Donald Trump and Joe Biden put on a study in contrasts on climate change Monday, as massive wildfires continued to burn in the western states. Trump visited California, finally, but continued to try to blame the state’s supposedly poor forest management practices for the fires. Fallen trees, Trump said, “just explode—they can explode. Also leaves. When you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground, it just sets it up, it’s really a fuel for a fire.” He stopped short of suggesting (again) that California needs to rake its forests better, but that’s what he was thinking.
Biden, on the other hand, expressed empathy for the plight of Californians and others on the West Coast, with “our families who have lost everything, the firefighters and first responders risking everything to save others, and the millions of Americans caught between relocating during a pandemic or staying put as ash and smoke pollute the air they breathe.” And he identified climate change as one of “four historic crises” facing the United States, along with the pandemic, the accompanying economic crisis, and “emboldened white supremacy unseen since the 1960s and a reckoning on race long overdue.”
Biden pointed not just to the current wildfires but to the intensity of the hurricane season and to floods and droughts in the Midwest. All of these have costs, both human and economic.
“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if more of America is ablaze? If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is under water?” Biden said. “We need a president who respects science, who understands that the damage from climate change is already here, and, unless we take urgent action, will soon be more catastrophic.”
By contrast, when Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed out that the majority of California’s forests are federal property and therefore federal responsibility, Trump sat sullenly with his arms folded.
“When Donald Trump thinks about climate change he thinks: ‘hoax.’ I think: ‘jobs,’” Biden said. “Good-paying, union jobs that put Americans to work building a stronger, more climate-resilient nation. A nation with modernized water, transportation and energy infrastructure to withstand the impacts of extreme weather and a changing climate.”
“When Donald Trump thinks about renewable energy, he sees windmills somehow causing cancer,” Biden continued. “I see American manufacturing—and American workers—racing to lead the global market. I also see farmers making American agriculture first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions, and gaining new sources of income in the process.”
As for Trump, when confronted with the fact that “science is going to be key, because if we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians,” he said grimly “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.”
“I wish science agreed with you,” came the response.
“I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump replied.
It’s September. Fast-forward to late October and Trump will probably be declaring himself right—it got cooler! But of course, science does know, on this one, and right now we’re seeing the devastating effects of the climate change Trump denies.
This is the choice: a president who sees climate change as a tragedy affecting large swaths of the country already, and as a crisis, we must face and can face productively in ways that strengthen U.S. infrastructure and jobs. Or a president who talks about exploding trees and promises “It’ll start getting cooler,” just as he promised the coronavirus was “going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”