All the interruptions, taunts and empty bombast from President Donald Trump during his first debate with Joe Biden left little room for actual discussion of major issues, from the coronavirus pandemic to U.S. foreign policy. Lost especially amid all the noise was climate change, which looms as an existential threat to life in this century. Climate change was only briefly mentioned in last month’s debate, when it was peculiarly framed.
For a challenge this important, the battle lines were oddly drawn around questions of extremism. Trump, as unserious as ever, boasted vaguely about the quality of America’s “beautiful” and “crystal clean” air and water, despite having rolled back practically every environmental provision he could. Trump suggested that if elected, Biden would squander trillions of dollars in a misguided effort to address an overrated problem. Biden, for his part, mostly took the bait. To be sure, he argued, climate change was the challenge of our times, but that didn’t mean he would be a radical. In fact, as long as the short exchange with Trump lasted, Biden was at pains to separate himself from progressive Democrats in Congress who have campaigned for a transformational set of climate policies they call the Green New Deal.
If Trump is somehow able to pull off a surprise and win reelection on Nov. 3, even though he continues to downplay the pandemic despite being hospitalized after contracting COVID-19, it is a safe bet that the United States will keep actively minimizing the threat of climate change. With a second term, Trump will surely keep promoting old and heavily polluting energy industries, weakening environmental regulations and even punishing states, like California, that enact their own green agendas.