Thursday, October 8, 2020

Fact Checking Climate and Environmental Statements in the Vice Presidential Debate

Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris participated in the 2020 vice presidential debate on October 7, moderated by Susan Page of USA Today. The debate took place at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. This is the first and only vice presidential debate of 2020, it was sponsored by the nonpartisan commission on presidential debates. 

The candidates were seated 12 feed apart and separated by a plexiglass barrier because of a coronavirus outbreak in the White House that has seen more than 30 people infected including U.S. president Donald Trump. 

The pandemic and issues related to the economy were the focus of the debate with Harris repeatedly referred to the 210,000 Americans that have died from covid. She repeatedly called out the Trump administration for their failure to manage the pandemic saying "the American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country" 

As the leader of the Coronavirus task force, Pence tried to defend the Trump administration's record. However, he did not address the fact that Trump initially described the pandemic as a hoax or the fact that Trump has advanced fake miracle cures (hydroxychloriquine, disinfectants and ultraviolet light) and played down the virus which is something he continues to do to this day.  Nor did Pence acknowledge the superspreader event that took place in the Rose Garden.  Pence also refused to acknowledge that the United States has the highest death toll of any nation on Earth. 

Pence also tried to support the administration's record on race relations. He ignored the systemic racism in Trump's America and did not address Trump's efforts to portray peaceful protestors as terrorists.  Pence also refused to say he would accept the outcome of the election and appeared to double down on the baseless claim that mail in voting is fraught with fraud.

Pence repeatedly spoke over Susan Page which was reminiscent of Trump's battle with moderator Chris Wallace in the September 29th presidential debate.  Here are the responses by both Pence and Harris to a question on climate change followed up by fact checking..

Susan Page: Thank you very much Vice President Pence. Once again, you’ve provided the perfect segue to a new topic, which is climate change. And Vice President Pence, I’d like to pose the first question to you. This year, we’ve seen record-setting hurricanes in the South. Another one, Hurricane Delta, is now threatening the Gulf, and we have seen record-setting wildfires in the West. Do you believe as the scientific community has concluded, that man-made climate change has made wildfires bigger, hotter, and more deadly and have made hurricanes wetter, slower and more damaging? You have two minutes uninterrupted.

Mike Pence: Thank you, Susan. Well, first, I’m very proud of our record on the environment, on conservation. According to all of the best estimates, our air and land are cleaner than any time ever recorded. Our water is among the cleanest in the world. And just a little while ago, the president signed the Outdoors Act. It’s the largest investment in our public lands and public parks in 100 years. So President Trump has made a commitment to conservation and to the environment.

On the subject of conservation the Trump administration has gutted the Endangered Species Act and their support for fossil fuels has contributed to a track record of harming wildlife that many have called a war against nature

Mike Pence: Now with regard to climate change, the climate is changing, but the issue is what’s the cause and what do we do about it? President Trump has made it clear that we’re going to continue to listen to the science. Now Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would put us back in the Paris Climate Accord. They’d impose the Green New Deal, which would crush American energy, would increase the energy costs of American families in their homes, and literally would crush American jobs.

Trump has declared war on science and his administration has followed suit. Trump is the world's leading source of disinformation and climate denial.  However, there is evidence to suggest that the pandemic has contributed to a resurgence of interest in science.

Mike Pence: And President Trump and I believe that the progress that we have made in a cleaner environment has been happening precisely because we have a strong, free market economy. What’s remarkable is the United States has reduced CO2 more than the countries that are still in the Paris Climate Accord, but we’ve done it through innovation. And we’ve done it through natural gas and fracking, which Senator, the American people can go look at the record. I know Joe Biden says otherwise now, as you do, but the both of you repeatedly committed to abolishing fossil fuel and banning of fracking.

The Trump administration has decimated environmental regulations designed to protect the health and well being of Americans and the symbiotic relationship between Trump and the fossil fuel industry is exacerbating climate change.

Mike Pence: And so by creating the kind of American innovation, we’re actually steering toward a stronger and better environment. With regard to wildfires, President Trump and I believe that forest management has to be front and center. And even Governor Gavin Newsom from your state has agreed, we’ve got to work on forest management. And with regard to hurricanes, the National Oceanic Administration tells us that actually as difficult as they are, there are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago-

The connection of hurricanes and wildfires to climate change has never been clearer. There may be no better illustration of the worsening climate crisis than the rise of wildfires.  In the U.S. the average wildfire season has expanded, it is now 105 days longer than it was in 1970. There was an epidemic of wildfires in 2019 and 2020 has been even worse with a record breaking 4 million acres destroyed in California alone. As explained by Stanford University climate scientist Michael Goss it will "continue or get worse". Climate change is thought to have played a role in major hurricanes like Dorian, Harvey, Irma and Maria.  Advances in attribution science have made it possible to directly link climate change to both Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence.

