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Trump and Biden clash over climate change in the first US presidential debate for 2020

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Left out of the initial list of six topics by moderator Chris Wallace, the 2020 candidates clashed over their climate change plans in the first presidential debate.

“I’d like to talk about climate change,” said Chris Wallace.

Almost before he finished, Joe Biden responded: “So would I.”

It was an unexpected moment in the first presidential debate for the 2020 US elections. Wallace, the Fox News presenter and moderator of the caucus, had left out climate change in the six-part list of the debate topics he released ahead of the debate. Instead, the list included the candidates’ records, the economy, racism and violence, election integrity, the Supreme Court nominations, and the coronavirus pandemic.

So when, near the hour-mark, Wallace brought up climate change, it was a welcome surprise. Talking about US president Donald Trump’s handling of the climate crisis, the moderator recalled how he pulled the country out of the Paris Agreement and rescinding a number of Obama’s environmental policies. “What do you believe about the science of climate change, and what will you do over the next four years to confront it?” he asked the president.

When Trump, the Republican nominee, responded with the familiar line of wanting “crystal-clean” water and air, people being “very happy with what’s going on” and blaming poor forest management for the deadly wildfires over the last year, Wallace pushed. “What do you believe about the science of climate change, sir?” he asked again.

After another refrain about doing “everything we can” to have immaculate air and water, the Fox News presenter put his question another way: “Do you believe human greenhouse gas emissions contribute to the global warming of this planet?”

And that’s when Trump finally admitted: “A lot of things do, but I think, to an extent, yes.” (A majority of scientists believe humans are the biggest contributor to climate change.) On the other side split-screen, Biden, the former vice president who helped shape many of Obama’s environmental reforms, couldn’t contain his laughter.

Soon after, he was asked about his own plans for climate change, which include a $2 trillion green jobs plan as well as introducing new limits to fracking and the use of fossil fuels. “There are so many things we can do to create thousands and thousands of jobs,” responded the Democrat. “We can get to net-zero in terms of energy production by 2035.”

He added that the first thing he will do as part of his climate plan is rejoin the Paris accord. “With us out of it, look what’s happening. It’s all falling apart,” said Biden. “More carbon is absorbed in [the Amazon] rainforest than every bit of carbon that’s emitted in the US.”

Wallace then noted how Trump argues that environmental and economic interests need to be balanced and has draws his line. “Well, he hadn’t drawn a line,” countered Biden, pointing to the president. “He still, for example, wants to make sure methane’s not a problem; you can now emit more methane without it being a problem. Methane.”

Trump kept shaking his head and saying: “Not true.”

When pressed upon the economic impact of his climate plan, Biden reiterated that it’ll instead create “millions of good-paying jobs”. To round up the argument, he brought up the impact of the hurricanes on livelihoods and the economy, and how he doesn’t support the Green New Deal — something Trump brought up regularly in this section of the debate — but rather his own plan.

With two more debates to come, it doesn’t seem like the last time the US presidential candidates will talk about climate change. And for a lot of people, that aspect of their campaigns are make-or-break.

Anay Mridul
Anay is a journalism graduate from City, University of London. He has been a barista for three years, and never shuts up about coffee. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford Comma. Originally from India, he went vegan this year, after attempting (and failing) Veganuary. He believes being environmentally conscious is a basic responsibility, and veganism is the best thing you can do to battle climate change. He gets lost at Whole Foods sometimes.