Presidential Debate

Trump and Biden Debate Climate Change, the Green New Deal, and the Paris Accord

President Trump accepts the scientific findings about climate change "to an extent."

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Last night presidential debate moderator Chris Wallace asked President Trump, "You believe that human pollution, gas, greenhouse gas emissions contribute to the global warming of this planet?" Trump replied, "I think a lot of things do, but I think to an extent, yes. I think to an extent, yes, but I also think we have to do better management of our forest."

The president added, "Every year I get the call. California's burning, California's burning. If that was cleaned, if that were, if you had forest management, good forest management, you wouldn't be getting those calls." As it happens, the federal government, which the president oversees, owns 57 percent of California's forests, whereas state and local governments own around 3 percent. (The rest is in private hands.)

In the Trump administration's latest budget request, the U.S. Forest Service asks for no funding for forest management practices such as prescribed burning or timber salvage. The agency says it has a backlog of 80 million acres in need of active management but plans to reduce fuel loads using current budget allocations on just over 1 million acres in 2021. While the president rightly complains about poor forest management, his administration is doing nothing to significantly reduce future wildfire risks on federal forest lands.

The president's fleeting acknowledgment that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to climate change is a shift in tone at least from the president's response during a briefing on California's fires in Sacramento earlier this month. At that briefing, California's Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot urged the president to "recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forests." Trump responded, "It will start getting cooler, just you watch." Crowfoot countered that he wished the science agreed with the president. Trump replied, "I don't think science knows, actually."

Of course, there is no contradiction between the two concerns of climate change and poor forest management. Man-made greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, are responsible for most of the recent rise in the average temperature of the planet. And yes, decades of bad federal government forest management have contributed to the recent rising annual trend in burnt area in the western U.S. Rising temperatures and lengthier droughts in California are increasing the fire danger of badly managed overgrown federal forests in that state.

As an example of his commitment to addressing the problems of climate change, Trump declared, "We're planting a billion trees, the Billion Tree Project and it's very exciting for a lot of people." The president did promise in his latest State of the Union speech that the "United States will join the One Trillion Trees Initiative, an ambitious effort to bring together government and private sector to plant new trees in America and all around the world." In fact, no trees, much less a billion, have so far been planted at the behest of the Trump administration. The only activity so far is an EPA press release and a moribund bill in Congress.

For his part, former Vice President Joe Biden thinks that man-made climate change is a major problem and is responding with his plan for "a clean energy revolution and environmental justice." Turning to Biden's $2 trillion dollar plan to address climate change, moderator Wallace asked him about his goal of "ending the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. The president says a lot of these things would tank the economy and cost millions of jobs."

In his response, Biden insisted that his climate plan spending would generate millions of new jobs building renewable power infrastructure, weatherizing millions of businesses and houses, and incentivizing the adoption of electric vehicles. Scanning through Biden's plan, it's uncanny how fixing the problems associated with man-made climate change just happens to coincide with the exact same economic policies long advocated by political progressives.

With respect to phasing out the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2035, Biden declared, "Nobody's going to build another coal-fired plant in America." He is quite likely right. In May, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that the output of the U.S.'s fleet of coal-fired electric power generating plants in 2019 fell to the lowest level since 1976. In July, the agency noted that 2019 coal production dropped to its lowest level since 1978. Coal is being outcompeted by natural gas and renewable electricity generation. (Despite Trump's promise to bring back coal, it's worth noting that more than half of the coal mines operating in 2008 have now closed and that coal production employment continues its fall, dropping by 42 percent since 2011.)

In response to a question from the moderator about his administration pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement, Trump replied, "If you look at the Paris Accord, it was a disaster from our standpoint." Why? At least in part because he thinks it's disadvantageous for the U.S. "China sends up real dirt into the air. Russia does. India does. They all do. We're supposed to be good," he said.

In fact, China emits nearly twice as much greenhouse gases as does the U.S. which is in second place in the ranking of national emitters, followed by India and Russia. Keeping in mind the malleability of promises made by politicians, China's leader Xi Jinping just pledged earlier this month that his country would "aim to have [carbon dioxide] emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060." That Chinese carbon neutrality goal falls just 10 years later than Biden's similarly proposed deadline for the U.S.

For his part, Biden pledged that the U.S. would rejoin the Paris climate change agreement.

Biden called out Trump for rolling back the Obama administration's automobile fuel efficiency standards. "Why have you relaxed fuel economy standards that are going to create more pollution from cars and trucks?" he asked. Translating the president's garbled response, the point that he seemed to be trying to make is that the lower standards would make new cars less expensive thus encouraging consumers to replace their old polluting clunkers much faster. My Reason Foundation colleagues point out fuel taxes instead of the cumbersome federal fuel efficiency standards that Biden wants to restore would be a much more efficient and less expensive way to incentivize the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from automobiles.