Susan Page: Thank you 

Mike Pence: … but many of the climate alarmists-

Susan Page: Vice President Pence, I’m sorry, your time is up.

Mike Pence: … use hurricanes and wildfires to try and sell the goods of a Green New Deal. And President Trump and I are going to always put-

Susan Page: Thank you, Vice President Pence.

Mike Pence: … American jobs and American workers first.

Susan Page: Senator Harris, as the vice president mentioned, you co-sponsored the Green New Deal in Congress, but Vice President Biden said in last week’s debate that he does not support the Green New Deal. But if you look at the Biden-Harris campaign website, it describes the Green New Deal as a crucial framework. What exactly would be the stance of a Biden-Harris administration toward the Green New Deal? You have two minutes uninterrupted.

Kamala Harris: So, first of all, I will repeat and the American people know that Joe Biden will not ban fracking. That is a fact. That is a fact. I will repeat that Joe Biden has been very clear that he thinks about growing jobs, which is why he will not increase taxes for anyone who makes less than $400,000 a year. Joe Biden’s economic plan… Moody’s, which is a reputable Wall Street firm, has said will create seven million more jobs than Donald Trump’s.

Kamala Harris: And part of those jobs that will be created by Joe Biden are going to be about clean energy and renewable energy. Because, you see, Joe understands that the West Coast of our country is burning, including my home state of California. Joe sees what is happening on the Gulf states, which are being battered by storms. Joe has seen and talked with the farmers in Iowa whose entire crops have been destroyed because of floods.

Kamala Harris: And so Joe believes, again, in science. I’ll tell you something, Susan, I served when I first got to the Senate on the committee that’s responsible for the environment. Do you know, this administration took the word science off the website, and then took the phrase climate change off the website? We have seen a pattern with this administration, which is they don’t believe in science. And Joe’s plan is about saying we’re going to deal with it, but we’re also going to create jobs. Donald Trump, when asked about the wildfires in California, and the question was, the science is telling us this… You know what Donald Trump said? Science doesn’t know.

Kamala Harris: So let’s talk about who is prepared to lead our country over the course of the next four years on what is an existential threat to us as human beings. Joe is about saying we’re going to invest that in renewable energy, which is going to be about the creation of millions of jobs. We will achieve net zero emissions by 2050, carbon neutral by 2035. Joe has a plan. This has been a lot of talk from the Trump administration, and really it has been to go backward instead of forward. We will also reenter the Climate Agreement with pride.

Susan Page: Senator Harris just said that climate change is an existential threat. Vice President Pence, do you believe that climate change poses an existential threat?

Mike Pence: As I said, Susan, the climate is changing. We’ll follow the science. But once again, Senator Harris is denying the fact that they’re going to raise taxes on every American. Joe Biden said twice in the debate last week, that on day one, he was going to repeal the Trump tax cuts. Those tax cuts delivered $2,000 in tax relief to the average family of four across America. And with regard to banning fracking, I just recommend that people look at the record. You yourself said repeatedly that you would ban fracking. You were the first Senate co-sponsor of the Green New Deal. And while Joe Biden denied the green new deal, Susan, thank you for pointing out. The Green New Deal is on their campaign website.

The Republican tax cuts have increased income inequality, enriched the wealthiest Americans and contributed to the Trump administration's 7 trillion dollar deficit.

Mike Pence: And as USA TODAY said, it’s essentially the same plan as you co-sponsored with AOC when she submitted it in the Senate. And you just heard the Senator say that she’s going to resubmit America to the Paris climate accord. Look, the American people have always cherished our environment and will continue to cherish it. We’ve made great progress reducing CO2 emissions through American innovation and the development of natural gas through fracking. We don’t need a massive $2 trillion Green New Deal that would impose all new mandates on American businesses and American families.

Joe Biden's build back better plan is focused on job creation. It is consistent with research that shows decarbonization through electrification creates jobs. Efforts to transition away from fossil fuels to clean and renewable sources of energy combat climate change and are expected to contribute to an economic boom.  Governments all around the world are increasingly looking to sources of clean energy that can grow the economy and provide millions of good jobs. This idea is premised on sound economic analyses that indicate that the benefits of climate action far outweigh the costs.  Independent assessments indicate that Biden's plan will create more jobs than Trump's proposals. 

Related
Climate, Environment and Sustainability in the Presidential Debate
Building Back Better: Job Creation through Green Recovery Stimulus Investments
Scientific American Endorses a Presidential Candidate for the First Time in its 175 Year History
Joe Biden's September 14th "Climate Arsonist" Speech
The Facts Call Americans to Vote for Leaders Who Support Science-Based Policy
Inflection Point: America's Turning Tide
Biden Leads the Most Climate Friendly Presidential Ticket in the History of the Democratic Party
Advocates of Climate Action and Environmental Justice Laud Biden's Selection of Harris as his Running Mate
Republicans, Conservative Groups, Veterans and Donors Opposing Trump's Reelection

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