Wednesday night’s presidential debate marked the third and final chance for debate moderators to ask Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton questions about climate change. They didn’t.
As my colleague Dana Varinsky notes, if you include the primary debates, that makes for more than 20 hours of TV time and 14 debates where the Republican nominee avoided answering climate policy questions.
But Trump and Clinton actually have faced off once about climate policy in a debate.
It wasn’t televised, or conducted with the candidates sitting in the same room. Instead, it was a write-in debate conducted in September by the site ScienceDebate.org. Trump and Clinton, along with Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, submitted written answers to 20 questions on science policy.
One of the questions read like this: “The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?”
Clinton offered a specific, detailed response:
When it comes to climate change, the science is crystal clear. Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time and its impacts are already being felt at home and around the world. That’s why as President, I will work both domestically and internationally to ensure that we build on recent progress and continue to slash greenhouse gas pollution over the coming years as the science clearly tells us we must.
I will set three goals that we will achieve within ten years of taking office and which will make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century:
- Generate half of our electricity from clean sources, with half a billion solar panels installed by the end of my first term.
- Cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals and offices by a third and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world.
- Reduce American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships, and trucks.
- To get there, my administration will implement and build on the range of pollution and efficiency standards and clean energy tax incentives that have made the United States a global leader in the battle against climate change. These standards are also essential for protecting the health of our children, saving American households and businesses billions of dollars in energy costs, and creating thousands of good paying jobs.
These standards set the floor, not the ceiling. As President, I will launch a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to partner with those states, cities, and rural communities across the country that are ready to take the lead on clean energy and energy efficiency, giving them the flexibility, tools and resources they need to succeed.
There’s a lot to this answer — substance that can be criticised or supported. It references the climate policies she’s described publicly in the past, which fall neatly in line with the Obama administration’s. Economists have examined her plans, and offered their opinions.
Trump’s comment in the debate wasn’t quite as extreme as some of the statement’s he’s made in the past:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
We should be focused on magnificently clean and healthy air and not distracted by the expensive hoax that is global warming!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2013
NBC News just called it the great freeze – coldest weather in years. Is our country still spending money on the GLOBAL WARMING HOAX?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2014
Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record setting freezing temperatures throughout the country and beyond. Global warming is an expensive hoax!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2014
(To clarify: Climate change isn’t a hoax, and the fact that it snows sometimes doesn’t disprove the reality that our world is regularly shatters temperature records and has more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than at any time in the history of our species.)
But Trump’s response to ScienceDebate.org also didn’t offer much in the way of specific policies. Here it is:
There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of “climate change.” Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water. Perhaps we should focus on eliminating lingering diseases around the world like malaria. Perhaps we should focus on efforts to increase food production to keep pace with an ever-growing world population. Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels. We must decide on how best to proceed so that we can make lives better, safer and more prosperous.
There isn’t a lot to draw from this clipped paragraph. Some feelings come across — the scare quotes around “climate change” casting doubt on the legitimacy of a globally-studied, evidence-backed phenomenon. There’s also the implication that food production and malaria policy can only be advanced if climate policy isn’t — which is weird, because those issues are in fact deeply bound up in our changing climate.
In an article just after the September online debate, I tried to offer the most generous reading possible of Trump’s limited response, and point him to science and policy papers that address some of the questions he raises. But the larger point here is that Trump has not, when given the opportunity, offered a policy proposal to actually deal with the dangers of our changing climate. More broadly, his campaign has continued to reflect the disappointing reality that many leaders in one of our country’s major political parties reject basic science.
One thing I’ve learned in 2016: Climate denial is fundamental to GOP’s woes. Once party denied that, everything else a plausible conspiracy.
— Robinson Meyer (@yayitsrob) October 20, 2016
Facts and science matter. Hopefully in the future politicians will treat climate change less like a subject for political grandstanding and more like an opportunity to offer substantive policy solutions.
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