On Monday afternoon, a few miles north of the Denver arena where President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, will square off in their first debate Wednesday evening, a small group of parents and their children gathered for a climate rally. One youngster bore what appeared to be a colorful, homespun image of planet Earth in the shape of a heart. Other children held up images of tall smokestacks belching clouds of pollution, or signs bearing the number "350," a rallying cry that references what scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- a benchmark the planet has already passed.
At the end of the event, the group unveiled a billboard aimed at both presidential contenders. Emulating the hand-drawn style of a preschooler, the ad depicted a young girl flanked on one side by burning mountains, parched earth and an angry-faced sun, and on the other, by a soothing vignette of green fields, blue mountains, solar panels and a wind turbine.
"Dear Candidates," the sign reads, "Which way will you lead us?"
In a phone call, Lisa Hoyos, a co-founder of Climate Parents, one of the organizations behind the event, summed up the rationale for the rally. "As parents, we're concerned that an issue that will so seriously affect our kids' future -- and one that is already impacting communities across America -- is getting so little attention from both candidates," Hoyos said. "We'd like them to give us a really clear plan for how they're going to dramatically reduce emissions to the level that we need."
A more pointed comment came from 12-year-old Boulder, Colo., resident Xiuhtexcatl Martinez, who shared his thoughts with Hoyos when she was preparing an announcement for the event. "The survival of our generation is at stake because of the lack of action on climate change," Martinez said. "Neither of the candidates are taking climate change seriously, and it's the biggest threat we face as a human race."
Complaints that both Obama and Romney have been ignoring the true threat of global warming have reached a crescendo in the months and weeks leading up to November's election -- so much so that a coalition of nine different nonprofit groups, from the League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund to the Sierra Club and Al Gore's own Climate Reality Project, recently delivered a petition bearing 160,000 signatures to this evening's debate moderator, Jim Lehrer, urging him to quiz the two candidates on climate change.
"If the debate is intended to cover our nation's most important challenges, climate change must be part of the discussion," said Steve Cochran, vice president of climate and air at EDF. "The threat to our environment is simply too great to ignore."
And yet, environmental activists argue, the issue has been largely ignored, or downplayed, or otherwise set aside during campaign 2012 -- even as the planet has begun to buck and heave.