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Climate change got 325 seconds in two presidential debates

Five minutes and twenty five seconds were spent on climate change and other environmental issues in the first two presidential debates — and that was pretty much all Hillary Clinton talking. (Surprise, surprise.) How does that compare to debates in past years? We ran the numbers on the past five election cycles to find out.

The high point for attention to green issues came in 2000, when Al Gore and George W. Bush spent just over 14 minutes talking about the environment over the course of three debates. The low point came in 2012, when climate change and other environmental issues got no time at all during the presidential debates. Some years, climate change came up during the vice presidential debates as well.

2016 so far: 1 minute, 22 seconds in the first presidential debate, and 4 minutes, 3 seconds in the second. Climate got just a split-second in the vice presidential debate.

2012: 0 minutes.

2008: 5 minutes, 18 seconds in two presidential debates. An additional 5 minutes, 48 seconds in a vice presidential debate.

2004: 5 minutes, 14 seconds in a single presidential debate.

2000: 14 minutes, 3 seconds in three presidential debates. 5 minutes, 21 seconds in a vice presidential debate.

In total, over the five election seasons we looked at, climate change and the environment got 37 minutes and 6 seconds on the prime-time stage during the presidential and vice presidential debates. That’s out of more than 1,500 minutes of debate. Not an impressive showing.

A note about how we arrived at these times:

We parsed questions asked of candidates and searched the transcripts for keywords like “climate,” “environment,” “energy,” and “warming.” We cross-referenced the transcripts with video of the debates. Only the mentions that pertained to fighting climate change, cleaning up the environment, and reducing emissions counted. President Obama’s passing reference to clean energy jobs in 2012 didn’t count, nor did discussions of energy security, because they were in the context of the economy and not fighting climate change.

Election Guide ★ 2016Making America Green AgainOur experts weigh in on the real issues at stake in this election

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Climate change got 325 seconds in two presidential debates

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Trump wants to keep burning coal for 1,000 years.

The majority of Sunday’s presidential debate involved the candidates trading blows on tax returns, Donald Trump’s so-called “locker room talk” about assaulting women, and Hillary Clinton’s email account. Just when we had given up hope, energy policy got over four minutes of stage time.

Although there was no direct question about climate change, one audience member asked how the candidate’s energy policies would meet the country’s energy needs in a way that doesn’t destroy the environment.

Trump declared affection for “alternative forms of energy, including wind, including solar,” but added “we need much more than wind and solar.” He went on to say: “There is a thing called clean coal … Coal will last for 1,000 years in this country.”

Clinton responded that she has “a comprehensive energy policy, but it really does include fighting climate change, because I do think that’s a serious problem.” She described making the United States a “21st century renewable energy superpower,” while also touting natural gas as a “bridge to alternative fuels.”

This is the third debate in a row (two presidential and one vice presidential) in which environmental issues have been marginalized. The conversation on climate in the first presidential debate amounted to just 82 seconds.

Update: See Grist’s detailed fact check of last night’s energy exchange.

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Trump wants to keep burning coal for 1,000 years.

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Trump shows us what happens to a climate denier in denial

If Donald Trump is trying to run away from his well-known position as a climate change denier, he’s doing a terrible job at it.

Less than 12 hours after a debate against Hillary Clinton in which he personally denied calling climate change a hoax, Trump’s campaign manager and running mate offered different versions of what the candidate supposedly believes: He thinks it exists but isn’t human-made, or he thinks it is human-made but doesn’t want to do anything about it.

Regardless of what his surrogates are saying on TV this morning, there’s a long Twitter record of Trump’s unscientific statements about climate to fall back on. His position is clear: It’s a hoax. What’s less clear is what he hopes to gain by changing that position now. Could it be that even the Trump campaign recognizes that climate denial in the face of clear evidence is a losing position in a general election?

Certainly Clinton seems to think it’s a strong avenue of attack: Unprompted by moderator Lester Holt during the debate last night on Long Island, Clinton said: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.”

Because he couldn’t help himself, Trump only managed to emphasize her point by interjecting, “I did not,” sending all the fact checkers to Twitter, where his four-year-old tweet saying exactly that became the top retweeted tweet during the debate:

Oops?

The lying doesn’t stop there, though. Tuesday morning, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway was asked on CNN if her candidate thinks global warming is a hoax. Conway insisted, no, he doesn’t believe it’s a hoax, but he does believe “that climate change is naturally occurring, that there are shifts naturally occurring.”

Then, on the very same show, Trump’s vice presidential pick took an abruptly different tone on climate change. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who himself once called global warming “a myth,” suggested that greenhouse gases have “some impact” on the climate.

