan. 17, by singing “We are fighting for our future and together we are strong,” and holding up signs that read, “Pete Takes Money from Fossil Fuel Billionaires,” a reference to Buttigieg’s now infamous wine cave fundraiser hosted by billionaire Craig Hall. 

“Our message was that we need Mayor Pete’s do better. And we need the Democratic Party to be united against fossil fuel executives,” Sinclair-Wingate said. “We need to hold those fossil fuel executives accountable for the damage that they have caused and make sure we keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

New Hampshire Youth Movement Action (NHYMA), the political arm of the Youth Movement, recently endorsed Sanders, who polls as the frontrunner in the state.  NHYMA has launched an effort to turn out thousands of voters for the candidate. According to New Hampshire Youth Movement Action Sanders has the best plan to stop the climate crisis and implement a Green New Deal. Sanders tops Greenpeace’s climate rankings, and is the #KeepItInTheGround campaign’s top rated candidate. 

A restrictive voting law has created confusion that could interfere with youth voter turnout. House Bill 1264 was passed by New Hampshire Republicans after Donald Trump lost the state in  2016. But youth organizers said young voters should not be deterred. “The most important thing for young people to know is that if they live in NH (and yes this can include a dorm),are at least 18 years old and a US citizen they can walk into a polling station on election day and cast a vote for whoever they’re passionate about,” Sinclair-Wingate said. New Hampshire is one 25 states with restrictive voting laws that make it harder for young people, the elederly, and people of color to vote, despite scant documented evidence of voter fraud. 

The Real News will be covering the protests outside of Friday’s debate.

Jaisal Noor

General Assignment Reporter

Jaisal is a host, producer, and reporter for TRNN. With his expertise in education policy and systemic inequity, he focuses on Baltimore, Maryland. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio NewsDemocracy Now! and The Indypendent.

Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years.