Hydrology, Cryosphere & Earth Surface News

Candidates Have Dustup over Climate in First Debate

During the first presidential candidate debate Monday, Donald Trump denied saying that climate change is a hoax, but his own tweets show otherwise.


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.

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, 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 350.org, 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 ScienceDebate.org. 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.

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Candidates have dustup over climate in first debate, Eos, 97, https://doi.org/10.1029/2016EO060067. Published on 27 September 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • davidlaing

    Trump is well-advised to be circumspect about climate change, because there are some old assumptions that have been taken for granted, but that are nonetheless problematical. First, looking at the Keeling curve, as I noted in response to the article on the new German effort in climate modeling, it is evident that CO2 variability peaks in May in the northern hemisphere. If we examine temperature anomaly records for the 24-year interval 1975-1998, during which global temperature rose dramatically by almost 1 deg. C, it is equally evident that positive temperature anomalies peak in March, two months earlier. I.e., unless there is a ten-month lag, CO2 increases have essentially no effect on warming, and therefore it cannot be regarded as a pollutant. Also peaking in March is ozone depletion, suggesting that this must be considered seriously as a contender for global warming.

    Also, associated with each Dansgaard-Oeschger event in the GISP 2 ice cores is a major concentration of volcanic sulfate from Iceland, indicating that non-explosive, basaltic eruptions typically accompany major warming events. The longer-term geologic record supports this. Balsaltic volcanoes emit HCl and HBr, which, when photodissociated on polar stratospheric clouds, produce chlorine and bromine, which deplete ozone, admitting more solar UV-B to Earth’s surface, which could cause warming. This, too, should be considered, both by scientists and by policy makers.

    • drseismo

      Given the known and unknown uncertainties of the variables in the Global Circulation models, I completely agree that Trump’s circumspect position on climate change is entirely rational. As many have stated, the most important question has yet to be answered: Are the predictions of future temperatures sufficiently accurate to justify precipitous actions that will destroy the world economy and the quality of life of both rich and poor countries by severely restricting the use of fossil fuels? Life on earth has survived quite well for millions of years through extreme ranges of temperatures and will likely do soin the future.

      • David Huard

        I suggest reading “Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods ( SCAMs ): Science and the Politics of Doubt* by William Freudenburg et al. What he describes is a two-step argumentation technique:
        1. Raise doubts about an issue
        2. Require certainty before acting
        Our two first posters just provided a textbook demonstration of how this argument is used, well done!

        Note that the argument itself is sound, but it is being used here mischievously. Indeed, scientific assessments always include residual doubts, so total certainty is never going to happen. Moreover, typical business and political decisions are made under uncertainty, and there is no rationale for a double-standard regarding climate actions.

        • drseismo

          I know about uncertainty and I know how businesses make decisions in an uncertain environment. The argumentation technique that you reference is a variation of the spurious Precautionary Principle used by the EPA to bypass requirements for corroborating scientific studies and to justify precipitous government policies.

          (United Nations, Rio Declaration, Principle 15,1992: “Where there
          are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific
          certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective
          measures to prevent environmental degradation.”)

          The problem is that uncertainty distributions have two tails, and the EPA looks at only the left half of a distribution curve. Possible but unsubstantiated environmental problems associated with a warming earth are no greater than possible but unsubstantiated problems associated with a cooling earth. Under this reality, applying the Principle and promulgating more environmental regulations based on flawed premises makes no sense whatsoever. Logic would nullify the application of the Principle.

          What does make sense is recognition of the absence of urgency to take actions that are not supported by reliable climate models and the need to rethink how to proceed with an integrated climate research program in the future. The only settled conclusion regarding climate science is that scientists now have neither the technology nor the database to forecast long term global climate accurately enough to effectively guide energy policy decisions. The important unknown in the climate science business is the amount of the error in a prediction. It is not clear that the error analyses of climate change predictions have been rigorously addressed or well reported. A growing body of scientists worldwide now predicts that the global temperature over the next several decades will decline, in which case, current policies would be diametrically opposite from the right policies. The possible waste of trillions of taxpayer dollars is at state.

          • David Huard

            “The precautionary principle denotes a duty to prevent harm, when it is within our power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in.” Canadian Environmental Law Association.

            Indeed, your argument is based on the precautionary principle, where the harm you want to avoid is purported economic harm (destroy the economy). I’m sure you understand and respect the fact that other people have different opinions on what kind of harm we should strive to avoid.

            Again, in your closing paragraph you are using the same “SCAM”. Still, I’d be curious to know which physical mechanism would lead to global cooling (citations please), and how large is that growing body of scientists.