Biden is also interested in the climate-friendly aspects of trees. "The rainforests of Brazil are being torn down, are being ripped down," he asserted. "More carbon is absorbed in that rainforest than every bit of carbon that's emitted in the United States." Although it doesn't appear in his formal climate plan, Biden seemed to be proposing in the debate that rich countries of the world pay Brazil $20 billion to stop ripping down its rainforests. Research suggests that the Amazon does annually absorb about 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide (about 5 percent of humanity's annual emissions). On the other hand, more recent research projects that the Amazon and other rainforests are becoming fully saturated and may lose their ability to absorb additional carbon dioxide in the next couple of decades.

Toward the end of the debate segment on climate change, the two candidates sparred over the cost of Biden's climate plan with Trump claiming it would cost $100 trillion which "is more money than our country could make in 100 years." Trump may be channeling a cursory analysis by the conservative American Action Forum think tank of the ambitious 2019 Green New Deal (GND) proposal by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The AAF calculated it would cost between $52 trillion and $93 trillion. However, about 85 percent of the cost of the Ocasio-Cortez/Markey Green New Deal stems from a jobs guarantee (up to $44.6 trillion) and universal health care ($36 trillion). There's every reason to think that Biden's climate change plan numbers are cooked, but, contrary to Trump's assertion, he is not aiming toward anything as costly as the Ocasio-Cortez/Markey plan. (For the record, U.S. GDP in 2019 was $21.5 trillion, so our country "could make" $100 trillion in under five years.)

Finally, one of the more amusing exchanges in this unedifying debate occurred when Biden said, "By the way, he has an answer for hurricanes. He said, maybe we should drop a nuclear weapon on them." Trump replied, "I never said that at all. They made it up." Biden's assertion was evidently based on a 2019 article by Axios citing unnamed sources that Trump during a hurricane briefing suggested, "I got it. I got it. Why don't we nuke them?"

As Snopes says, unproven.

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  1. “In fact, no trees, much less a billion, have so far been planted at the behest of the Trump administration.”

    Great.

    I guess now we will never find the cure for hurricanes.

    1. Apparently environmental taxes and carbon offset schemes can cure that.

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  2. California was noted for its yearly burning since it was settled.

    1. The four seasons in California: fire, flood, quake, riot.

  3. Biden managed to both disavow and accept the green new deal. It was a masterclass in equivocation. It’s why he’s a terrible person and a worse politician among other reasons the incurious media doesn’t acknowledge. But the reality is he accepts all the progtard proposals, doesn’t care about throwing people out of work, doesn’t care that he cannot pay for it, doesn’t care that he doesn’t have the legislative authority, and mostly doesn’t care because if elected he will not finish out his first term throwing it over to Cameltoe Harris as he retires. If the democrats win the Senate as well it is game over, forever.

    1. “The Green New Deal — which, to be clear, I am not in any way endorsing, or supporting — will pay for itself and, as a bonus, it will create millions of jobs for hardworking Americans, the regular folks out there. And that is why you should vote for me.”

      – Joe Biden

      1. Why do we need so many new jobs? 350 million have died in the last few years.

        1. And that’s just from repealing net neutrality

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      2. A million jobs doing absolutely nothing productive… Ya, that’s a winner. /s

  4. ….. , U.S. GDP in 2019 was $21.5 trillion, so our country “could make” $100 trillion in under five years.)
    Confusing revenue with profit.

    1. and double counting government spending (first you take it from the productive sector, then you add it back to productivity. is that the multiplier effect?)

  5. Trump should have just said, “I’m not the candidate who’s going to blow 2 trillion bucks trying to fight the weather, that would be Vice President Biden”.

    1. Right now he’s Mister Biden.

  6. Imagine you could wave a magic wand that got the world to zero net emissions tomorrow instead of 2050 whatever. You might be tempted to congratulate yourself for keeping temps within the range decreed acceptable by Science, but we’d still be stuck with all the icky things going on today like big-ass wildfires and kick-ass hurricanes. Team D wants to spend trillions on their magic wand that only addresses the 15 or whatever% of the pollution problem generated within the U.S., and we’re still stuck with big-ass wildfires and kick-ass hurricanes. Where’s the effort on mitigation (e.g. burying power lines, thinning forests, …)? That’s also a hugely expensive effort, but one that brings tangible results

    1. You seem to be under the impression that they’re in this to save the environment.

      They’re in this because they hate that you’re alive and want to control you. Their proposals make a lot more sense in that context.

      1. POWER to STEAL = Wealth (The lefts true slogan)

    2. Go to realclimatescience dotcom and you’ll see that misanthropic global warmunism is fake. It’s Soviet propaganda from 1961.

