THE BLOG
09/28/2016 03:36 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2017

Trump Runs Headfirst Into the New Politics of Climate Change

In her first debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton came out firing on climate change, shining a spotlight on Trump's prior comments that global warming is a "hoax." Trump interrupted Clinton to deny making these statements. But he has called climate change a hoax multiple times. Most recently, he blamed scientists, telling Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that scientists were secretly laughing about the whole thing.

Confusion has abounded in the Trump campaign as they try to explain his attempt to deny his denialism. The morning after, Trump's campaign manager said that Trump still doesn't believe that pollution is impacting our climate:

"He believes that global warming is naturally occurring." -- Kellyanne Conway, Trump Campaign Manager

But Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, distanced himself from Trump:

"There's no question that the activities that take place in this country and in countries around the world have some impact on the environment and some impact on climate" -- Mike Pence

The New Politics of Climate Change

If climate change had a political glass ceiling, Secretary Clinton just shattered it.

Clinton didn't wait for moderator Lester Holt to bring up climate change, which is how presidential nominees have historically treated the issue in general elections. But Clinton boldly inserted the issue just 14 minutes into the first debate, watched by an estimated 84 million people. Her emphasis on climate change reflects the new politics of climate change.

Global warming is now a mainstream political issue due to the growing concern across the political spectrum (which is now at an 8-year high, according to Gallup). Independent voters' views tend to mirror Democrats' strong support for action, and Republican voters are split on the issue, especially along generational lines. Conservative millennials who otherwise lean toward supporting Republican candidates no longer trust their own party on this issue, according to a recent nationwide poll of 940 young conservatives by Republican pollster AGC Research on behalf of Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. Sixty-five percent of young conservatives see climate change as a serious concern. In a sharp departure from their trust in the Republican party on most issues, only 31% of conservative millennials trust the Republican party more than Democrats to do the right thing when it comes to climate change.

Whether a voter prioritizes climate change near the top or bottom of their list of issues, climate leadership boosts a candidate's credibility with most voters. Denying or ignoring climate change, on the other hand, will inevitably create doubts and disconnects as voters struggle to understand how candidates process information and make decisions.

The Climate Moment
Here is a transcript of the brief, but impactful, exchange between Clinton and Trump on climate change during the debate. It is better watched than read, and you can watch a clip here:

CLINTON: Take clean energy. Some country is going to be the clean- energy superpower of the 21st century. Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it's real......I think science is real.

TRUMP: I did not. I did not. I do not say that.....I do not say that.

But Clinton had the goods on Trump. Here is Trump's 2012 tweet:

What to Believe? Read The Candidates' Energy Plans
Trump has not personally clarified his false denial at the debate, but there can be no doubt where his policy agenda would take us. Trump has put forward an alarming energy plan aimed at erasing the clean energy regulations that President Obama has put in place. Trump's plan seeks to return America to the era when energy companies can emit unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere.

Trump also wants to do away with the breakthrough Paris climate agreement. Whatever one's views on President Obama and his climate actions here in the U.S., it would be foolhardy to unravel the first global agreement that secures commitments from China, India, and a host of other nations to do their fair share to combat climate change. It has long been a goal of Republicans and Democrats alike to make sure there is an effective global response to climate change. Not only is Trump convinced that climate change is a hoax, but he is so confident that there is so little risk that he is willing to turn the entire world away from the path of cooperation and action.

View Trump's plan here.

We're going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement -- Excerpt from Donald Trump Energy Plan

View Hillary's plan here.

I won't let anyone take us backward, deny our economy the benefits of harnessing a clean energy future, or force our children to endure the catastrophe that would result from unchecked climate change. -- Excerpt from Hillary Clinton Climate & Energy Plan

Reality Check
Climate change is not just a fact check issue. It is a reality check issue. Here are some reality checks on what is really at stake, with links to just a few of the many resources available on these topics:

  • Reality: There is overwhelming evidence that rising levels of carbon pollution in our atmosphere are driving the rapid pace of climate change. (See National Academy of Sciences report, here).
  • Reality: There is a 99% chance 2016 will be the hottest year on record, according to NASA. 2016 is set to break the record last set in 2015. The record before that? 2014.
  • Reality: Climate change threatens the health of our families, our communities and especially children and the elderly (see the 2016 report from U.S. Global Climate Research Program here).
  • Reality: Climate change, including storms, flooding, intense drought, and declining water supplies threaten every region of the nation (explore the impacts where you live by visiting the National Climate Assessment website, based on a US Government report compiled by 300 experts).
  • Reality: Climate change is a moral issue that affects the poor and the vulnerable the most (see Pope Francis' climate speech at the White House, here).
  • Reality: If we fail to act soon, climate change will be a burden we put on the shoulders of future generations, who may be unable to reverse what we have done because of the long staying power of carbon pollution once emitted to the atmosphere.
  • Reality: Climate change threatens our economy (View the Risky Business report here).
  • Reality: Climate change threatens our national security (View the Pentagon's 2015 report here).
  • Reality: Tackling climate change by aggressively pursuing clean energy can boost our economy and save $1.8 trillion globally (see Citibank's 2015 report here).