Debate must expose divide between Trump, Clinton on climate change
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When Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton to start new podcast Centrist Democrats insist Sanders would need delegate majority to win President Trump is weak against Bernie Sanders in foreign affairs MORE and Donald Trump participate in the first of three Presidential debates tonight, the candidates will offer sharply contrasting visions of America and its future. But few issues will offer starker disagreements — or have greater long-term economic and national security implications — than energy policy and climate change. NBC’s Lester Holt, tonight’s moderator, would serve the American voters well by pushing both Clinton and Trump to explain their energy and climate positions in depth.

Donald Trump has made energy a central theme in his campaign, basing his policies almost entirely on increasing production of U.S. fossil fuels. For example, he has repeatedly claimed he can increase U.S. coal production and use — “We're going to save that coal industry, believe me” — despite the fact that nearly all independent analysts note that it is cheap natural gas itself that has crowded out coal use, along with coal’s public health and air pollution problems.


Trump also urges expansion of fracking for shale oil and natural gas development. He has accused Clinton of trying to ban hydraulic fracturing and energy production on public lands and most offshore areas. In fact, Clinton supports shale oil and gas production as long as it meets safety regulations and has local support, and the Democratic nominee also backs appropriate oil and gas development on public lands and waters.

Perhaps most strikingly, Trump has repeatedly denied the science of climate change, despite the overwhelming agreement among scientists, national security experts and others that climate change is a profound threat to our planet’s economic and political stability. Specifically, Trump has labeled climate change science a “hoax” on half a dozen occasions and called it a “Chinese conspiracy,” among other dismissals.

Trump says he will “rescind” the pending Clean Power Plan rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the utility sector, and other regulations that cut emissions. He has also said he would “cancel” the Paris climate agreement — the first agreement in which all nations have made detailed commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions — despite the fact that legal experts say he would not be able to do so.

Hillary Clinton, in contrast to Trump’s emphasis on fossil fuels, has promised to make “America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.” Clinton has proposed large expansions in the use renewable sources, “enough to power every home in America” in ten years including by adding “half a billion solar panels” in her first term.

Clinton has proposed launching a $60 billion “Clean Energy Challenge” through the states, extending efficiency regulations for American vehicles, and revitalizing coal communities through a focus on new energy sector and other jobs. She has also proposed cutting oil and gas subsidies, and said she would pursue a domestic infrastructure bill which emphasizes clean energy.

Clinton calls climate change “an urgent threat and a defining challenge.” She supports the Clean Power Plan to cut power sector emissions, and says she will “deliver on the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference,” reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent in 2025 relative to 2005 levels, and creating a path to cut emissions more than 80 percent by 2050. The Republican Nominee Trump has made no climate commitments, at all.

The implications of these contrasting visions are momentous. Most climate scientists believe we are on course for runaway warming and devastating climate change impacts without large changes in our energy systems.

To take just one climate impact, involving sea-level rise, as many of 2 million U.S. homes will be subject to inundation and hundreds of millions of people displaced by coastal flooding around the world in this century alone. Hundreds of millions more will face drought and water shortages, increased disease, unendurable extreme heat, and will be made refugees, destabilizing whole countries, if climate change continues unabated.

Scientists are also finding that climate change is playing a large role in many current extreme weather disasters. For example, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that the recent Louisiana record flooding that destroyed or damaged more than 60,000 homes and cost billions was made “at least 40% more likely” because of climate change.

Global leaders like U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon call climate change “the defining issue of our age.” President Obama recently termed growing climate impacts “terrifying” and this month he signed a presidential memorandum establishing that climate-change impacts must be factored into national security-related policies.

Such statements have been reinforced by many experts, including recently by 25 military and national security leaders, among them former top advisers to Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, who warned earlier this month that climate change poses a “significant risk to U.S. national security and international security.” Indeed, previous Republican nominees John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFox's Britt McHenry confirms brain tumor, says she's got 'amazing medical team' President Trump is weak against Bernie Sanders in foreign affairs Appeals court refuses to throw out Joe Arpaio's guilty verdict after Trump pardon MORE and Mitt Romney did not deny climate change science, as Trump does.

Tonight, if Lester Holt does not prominently feature energy policy and climate change issues, then second debate moderators Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper, or third debate moderator Chris Wallace, must do so. Anything less would be a complete abdication of their journalistic responsibility to inform voters on one of the most important issues of our time.

Paul Bledsoe is president of Bledsoe & Associates, a Washington-based energy and climate change consultancy. He was communications director of the White House Climate Change Task Force under former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina To deter war with China, US must commit to defend Taiwan 6 ways the primary fight is toughening up Democrats for the fall general election MORE.


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