    3. Imagine you could wave a magic wand that got the world to zero net emissions tomorrow instead of 2050 whatever. You might be tempted to congratulate yourself for keeping temps within the range decreed acceptable by Science, but we’d ……

      ….all be dead as CO2 levels dropped below the 150PPM needed to maintain photosynthesis and the cycle that provides the oxygen we breathe.

      1. ^The funniest part about Ph.D.’s in environmental science. They still haven’t learned that CO2 sustains plant life. Just as well have majored in female studies.

  7. I don’t understand this push for the Green New Deal, they told us thirty years ago that we only had ten years to come up with a plan to deal with climate change or it would be too late to do anything about it and that 400 ppm was the tipping point on an out-of-control death spiral, so we’re already long past fucked on this deal and there’s nothing we can do but prepare to kiss our asses goodbye. Humanity is doomed, there’s nothing we can do about it, we’ll all be gone by the end of this century and we can only hope that whatever future intelligent life arises on this planet will be wiser than us.

  8. The forest fires in California are proof of global warming and the fact that the forest fires aren’t affecting Canada are proof that Mother Earth is angry only with the United States.

    And Joe Biden’s plan to create lots of good new jobs by getting us to net zero emissions makes as much sense as creating lots of good new jobs by hiring people to throw bricks through windows. If energy efficiency makes economic sense, well, you don’t have to pay people to save money. People are pretty good at doing what it’s in their self-interest to do so any time the government has to pay you to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do, they’re paying you to do something stupid.

    1. the forest fires aren’t affecting Canada are proof that Mother Earth is angry only with the United States.

      Back when we had a conservative government we had lots of global warming caused forest fires, but now that Trudeau’s in power the earth spirits are placated and they’re no longer an issue.

  9. So how about Reason TV asking Jo Jorgensen some of those same questions? At least there won’t be interference. The simultaneous interpreters trying to make sense of the two Kleptocracy candidates had a terrible time. The thing ended up a cacophony of four voices interrupting and cutting each other off in two languages superimposed all over the world. Doubleplus ungood for America’s image abroad.

  10. “With respect to phasing out the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2035, Biden declared, “Nobody’s going to build another coal-fired plant in America.””

    Don’t worry, Joe. China is building enough to take up the carbon emissions slack. Not to mention India, and the rest of the Developing World.

  11. a 2019 article by Axios citing unnamed sources

    More unnamed sources, huh. Journalisming has never had easier sourcing policies.

  12. During the Obama/Biden administration, Democrats aggressively lobbied to ban fracking of natural gas, and when that failed, they aggressively lobbied to tax and excessively regulate fracking (to drive up its costs).

    Since natural gas fracking was/is the key reason why US carbon emissions sharply declined in the US during the past decade (as China’s emissions skyrocketed), I’m curious why Bailey failed to mention those critically important facts.

  13. So it’s unproven that Trump said nuke hurricanes? Considering that he most definitely said injecting bleach might be the way to beat Covid, and that airports were critical during the Revolutionary War, what do you think? Think the odds are tilted one way or another?

    Some wonder about Jo Jorgensen’s position, well, we wouldn’t know on climate change because she doesn’t even mention it on her website. Just another libertarian who thinks it’s not an issue, or we can wish it away. However, she does say this:

    “The federal government gives about $15 billion annually to oil and coal companies. And this doesn’t even include the cheap public land leases that disproportionately go to these companies. This is nothing but corporate welfare.”

    Something we all can agree on.

  14. Speaking of all things science, Ronald, did you see this? Cornell did a study on the leading sources of misinformation about the pandemic.

    https://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Evanega-et-al-Coronavirus-misinformation-submitted_07_23_20.pdf

    Here is their conclusion:

    “It is apparent from the data that mentions of President Trump within the context of COVID-19 misinformation comprise by far the largest single component of the infodemic. Trump mentions comprised 37.9% of the overall infodemic, well ahead of “miracle cures”, which comprised 26.4%. However, a substantial proportion — possibly even the majority — of the “miracle cures” topic was also driven by the president’s comments, so a substantial overlap can be expected between these topics. We conclude therefore that the President of the United States was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation “infodemic”. Only 16.4% of the misinformation conversation was “fact-checking” in nature, suggesting that the majority of COVID misinformation is conveyed by the media without question or correction.“

    Again, think it’s possible Trump said we should nuke hurricanes? If you had to bet….

  15. As it happens, the federal government, which the president oversees, owns 57 percent of California.

    Not according to the U.S. Constitution they don’t!!!!! And that’s actually very important for Americans to understand because that mistaken belief would mean 40% of the entire U.S. is communist.

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