Donald Trump speaks as Hillary Clinton listens during their first presidential debate.
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks as Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens during their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Credit: REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The issue of climate change flared up briefly during last night’s U.S. presidential candidate debate and accounted for the top retweet during the face-off between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.”

Early in the debate, Clinton said the clean energy sector can help to grow the economy, and she charged that “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.” Trump responded, “I did not. I did not. I do not say that.”

But on 6 November 2012, Trump had tweeted, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” According to Twitter, that statement was the top retweet during the debate. Another tweet by Trump, from 28 December 2013, read, “We should be focused on clean and beautiful air-not expensive and business closing GLOBAL WARMING-a total hoax!”

No Questions About Climate Change

During the debate, which took place at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., moderator Lester Holt did not ask the candidates any questions about climate change. However, after the candidates’ early exchange on the topic, Trump raised the issue again toward the end of their confrontation, stating, “I agree with [Clinton] on one thing. The single greatest problem the world has is nuclear armament, nuclear weapons, not global warming, like you think and your—your president thinks.”

Also, during the debate, the Clinton campaign tweeted on the topic, “We can step up and confront climate change, save our planet, and invest in clean energy. Or, we can do nothing. #debatenight”

Dismay About the Debate’s Scant Focus on the Issue

Several organizations focusing on climate change expressed concern that the debate did not include a larger focus on the issue.

“I was dismayed that climate change did not play a bigger role in the debate.”

“I was dismayed that climate change did not play a bigger role in the debate, as there is no issue with greater long-term effects on our economy, security, and future,” Susan Joy Hassol, director of Climate Communication, told Eos. The nonprofit, based in North Carolina, specializes in communicating climate science in lay language and helping climate scientists communicate more effectively with general audiences.

“During the hottest year in human history @LesterHoltNBC didn’t ask about climate change. Shameful isn’t a strong enough word. #debatenight,” tweeted, a nonprofit based in Brooklyn, N.Y., that focuses on building a global movement to combat climate change.

Further Responses About Climate Change

Earlier this month, the presidential candidates provided more details about their stances on climate change and other science issues to The nonprofit organization advocates for science-oriented debates among U.S. candidates for president and Congress and recently gathered answers to 20 questions about science, engineering, technology, health, and the environment from the Democratic, Republican, and third-party candidates in the presidential race.

In Clinton’s responses to those questions she stated that climate change “is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time and its impacts are already being felt at home and around the world.” Clinton said she would build on recent progress and continue to cut greenhouse gas pollution “as the science clearly tells us we must.”

Trump stated, “There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change.’” He said there might be better use of financial resources, including ensuring that people have clean water and that “perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels.”

Last week, 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences published an open letter about the risks of climate change. In that 20 September letter, they stated that “it is of great concern that the Republican nominee for President has advocated U.S. withdrawal from the Paris [climate] Accord.”

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: For other science coverage of the presidential debate, see this blog post from AGU Blogosphere contributor Dan Satterfield.


Showstack, R. (2016), Candidates have dustup over climate in first debate, Eos, 97, Published on 27 September 2016.

Text © 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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