“There’s no question that — that — that the activities that take place in this country and in countries around the world have some impact on the environment and some impact on climate,” Pence said. “But Donald Trump and I say: Let’s follow the science, but for heaven’s sakes, let’s not go rushing into the kind of restrictions on our economy that are putting Americans out of work.”

When it isn’t Trump himself talking, his campaign has sometimes tried to soften his position on the climate issue. “Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels,” Trump (or his campaign) wrote to ScienceDebate earlier this month.

It’s clear why Clinton wants to emphasize Trump’s inconsistent and unscientific climate positions. In light of recent polls, her campaign has zeroed in on more millennial-friendly messaging, in hopes of winning over young voters looking to third-party candidates like Green Jill Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Clinton largely sidelined climate change in her speeches after Bernie Sanders conceded in the primary contest, but she’s now turning to the issue again as part of a strong messaging strategy. The differences between her and Trump are more stark on climate change than on nearly any other issue — one accepts scientific consensus, the other doesn’t.

So while Clinton’s plan was clear, what the hell was Trump doing?

Clearly, calling a respected field of science a “hoax” on the national stage is not the image his campaign wants to put forward. Trump’s position on climate and energy isn’t that different from the rest of the GOP, but in a normal presidential year, he might have at this point recast his climate denial as mere reluctance to act, to make the position more palatable to the general election voter.

Yet Trump’s not running a normal campaign in any sense, so climate change gets the same brash treatment as every other issue the candidate touches on.

There were plenty of other positions that the candidates skirmished over last night, and Clinton implored the “factcheckers, get to work” a few times. Trump once again said he never supported the Iraq war, which was a lie; he did.

Conway, Trump’s spokesperson, in fact tried to pivot to the Iraq war this morning on CNN when asked about Trump’s climate answer. The Trump campaign clearly isn’t eager to answer questions on the subject.

But in denying his denial, what’s the logic? He’s been fine with it for years. His 2012 China tweet wasn’t just a poorly considered slip, but one of many:

As recently as late 2015, Trump still was fine saying: “a lot of it’s a hoax. It’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, okay?”

Then in January, as Politifact points out, Trump tried to play off the tweet about China as a joke: “I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change.”

Was Trump joking all those times he called it a hoax?

Hard to believe. And his voters sure don’t.

Other than Trump’s unexpected backtrack (or not) on climate, we didn’t learn anything new about either candidate’s energy positions in this debate. The themes of “prosperity” and “securing America” might have lended themselves to discussing both climate, which the military calls a significant threat, and clean energy, which has overtaken the fossil fuel industry as a job creator. But as is usual in presidential debates, the moderator didn’t see fit to steer the candidates in those directions.

Clinton, however, did cite two of her climate and energy proposals: deploying a half-billion solar panels and rebuilding the electric grid. Trump never once mentioned his energy proposals, even forgetting his promises to wave a wand and restore coal country, despite the debate’s focus on American industry in the first 15 minutes.

In the end, though, Clinton didn’t need to go on at length about her climate solutions, because it’s enough for her to draw out the contrast with Trump. He has no position on climate, except for his plan to appoint a climate change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency transition.

Clinton for now is content to use Trump’s words against him and let his position speak for itself. Their little exchange on Trump’s tweet did more to help put climate change on the map for future debates than any of Clinton’s policy positions.

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Trump shows us what happens to a climate denier in denial

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Trump says, “Science is science and facts are facts,” and explains his “facts” on climate change.

Accusations that Stein is an anti-vaxxer have followed the Green Party candidate throughout the race, even though she’s a Harvard-educated physician and not a graduate of the Jenny McCarthy school of medicine.

In a ScienceDebate.org survey of presidential candidates’ views on science, Stein gave them a somewhat modified answer on vaccines.

“Vaccines prevent serious epidemics that would cause harm to many people,” she said, adding:

To reverse the problem of declining vaccination rates, we need to increase trust in our public health authorities and all scientific agencies. We can do that by removing corporate influence from our regulatory agencies to eliminate apparent conflicts of interest and show skeptics, in this case vaccine-resistant parents, that the motive behind vaccination is protecting their children’s health, not increasing profits for pharmaceutical companies.

Stein’s been accused of pandering to anti-vaxxers before, for saying, “There were concerns among physicians about what the vaccination schedule meant … There were real questions that needed to be addressed.”

While she’s still hitting on her point about corporate influence, she’s sounding less loony these days.

In the same questionnaire, however, Stein didn’t budge on another topic in which she stands at odds with the scientific community: GMOs. She wants to place a moratorium on GMOs until they have been proven safe.

Of course, those persnickety scientists will tell you it’s impossible to prove anything is safe — but that’s not a reason to dismiss new plant varieties or lifesaving shots.

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Trump says, “Science is science and facts are facts,” and explains his “facts” on climate change.

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