"System Change Not Climate Change" by Eoghan OLionnain is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Why Didn’t The Moderators Of The Biden-Trump Debate Dig Down On The Climate Crisis?

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On Thursday evening, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump “debated” major issues that confront the US. I challenge the term “debate” because it was more of a “debacle” — the standing President couldn’t articulate his own policy issues, and the former president lied more than he represented truths. Importantly, the essential topic of the climate crisis was nearly ignored in lieu of high drama in this year’s first Biden-Trump “debate.”

Topics that the CNN “moderators” pinpointed surrounded economic, foreign relations, and immigration policies. I dispute use of the term “moderators,” as Tapper and Bash were merely “questioners,” even though an AP press release defended them, saying they had “prepared meticulously” for the evening.

When Trump failed to answer numerous questions and, instead, harped on in delusional fashion, the two questioners let him ramble. More times than not, Trump failed to answer their questions, and the debacle dissolved into squabbling among two very old men who didn’t offer the wisdom of their years.

There was one question about the climate crisis — hallelujah!

The Red Menace’s Spin Machine was Finely Oiled during the Biden-Trump Debate

At first, Trump failed to acknowledge the topic of the climate crisis, instead turning to another long-winded bit of nonsense about immigration. Then he exclaimed — as if he had just remembered the subject at hand — that his own administration had “the best environmental numbers ever” including “immaculate” water and air. In 2017, I wrote how, “one after the other, each Trump executive order erodes environmental protections, with catastrophic effects on the natural world.” That same year the EPA, under Trump administration direction, worked on repealing the Clean Water Plan. The Trump team then was all rah-rah about House actions “to nullify unnecessary regulations imposed on America’s businesses,” citing how “burdensome compliance requirements” had created a dismal business climate in the US.

It must be noted early on in this article that, actually, a Trump administrative rule from 2020 removed Clean Water Act protections for one-fourth of wetlands, one-fifth of streams, and 30% of watersheds that provide drinking water to households. Why weren’t these Trump-era actions part of the discussion at the 2024 Biden–Trump debate?

He also referred during the debacle to the Sunrise movement’s Green New Deal campaign as the “green new scam;” it’s a clever play-on-words but lacks any substantive supporting data. The Sunrisers’ campaign to prod the US to move to 100% renewable energy by 2030 with goals to reduce emissions through massive, rapid deployment of zero-carbon generation is definitely not a “scam” (a method of business practice that Trump understands keenly); the Green New Deal is, perhaps, optimistic, far-reaching, or a bit too non-negotiable.

Instead, while in office, the Trump administration had a serious mandate to modify or even eliminate environmental regulations and globally agreed-upon policies that it saw as burdensome to the fossil fuel industry and other big businesses. By 2020, more than 90 environmental rules and regulations had been modified, dismantled, or eliminated by the Trump administration.

In 2017, Trump made an announcement in the White House Rose Garden about a very sad moment: when the US withdrew from the Paris agreement.

“The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers — who I love — and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.”

Nowhere in this exaggeration is the admission that the climate crisis is damaging life on Earth. He did not then and will not now acknowledge how record droughts, heat waves, wildfires, coastal flooding, ocean acidification, and storms are costing lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in damages, nor will he stand up to the fossil fuel production gazillionares whose products are the primary drivers of climate change. The phrase “intolerable burdens on the American economy” is code for the richest individuals in the US becoming much, much richer — at the expense of the very world that nurtures and supports human life.

During his hyperbolic and lie-filled campaigning, Trump has explained how he would immediately delete Biden’s environmental work if returned to office.

  • In exchange for $6 billion in campaign donations, he promised oil executives to overturn Biden administration clean energy, environmental protection, and electric vehicle (EV) policy changes. It has been reported the Big Oil is already constructing executive orders for Trump to do exactly that if he is elected.
  • The 2025 Presidential Transition Project: Have you immersed yourself in this? You absolutely must if you want a vision of what a second Trump presidency would look like — reinforces the power and place of fossil fuel power for the US.
  • Trump himself lost an opportunity during the debacle to mention how under Biden’s presidency the US has become the biggest oil producer in the world. Of course, Trump wouldn’t even allude to such a stat, as it’s one he wants to surpass if he wins the White House again.

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Biden’s Retorts about his Administration’s Climate Action — a Little Bit

Biden was able to spit out some climate action accomplishments that have taken place during his administration. “I passed the most extensive climate change legislation in history,” he sputtered, and few would argue with the statement. The Inflation Reduction Act, passed in 2022, was the largest investment to mitigate climate change in US history. With $360 billion+ devoted to decarbonization project, the IRA has the potential to cut U.S. fossil emissions anywhere from 43% to 48% by 2035.

In a halting manner, Biden reminded the television audience that he had reestablished US commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“If we reach 1.5 degrees Celsius at any one point, there’s no way back. The only existential threat to humanity is climate change, and [Trump] didn’t do a damn thing about it. He wants to undo all that I’ve done.”

Clean water and air protection policies have been core to Biden’s climate agenda. He spoke fleetingly about the newly formed American Climate Corps.

What Biden could not articulate — so, so unfortunately — was the extent to which the US is moving ahead to build renewable energy plants, create battery factories, retrofit homes to make them more efficient, introduce more nature-friendly agricultural practices, and foreground the needs of economically disadvantaged communities. The Biden administration’s climate policies are expected to cut the country’s greenhouse house gas emissions by 40% by 2030 from 2005 levels.

What’s at stake here post-debacle is not only democracy but our planet as we have known it. The moderators failed to give discourse space for the Biden-Harris administration’s many climate protection policies.

  • The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued new vehicle fuel economy standards that will save US driver more than $23 billion in fuel costs while reducing pollution; fuel economy will increase 2% per year for model years 2027–2031 for passenger cars, while light trucks will increase 2% per year for model years 2029–2031. That means EVs must comprise a majority of the new cars sold by then.
  • In April, the EPA issued regulations designed to slash multiple forms of toxic and planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s dirtiest source of electricity.
  • A week ago, the EPA and the US Department of Energy announced that applications are open for $850 million in federal funding for projects that will help monitor, measure, quantify, and reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sectors.
  • Just this week, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced $1.8 billion in awards from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grant program for 148 projects across the country. The announcement brings the total amount of Biden-Harris Administration RAISE grants to more than $7.2 billion for over 550 projects across the country as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.
  • And so much more.

Final Thoughts about the Biden–Trump Debate

The inner circle of advisors who guided Biden ahead of the debacle on Thursday night should not only be fired but banished from Democratic National Committee advisory roles ever moving forward. Any high school public speaking teacher knows how Biden should have positioned his climate talk: simply, slowly, and methodically.

  1. Give a short, specific, and universal example of a way that the climate crisis affects local US communities.
  2. Remind the audience of a particular regulation that the Biden-Harris administration has implemented to tackle this immense problem.
  3. Repeat.
  4. Repeat.
  5. Repeat.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

Carolyn Fortuna has 1361 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna