In the first presidential debate, former Vice President Joe Biden made a series of inaccurate statements about climate change that, under normal circumstances, might have damaged him as a candidate. At the top of this list was the claim that President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord caused it all “to fall apart.”
Moderator Chris Wallace introduced the debate topic of climate change with the recent wildfires in California and asked Trump to clarify whether he believes that humans contribute to climate change. The president countered accurately that the wildfires were caused by incompetent forest management, not climate change.
After Trump’s reply, Biden got a chance to respond and comment, saying: “I will rejoin the Paris Accord, because without us in it, look what’s happening. It’s all falling apart.”
Despite Wallace and Biden linking global warming to drought and extreme weather, the consensus among climate scientists, as reported by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.), is that there is no evidence that humans are causing more extreme weather.
Forest fires have increased in some areas due to mismanagement. Property damage from hurricanes and flooding has surged because people have built a greater number of – and more expensive – homes near the ocean in hurricane-prone areas. There is no conclusive evidence that the weather has become more extreme.
The Paris Accord
Although scientists disagree on how sensitive the environment is to increased CO2 in the atmosphere, they agree on one thing: The Paris Climate Accord will not have a significant impact on the climate. It is generally agreed that it is only a “first step” and that far more dramatic steps are needed to have a significant effect.
Today, China is the world’s greatest emitter of CO2 – twice as large as the U.S. The Paris Accord defines it as a developing country and allows it to continue its emissions unabated until 2030. Today, China, India, and other developing countries account for 2/3 of all human emissions, and they are growing rapidly.
The U.S. accounts for about 15% of world emissions. Under Trump, America’s emissions have fallen sharply. The reason is fracking and the transition to power production from natural gas, which has accelerated under Mr. Trump.
Natural gas contains less carbon than coal and oil and burns cleaner. Therefore, the fracking revolution has meant cleaner air and less CO2 emissions. Thus, it is false to say that withdrawing from the Paris Accord has caused it all “to fall apart.”
Biden also claimed that Trump had removed regulations for methane emissions. There is some truth to this, but this deregulation’s net effect has been an overall reduction in emissions. Deregulation has allowed the fracking and natural gas industry to flourish. These have been the primary source of America’s dramatic drop in CO2 emissions in recent years.
The president’s Democrat challenger claimed that he contributed to making renewable energy cheaper than coal, oil, and gas under the Obama-Biden administration. Obama and Biden achieved this with taxpayer-funded subsidies combined with draconian regulation of the fossil fuel industry, which drove their costs up.
No renewable energy, except hydroelectric power, is even remotely competitive with fossil fuels and nuclear energy without subsidies. However, it is accurate that the price of solar panels has dropped sharply in the last decade.
The reason is partly that solar panel production has shifted to China, which uses cheap labor with lax environmental and labor regulations. The Chinese solar industry is also heavily subsidized by the Chinese Communist Party.
Pays for itself?
When challenged on how he would pay for his ambitious climate plan, Biden claimed that it would “create millions of jobs” and “pay for itself.” According to The World Bank, $1 million in oil and gas spending creates 5.2 jobs, while the same expenditure on solar creates 13.7 jobs. This is precisely the reason that renewable energy costs far more than fossil fuels. Before industrial and mechanized agriculture, farming required far more jobs too.
Biden vs. Trump
Unlike Trump’s statements on forest fires and climate change, Biden’s claims were grossly inaccurate and appeared to be crafted to mislead.
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