Until the end of September 2020, no one had questioned a candidate during a presidential debate on climate change for 12 years.
Fox News reporter Chris Wallace ended the streak last week with surprise climate issues during the first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. But the often-overlooked topic also returned to the vice-presidential debate. Wednesday evening, United States today journalist Susan Page allotted about 10 minutes to a topic which year after year is increasingly important as the planet continually warms.
Yet the questions were rudimentary or unproductive, not having progressed much beyond the assessment time-tested and evidence-based science. They have not led to substantive solutions to reduce heat-trapping carbon emissions. Instead, the queries further explained why climate change is happening and whether Vice President Mike Pence believe climate change has an impact on extreme events such as forest fires and hurricanes. (He is.)
Page has begun asking Pence: “Do you believe, as the scientific community has concluded, that man-made climate change has made forest fires bigger, hotter and deadlier, and hurricanes wetter, slower and more damaging? “
A question about belief in a deeply sought-after scientific discipline is going nowhere. Science is not based on belief. It follows evidence. Doctors don’t believe cigarettes cause cancer. Instead of, decades of irrefutable evidence prove it. Likewise, oceanographers, fire researchers, glaciologists, atmospheric scientists, geologists, and paleoclimatologists don’t believe humans are warming the planet. On the contrary, the overwhelming evidence proves it. Scientists are indebted to the obvious, not to hope or belief. (The planet reacts to the highest levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide by at least 800,000 years, but more likely millions of years ago. For decades, climatologists have accurately predicted how much the climate would warm as humanity continually pumped CO2 into the atmosphere.)
Like Katharine Hayhoe, atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, tweeted during the debate: “Continuing to portray it as a ‘belief’, the media is fueling the explicitly promoted narrative that climate change is a bogus religion of earth worship that must be rejected by all true believers. Promoted by whom, ask you? Anyone who wants us to reject climate solutions. ” (Hayhoe gave examples of Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham calling climate change a “religion.”)
Pence eventually provided a response that had become routine and predictable from Republicans. “Now when it comes to climate change, the climate is changing,” Pence said. “But the problem is, what is the cause and what do we do about it? “
For an answer, Pence could refer to the congressional mandate. National climate assessment, the latest edition of which was published by the federal government in 2018. It concluded that “Earth’s climate is now changing more rapidly than at any time in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”
A flawed argument against climate is that basic climate science (like why the Earth is heating up quickly) is still debated among scientists. This is not the case. By the late 1990s, there was already an overwhelming consensus, among climatologists, that human carbon emissions were warming the planet. (Although even in 1896 Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius had established the fundamental relationship between increasing CO2 and climate change.) Researchers have analyzed nearly 12,000 peer-reviewed studies on climate change, and “only a handful” denied the climate consensus.
Of course, you can find a handful of scientists or experts who will reject any evidence about anything and make TV appearances. But that’s not how science works. “Real scientists debate in the halls of science [meaning peer-reviewed research], not Fox News or the Wall Street Journal [op-eds], and real scientists honor the evidence, ”Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard University, told Mashable last year.
I would love to see a journalist specializing in science, health and the environment lead a debate and insist on, for example, evidence
– Laura Helmuth (@laurahelmuth) October 8, 2020
I still can’t understand how bad the climate change section of the debate was last night.
This is the consequence of the absence of climate issues in the debates for years.
The questions were childish, no follow-up questions for background information, and there was hardly any question of solutions.
– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 8, 2020
For the billionth time:
Climate change is not a religion. It’s a science.
Do I believe it? No.
I’m looking at the data, and the data is clear: It’s real, it’s us, it’s bad, and the time to fix it is NOW.
– Teacher. Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) October 8, 2020
Later in the interview, Page asked Pence if he believed in the severity of climate change. (“Vice President Pence, do you think climate change is an existential threat?”) Pence avoided answering the question, again noted “the climate is changing” and then spoke about taxes.
For the record, climate change is the dominant factor behind a multitude of problematic global changes. For example:
The rest of the climate debate hasn’t changed climate policy much. It turned into a back and forth about the Green New Deal (a visionary executive to create a renewable energy infrastructure in the United States, which is different from Joe Biden’s climate plan) and hydraulic fracturing. Page asked Senator Kamala Harris what would be the “position of a Biden Harris administration towards the Green New Deal?” But voters have had little or no substantive debate about how a Biden presidency would put the United States and the world on a course that can limit the worst consequences of climate change.
It’s not surprising. Climate change has essentially been out of the national debate for more than a decade. The national televised dialogue is therefore primitive. The transport sector is the main contributor greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, but there were no questions or discussions on build critical infrastructure for electric vehicles. There has been no dialogue on how to get all 50 states to embrace renewables (perhaps with a national clean energy standard). The role of nuclear energy in the production of carbon-free energy over the coming decades (nuclear generated nearly 20 percent of the country’s energy in 2018).
What’s more, a lack of fact-checking has also left millions of voters with completely wrong or misleading ideas about climate change. Asked about wildfires, Pence said “forest management must be at the forefront” to deal with increasing fires in California. In fact, fire specialists know that both a century of forest fire suppression and a heating climate are two dominant factors in the surge in wildfires in the West in recent decades. Ignoring climate change won’t help, especially because the planet will inevitably be continue to heat up for much of this century.
Pence also noted: “There are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago. Yes, but that’s not the point. Climate scientists don’t expect more hurricanes overall. However, they expect hurricanes become more intense, which means higher wind speeds and more damaging and dangerous storms.
Pence said during the debate that “President Trump has made it clear that we will continue to listen to science.” But Page did not push back on efforts by Trump and the administration to ignore, denounce and belittle science. Just a few weeks ago Trump said “I don’t think science knows that, actually”, referring to the impact of global warming on forests (Global warming has a big impact on forest fires.) The Trump administration’s EPA has publicly promoted disinformation on climate science. And the president says he doesn’t “believe” the National Climate Assessment 2018, a landmark climate report produced by its own scientists.
At the very least, however, voters almost certainly walked out of the debate appreciating that the Democratic Ticket cares about climate change and in fact has a climate plan, but Republicans are still stuck on why this is happening. . Yet in an ever-warming world, the public would benefit from more than a basic (and error-filled) discussion of climate change. After all, carbon levels in the atmosphere continue to rise, same in the midst of a historic pandemic. What we are doing to the planet is not just abnormal. It is extreme even compared to the geological past of the planet.
“What is important to recognize is that the changes humanity is bringing about today are commensurate with the most significant events in the history of life on this planet,” said Matthew Long, oceanographer at National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Mashable last year.
Cover image from The edge.