climate change

US 2020 election: Harris & Pence clash on climate science in the vice-presidential debate

Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris during the vice presidential debate held. Photo credit: Reuters / Brian Snyder.

By Anders Lorenzen

It did not come as a surprise to many, that the issue of climate change remains a major divisive policy issue between Republicans and Democrats, and last week’s vice-presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence displayed the same division.

Pence, a social conservative and one of the Senate’s die-hard climate deniers, again denied human causes of climate change. But his statement showed the more recent approach on climate change taken by many Republicans, that they do not dispute the climate is changing, but that it is not caused by human activity. Opponents to such statements would argue that it is a convenient argument to use allowing business as usual with many Republicans, who deny human-induced climate change, being bankrolled by the fossil fuel industry.

Pence repeating Trump’s falsehoods

On the debating stage Pence said: “The climate is changing. The issue is, what’s the cause and what do we do about it?  President Trump has made it clear that we’re going to continue to listen to science.” These are false statements with Trump not having pledged to follow the science on climate change, and his actions have done the opposite. Pence continued to repeat falsehoods (also put out by the Trump campaign) asserting that Biden if elected, wants to ban fracking and adopt the Green New Deal. This is incorrect as Biden has never said such things. In fact, he recently said he would not ban fracking and in the first presidential campaign, he said he does not support the Green New Deal (both statements angering climate activists). Pence also claimed that ‘climate alarmists’ ( a term frequently used by climate deniers to avert and delay action on climate change) were using natural disasters such as the Californian wildfires and the powerful hurricanes recently experienced in the US such as Hurricane Laura to sell the Green New Deal. In fact, scientists are saying that these extreme weather events are a clear sign of human-induced climate change.

The Trump administration & climate science

Harris hit back: “When I first got to the Senate on the committee that’s responsible for the environment this administration took the word `science` off the website. And then took the phrase `climate change` off the website. We have seen a pattern with this administration which is they don’t believe in science.”. In terms of Pence’s remark that the Trump administration follows the science on climate change, she quoted what Trump said in relation to the Californian wildfires and climate change: “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

Throughout the debate Pence continued to incorrectly state that the Biden-Harris campaign supported the Green New Deal and would ban fracking. He also incorrectly stated that the Green New Deal would crush the American energy sector, and hurt families.

Harris corrected Pence: “I will repeat, and the American people know, that Joe Biden will not ban fracking, That is a fact,” Harris said, (though such statements are unlikely to please climate activists and the left of the Democratic Party). She further explained that what Biden has promised in his climate plan is a transition to clean energy and that is a key part of his economic recovery plan. 

During the primaries (of which she was an early candidate) Harris endorsed the Green New Deal, but Biden did not. He has called it a crucial framework for tackling climate change and some of its components are included in his own climate plan. The Biden Climate Plan calls for transitioning the country to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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