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3 Climate Questions We’d Actually Like to Hear at the Final Presidential Debate

by Ryan Schleeter

October 21, 2020

Number one: why doesn't Donald Trump have a climate plan?

© Richard Lutzbauer / Greenpeac

This Thursday will be the first time in the entire 2020 election cycle that climate change has been on the debate agenda from the beginning. It’s almost as if the debate commission has realized it’s a crisis! Climate has come up in previous debates — a lot more than in 2016, in fact — but sometimes the way the questions are framed is frustrating, to say the least

Cornering the candidates on whether they believe in science, whether they prioritize jobs versus the environment, or how they’ll maintain energy independence doesn’t tell us much. In fact, all of those questions stem from Republican talking points, language ripped directly from the party with no plan. 

Here are three questions we’d like to see asked instead. 

1. Why doesn’t Donald Trump have a climate plan?

The real answer to this one is fairly obvious. Donald Trump and the rest of the radical right thought they could continue getting away denying the science of climate change, insisting that it was a hoax, and obstructing climate action. They thought the support of fossil fuel billionaires would insulate them from the wave of climate activists holding them accountable for denial and delay. They were wrong, and now concern about the climate crisis is rising even among registered Republican voters. They have to at least appear to be trying. 

But Trump can’t say any of that out loud. The reason he spends so much time attacking Biden’s climate plan is because he doesn’t have one, and he knows it’s a major weakness. This question forces Trump to either double down on denying science — which is out of touch even with his own party — or admit that he has no idea what he’s doing. It exposes him for the catastrophic failure that he is.

Oh, and just in case Trump tries to play the distraction game with one of his many false solutions, planting trees is not a climate plan.

2. Why exactly is climate action a part of Joe Biden’s jobs plan?

In September, Joe Biden tweeted, “When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, he thinks ‘hoax.’ I think ‘jobs.’” So do we! But what kind of jobs? And where? And how does he plan to help workers who currently rely on the fossil fuel industry transition to these new jobs?

These debates usually try to separate big, overarching issues like the economy, race, healthcare, and the environment into tidy categories. But the reality is that they are fundamentally connected. The crises we’re experiencing as a country — from COVID-19 to massive unemployment to climate change — are compounding, and our next president can’t afford to address them one at a time. 

So we want to hear about exactly how Biden will power the recovery from COVID-19 on renewable energy. How the jobs his policies create will come with union benefits and access to healthcare. How he’ll ensure investment flows to the Black, Brown, Indigenous, and working-class communities hit hardest by the pandemic. 

This is all in Biden’s plan, but we haven’t heard about it yet on the debate stage, which means millions of Americans still haven’t heard about it. Jumpstarting an equitable economy through clean energy is also the main thrust of the Green New Deal, which is why we’re not too concerned by Biden’s recent attempts to distance himself from the Green New Deal movement. If he wins, we’re ready to pressure him like hell to get on board with the full promise of a future beyond fossil fuels. 

3. What would you do on day one in office to stop the climate crisis?

We know exactly what four more years of Trump would look like. Upon entering office in 2017, he immediately fast-tracked the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and made the CEO of Exxon his Secretary of State (he’s still courting Exxon to this day). Since then, his administration has attempted to weaken or repeal more than 100 environmental and public health rules. The last thing we need is Trump supercharging his pro-polluter agenda in 2021. 

Biden has spelled out a lot of what he wants to accomplish in his climate and clean energy plan, but we’re still not sure how he’d prioritize. Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement? Sure, that’s easy. Start the process of ending fossil fuel extraction while supporting affected fossil fuel workers? Now we’re talking! We’re on the lookout for high ambition from the Biden team from the very beginning. There is no time for a middle of the road approach. The bar is set by science and justice, and it’s set high. Voters deserve to know if Biden is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work to stop a full out climate catastrophe from day one in the Oval Office. 

Do you plan on watching the debate tomorrow? Join us on Twitter @greenpeaceusa or in our online volunteer community to share live reactions, questions, and rants. 

Ryan Schleeter

By Ryan Schleeter

Ryan Schleeter is a senior communications specialist with Greenpeace USA covering climate and energy. His writing has appeared in National Geographic, Grist, GreenBiz, EcoWatch, and more. Find him on Twitter @ryschlee.

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