Trump Contradicts Climate Change Experts in First Debate With Biden

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President Trump speaks during the first presidential debate against former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland on September 29, 2020. (Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)

About an hour and 12 minutes into Tuesday night's chaotic, disturbing and ultimately unsatisfying presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace departed from his list of previously announced debate topics to acknowledge the environmental crisis facing California and other Western states.

"I'd like to talk about climate change," Wallace said.

"So would I," said former Vice President Joe Biden, who was no doubt grateful to move on after Trump interrupted his comments about his son, Beau, who died of brain cancer, to ruthlessly attack his other son, Hunter.

"The forest fires in the West are raging now. They have displaced hundreds of thousands of people," Wallace said.

The Fox News anchor then referred to Trump's recent visit to Sacramento.

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"When state officials there blamed the fires on climate change, Mr. President, you said, 'I don't think the science knows.' What do you believe about the science of climate change, and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?"

Trump initially deflected the question.

"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," Trump said, without citing any evidence.

Wallace pressed for an actual answer.

"What do you believe about the science of climate change, sir, and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?" he asked.

I believe that we have to do everything we can to have immaculate air, immaculate water and do whatever else we can. You know, we're planting a billion trees," Trump said.

When asked if he believes human-produced greenhouse gases contribute to the warming of planet, Trump gave a brief nod before pivoting to his favorite culprit, forest management.

"I think a lot of things do, but I think to an extent, yes. But I also think we have to do better management of our forests every year," Trump said.

"Every year I get the call. 'California is burning! California is burning!' " he said. "If that was cleaned ... if you had forest management, good forest management, you wouldn't be getting those calls."

But as Gov. Gavin Newsom noted when he met with Trump earlier this month, 57% of the forests in California are under federal, not state, control — a point that surprisingly, no one brought up during the debate.

"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 there, the whole forest burns down," Trump said.

Newsom contradicted that notion in a tweet posted moments after Trump's comments during the debate.

Trump also bragged about his pledge to remove the U.S. from the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement — signed by nearly every nation in the world — defying the overwhelming consensus of environmental scientists and climate change experts who consider the accord an important step to lowering global carbon emissions.

"If you look at the Paris accord, it was a disaster from our standpoint," Trump said. "And people are actually very happy about what's going on because our businesses are doing well."

Wallace also reminded the president that he had rolled back Obama-era environmental regulations and initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

Trump also made a point during the debate of dismissing Newsom's recent executive order requiring that all vehicles sold in California be emission free by 2035.

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"I'm okay with electric cars, too. I think I'm all for electric cars. I've given big incentives for electric cars. But what they've done in California is just crazy," he said.

For his part, Biden promised to rejoin the Paris agreement if elected and stressed the need to move away from fossil fuels.

"Nobody is going to build another coal-fired plant in America. No one's going to build another oil-fired plant in America. They're going to move to renewable energy," Biden said.

"We're going to make sure that we are able to take the federal fleet and turn it into a fleet that's run on, they're electric vehicles, making sure we can do that," he added. "We're going to put 500,000 charging stations on all of the highways that we're going to be building in the future."

Biden also pledged to improve energy efficiency in buildings and new homes.

Although Biden's response on climate issues was not his most coherent moment of the night — he stumbled over his position on the so-called Green New Deal, among other things — his statements underscored the stark differences between the two men on environmental policy.

"We are going to be in a position where we can create hard, hard, good jobs by making sure the environment is clean and we all are in better shape," Biden said. "We spend billions of dollars now, billions of dollars on floods, hurricanes, rising seas. We're in real trouble.

"Look what's happened just in the Midwest with these storms that come through and wipe out entire sections and counties in Iowa. They didn't happen before. They're because of global warming. That's why we have to get back into the Paris accord."

And with that, moderator Chris Wallace moved on to the important final topic of "election integrity," ushering in another round of misinformation from the president regarding the security of mail-in ballots.