An Environmental Look at the First Presidential Debate

Biden and Trump standoff, a speech bubble with a Earth floats above

Our focus is environmentalism, not politics. But oftentimes (like last night’s first U.S. presidential debate), there is quite a bit of overlap. We highly encourage people to watch the debate for themselves and fact check both sides, but here are our biggest environmental takeaways:

Time is of the essence.

🌎 Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our generation, but it didn’t get as much airtime as it should have. A question about what each candidate would do about the climate crisis was somewhat ignored, with both candidates talking more on previous questions during their time. Many critics pointed out that later in the debate, ‘golf smack talk’ seemed to take up more time than talk about the climate. It’s not a good look for the country, and really only reinforces the stereotype of old white male politicians (yikes…).

“Best environmental numbers ever”

🌎 After moderators reiterated the question on climate change, Trump stated that the country had “absolutely immaculate clean water” under his watch, and he had “the best environmental numbers ever”. In reality, Trump rolled back more than a hundred environmental protection policies, including ones that federally protected waterways and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. As we also covered way back when, these cuts also negatively affected protected areas and pollution limits.

Fossil Fuels

🌎 Trump continued by saying that the country used “all forms of energy” during his presidency – but that’s not really something that benefits the environment. In addition to rollbacks of the above policies, during Trump’s administration, the EPA removed many restrictions on coal and natural gas power plants. During much of his presidency, carbon emissions actually increased, but emissions plummeted during the pandemic. This makes his statement on how he lowered carbon emissions at least partially true. He has also stated that if he is to win again, he will be taking full advantage of the “liquid gold” beneath our feet by either exporting or burning.

While Biden has been a big supporter of green energy, fossil fuels still hypocritically power about 60 percent of the United States’ grid. The US is also the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas and currently produces more oil and natural gas than any other country in history.

Paris Climate Accord

🌎 Trump is well-known for pulling out of the Paris climate accord (something Biden has since rejoined) and continued calling it a “ripoff” onstage. This comes primarily from the fact that China and India would not be “paying their fair share” and would cost the United States a trillion dollars. In reality, the United States and other countries would collectively contribute $100 billion per year until 2020. Perhaps he was instead referencing talks of a “Green New Deal” which would have cost the U.S. ~$1.7 trillion (a plan that never really came to fruition, but was blended into what became the Inflation Reduction Act)?

However, even after rejoining the accord, Congress during Biden’s presidency only allocated $1 billion to the fund in 2022, much less than the promised $11.4 billion. The Inflation Reduction Act meant billions for funding climate change mitigation at home, but a lot more funds were promised for the Global South and countries dealing with the effects of climate change the most.

So, what now? No matter what your political standing is, you’re probably like the millions of Americans that are tired of the current political system. Millions find themselves unhappy with their party’s candidate, and maybe really only agree with them 25% of the time. People from both major parties were disappointed in how their candidate fared (for one reason or another), but what can you do? Voting doesn’t end with the president – do your research on local elections in your area and who the candidates are. And in the meantime, reach out to your elected officials and tell them about your thoughts on the environment (and how it is oh so important ❤️🌎).

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