It should have been a moment of celebration. After twelve years of silence on the largest stage, Chris Wallace told President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden that he wanted to talk about climate change. Both candidates, with Trump needing several probing questions to get there, eventually admitted that they recognize it as real.
Ironically, climate change got swamped. But Joe Biden was able to take advantage of the small opening.
The topic came up at the back-end of the debate after much of America watched a screaming match that left them annoyed and depressed. Trump had already offered a cryptic message to the white supremacist group the Proud Boys, Biden had already told him to shut up, and most Americans were ready to call it a night.
But the small exchange offered Biden a chance to do something that hasn’t been done in over a decade, and it was similar to Barack Obama’s argument in 2008: connect climate change to the economic livelihoods of working Americans. While Trump mostly downplayed climate change, defended the loosening of regulations, and focused on clean air, clean water, and forest management, Biden offered policy ideas that could translate into jobs.
“We’re going to put 500,000 charging stations in all of the highways that we’re going to be building in the future. We’re going to build an economy that in fact is going to provide for the ability of us to take 4 million buildings and make sure that they in fact are weatherized,” Biden said, per a transcript. Biden has shared both of these ideas previously.
The segment also focused on natural disasters. Climate change could easily take up an entire debate, and some recent disasters—like Hurricane Isaias, which caused over $4 billion worth of damage — were left out.
But Trump brought the recent devastating California fires (blaming federal forest management, a partial cause of the fires that ignores the impact of climate change) and Biden brought up the recent Midwestern derecho, a powerful windstorm.
“Look at what's happened just in the Midwest with these storms come that through and wipe out entire sections and counties in Iowa. They didn't happen before,” Biden said.
Iowa has faced a series of stormy problems this year. There has been flooding, less than 2019, but still significant. The derecho, which NOAA defines as a “widespread, long-lived wind storm associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms,” is believed to have flattened 10 million acres of corn and soybeans, one third of Iowa’s crops.
However, NOAA also points out that “no can be sure” if derechos are influenced by global warming. Unlike wildfires where climate change’s connection to drying timber is clear, Dr. Andreas Prein, from the National Center For Atmospheric Research, told CBS that the relationship between derecho frequency and climate change is “poorly understood,” although a recent study looking at derecho parent structures suggests that a connection could be found.
While science is still studying derechos and their relationship to climate change, it is clear that the phenomena is affecting the United States on a massive level, from more powerful hurricanes to rising temperatures, including the warmest summer on record for the Western Hemisphere.
The climate change segment of the debate soon turned to the Green New Deal, mainly Trump’s various items of misinformation about the plan and Biden denying his endorsement of it, although his website calls it “a crucial framework.”
It was an imperfect section in a debate where “imperfect” could be considered a high point. But Biden was able to make the case that transitioning to a green economy would be a boon, not a hindrance to a growing country.
It’s an argument that many others have made, from Green New Deal co-sponsors Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey to youth activists like the Sunrise Movement, but none of them were on the presidential debate stage. Joe Biden was.