At about the halfway-mark of the primate-like feces-flinging match that the “presidential debate”, between US President Donald Trump and democratic challenger Joe Biden had turned into, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump about his stand on climate change.
“What do you believe about the science of climate change, sir?” Wallace asked Trump. “Do you believe that human pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, contribute to climate change?”
The question was unexpected considering Wallace had not mentioned climate change as one of the topics that he would be raising during the debate. A glaring omission as the California Wildfires were still smouldering and Covid-linked recovery packages are throwing easy subsidy money at fossil fuel companies.
Moreover, as China - the largest carbon emitter in the world – outlined its most ambitious and surprisingly honest climate action plan a week before the debate, policy and industry heads were looking to the US presidential candidates for their take on the burning (pun intended) issue of climate change.
“I want crystal clean water and air. I want beautiful clean air. We have now the lowest carbon… If you look at our numbers right now, we are doing phenomenally,” Trump said in response, going on to claim that the Paris Accord was a “disaster from our standpoint”.
In the last four years Trump has rolled back several of the Obama-era environmental safeguards and took US out of the Paris Accord. The claim about “lowest carbon” has no actual basis in reality.
“But sir, if you believe in the science of climate change, why have you rolled back the Obama Clean Power Plan, which limited carbon emissions in power plants?” Wallace pressed. “Because it was driving energy prices through the sky,” Trump answered. “Why have you relaxed fuel economy standards?” Wallace asked. “You’re talking about a tiny difference,” Trump said.
When Wallace asked Biden for his climate action plan, Biden said that if he was made president no new coal plants would be built in the US and the federal fleet runs on electric vehicles. The former Vice President also said that he would make sure that the US rejoined the Paris Accord, get to net zero in terms of energy production by 2035 and invest in energy efficient homes.
This was, in effect, the sum and total of the debate on climate change. As after these comments, Trump again bully-checked Biden from ironing out his $2 trillion plan to create jobs in renewables and fight the challenges of a rapidly warming world.
As the US is the second largest producer of carbon emissions in the world, and the year 2020 has unloaded one climate whammy after another, the world looked with expectant eyes to the first of the presidential debates between the contenders for signs about how we can go about bringing the planet back from the brink of disaster. Most were disappointed by what they heard.
The American Conservation Coalition, a conservative environment group, said that this was the first time President Trump acknowledged that human activity has, at least in part, caused climate change. It was actually the longest he had spoken about it! In fact it is surprising that the topic of climate change came up as in the 2016 presidential debate between Trump and liberal candidate Hillary Clinton the words climate change came up exactly once!
She also mentioned clean energy once and there were no mentions of global warming and renewables.
And this is more worrying thing. While words used during a debate are very far from actual work on the ground, they matter. Especially when coming from the potential president of the USA, words used by them show intent and purpose. Words are how we conduct business and convey our truth to the world. Right now climate change is the biggest threat to humanity. But you would not know it if you went by the words of the most powerful leaders in the world.
To be fair to Biden this was entirely not his fault. The entire 90-minute event was an unruly, childish playground fight, with the US president resorting to heckling and personal attacks on an increasingly exasperated Biden.
CNN's political commentator, Jake Tapper, called the debate “A hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” Funnily enough this is a very accurate description of the state of the planet too.