For the first time in his presidency, Donald Trump acknowledged that human-generated greenhouse gases contribute to climate change.
During Tuesday night’s presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace noted that Trump had recently suggested that science was unclear on whether climate change was real and pointed out that he has, at virtually every turn in his presidency, pursued policies that scientists say will make global warming worse.
“What do you believe about the science of climate change and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?” Wallace asked after also noting that much of the western United States was battling wildfires believed to have been made worse by rising temperatures.
“I want crystal-clean water and air. I want beautiful clean air. We have now the lowest carbon, if you look at our numbers right now, we are doing phenomenally, but I haven’t destroyed our businesses. Our businesses aren’t put out of commission,” Trump said. “As far as the fires are concerned, you need forest management in addition to everything else. The forest floors are loaded up with trees, dead trees that are years old, and they’re like tinder and leaves and everything else. You drop a cigarette in there and the whole forest burns down.”
Not satisfied that Trump had answered his question, Wallace rephrased it. “What do you believe about the science of climate change, sir?” he asked.
“I believe that we have to do everything we can to have immaculate air, immaculate water and do whatever else we can that’s good. You know we’re planting a billion trees, the billion tree project —”
Wallace interrupted Trump and tried again. “Do you believe that human pollution — greenhouse gas emissions — contributes to the global warming of this planet?”
“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 forests,” said Trump, who has famously called climate change a Chinese hoax and has announced that he is withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord.
Asked by Wallace why he had rolled back Obama-era initiatives on cleaning up power plant emissions of CO2 and methane.
“Because it was driving energy prices through the sky,” Trump replied.
Trump said rolling back fuel economy standards would result in cheaper cars. “You’re talking about a tiny difference,” Trump said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has laid out an ambitious plan to transition the country to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, said Trump’s record on climate change was “absolutely wrong.”
Wallace asked the former vice president whether his plan would prove too expensive to implement.
“No one is going to build another coal-fired plant in America,” Biden said. “No one’s going to build another oil-fired plant in America. They’re going to move to renewable energy.”
While Trump portrayed attempts to solve climate change as job-killing, Biden said he saw opportunity.
“There are so may things we can do now to create thousands and thousands of jobs,” he said. “The first thing I will do, I will rejoin the Paris climate accord.”
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