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Analysis: How the debate on the climate crisis ricocheted from Planet Earth to Planet Trump

Unintentionally, it was the truest and most tragic statement of the night.

And it brought plans from two different planets.

“We have the Trillion Trees program,” President Donald Trump began when they were finally asked how they’d save a livable planet. “We have so many different programs.”

There were no other programs. Instead, the President hit a gusher of lies, confusion and insistence that the US remain reliant on fossil fuels, despite the overwhelming evidence that the hell and high water of 2020 is just the beginning.

“Global warming is an existential threat to humanity,” former Vice President Joe Biden began, back on Earth. “We have a moral obligation to deal with it.”

Biden ran through parts of his plan, from charging stations on highways to retrofitting buildings to save energy use, and focusing on harnessing renewable resources like wind and solar energy.

Twelve feet away on Planet Trump, such predictions brought a smile. “I know more about wind than you do and it’s extremely expensive,” the President claimed. “Kills all the birds.”

In reality, the US is late to a global boom in offshore wind farms, and turbines kill a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions of birds taken each year by windows and cats.
On Planet Trump last night, “solar doesn’t quite have it yet.” But on Planet Earth earlier this month, a renewable energy company called NextEra was more valuable than ExxonMobil and the International Energy Agency declared that “solar projects now offer some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen.”
Running against such arrogant science denial, Biden could probably shoot a spotted owl on Fifth Avenue and not lose support of the Sierra Club. But rather than follow his primary instincts and play it safe and squishy, Biden has absorbed the urgent ideas of Jay Inslee, Bernie Sanders and the Sunrise Movement, rolling out a climate plan bigger than Barack Obama’s by a factor of 20.
The Bobcat Fire burned through the Angeles National Forest north of Azusa, California, last month.
Uncontrollable gigafires and a conga line of hurricanes make this an easier political lift, but Biden is quick to temper the nightmare of unpredictable weather with the dream of 50,000 electric car charging stations, millions of energy-efficient remodels and lots of green $50-an-hour, union jobs. “It will cost $100 trillion!” Trump said of the plan, inflating Biden’s stated cost by fifty times.
Hurricanes, fires, floods and locusts: Science says climate change is here but the RNC refuses to believe

With an obvious fear of losing Pennsylvania frackers the way Hillary Clinton lost West Virginia miners, Biden’s been careful not to declare the end of fossil fuel.

But he also outlined the damage.

The question was about environmental justice, a platform plank elevated by the summer of Black anger after the killing of George Floyd. What would each candidate say to the families of color more likely to live next to toxic industry?

“The families that we’re talking about are employed heavily and they are making a lot of money,” Trump replied. “More money than they’ve ever made.”

Then came the most personal story of the night.

“When my Mom would get in the car, when there was the first frost, to drive me to school, turn on the windshield wipers, there would be an oil slick on the window,” Biden said, describing the health costs of living near the Marcus Hook complex of refineries on the Delaware River as a boy. “That’s why so many people in my state were dying and getting cancer.”

Biden shot back at Trump: “It doesn’t matter what you’re paying them. It matters how you keep them safe.”

Trump watched Biden intently during this windshield wiper story, and as the moderator tried to segue into the next question, he took the tender moment to attack.

“Would you close down the oil industry?” Trump asked.

“I would transition from the oil industry, yes.”

“Oh, that’s a big statement,” the President replied.

(Fact check: True. And certain to be repeated in an attack ad near you).

“(Oil) has to be replaced by renewable energy over time,” Biden said, repeating the last words for emphasis. “Over time.”

But as the moderator said, we’re running out of time. The United Nations climate panel suggests that the planet must cut emissions in half in just 10 years and hitting Biden’s net zero goals by 2035 will require seismic, head-spinning changes in every sector of the world’s largest economy as fossil fuel giants strand trillions in known reserves.

“Our health and our jobs are at stake,” says Biden.

“They want to knock down buildings and build new buildings with little, tiny small windows,” says Trump.

And two planets collide.


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