Trump reveals his climate weakness
The climate portion of last night's debate was the only time Trump didn't constantly interrupt—because he didn't know what to say.
People sit and watch the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in West Hollywood, California. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.
I’ve been trying for hours to put together a neat, coherent, climate-focused analysis of last night’s presidential debate. I’m sorry, folks, but it isn’t working. Last night nearly sapped me of my will to live, much less write with flair and eloquence. So in the interest of timeliness and sanity, here are some thoughts in bullet-point form:
Trump and Biden talked about climate change for nearly 11 minutes last night. I had prepared for exactly zero minutes of climate discussion, so this was a pleasant surprise. (Prior to the debate, the Washington Post had reported that climate change was not on the list of topics).
Chris Wallace’s climate questions weren’t actually that bad. Were they simplistic and regressive? Sure—I’d be banging my head against a wall if he asked “what do you believe about climate change” during a Democratic primary debate. But general election presidential debates are primarily for undecided voters, who often have simplistic and regressive questions about climate change. And the questions still successfully pushed the two men to reveal their most fundamental differences on climate. This felt like what was supposed to happen.
Through his climate answers, Trump revealed that he has no plan to address climate change, and that he is surprisingly bad at defending his anti-climate actions. Wallace’s first question to Trump was, simply, “What do you believe about the science of climate change?” Trump admitted that humans contribute “to some extent.” Wallace then asked the necessary follow-up question that moderators don’t often do: “If you believe in the science of climate change, why have you rolled back [climate change regulations]?” Trump responded by saying energy prices would rise, and then rambled incoherently for a full minute about why cars should be able to pollute more.
Through his climate answers, Biden revealed that he has a plan to address climate change, and that he really needs to get better at talking about it. When Wallace asked Biden about concerns that his climate plan will hurt the economy, for example, Biden responded that his plan would “create thousands and millions of jobs” before launching into a tirade about… building weatherization, for some reason?? Biden never made a forceful argument about how much not addressing climate change is hurting the economy, which is essential for voters to understand, particularly as wildfires and hurricanes rip through the country. This was an absolute softball that Biden should have been able to knock out of the park. He got on base, but that’s not enough to win.
Climate change may actually be Trump’s greatest debate weakness. And here’s why: Trump just doesn’t know what to say. A huge reason last night’s debate was such a train wreck was because Trump could not stop interrupting every five seconds. But during the 11-minute climate portion, Trump was weirdly silent. He barely interrupted Biden or Wallace the entire time. This means Trump hasn’t figured out how to deal with tough questions about his climate record (other than saying he likes “clean air and water”) or statements of fact about climate change. I said this on Twitter, and some very smart people agreed!!Excellent pointThe climate part was the most civil because Trump didn't interrupt. Trump didn't interrupt bc he didn't know what to say. Trump not only doesn't know shit about climate; he doesn't know how to defend his own actions. Climate is Trump's biggest weakness. Tonight proved it.Emily Atkin @emorweeThis is the best and correct take about last night's debateThe climate part was the most civil because Trump didn't interrupt. Trump didn't interrupt bc he didn't know what to say. Trump not only doesn't know shit about climate; he doesn't know how to defend his own actions. Climate is Trump's biggest weakness. Tonight proved it.Emily Atkin @emorwee
Biden saying he doesn’t support the Green New Deal is not surprising in any way. His climate plan is pretty much in line with the science; he has called the Green New Deal a “crucial framework” for that plan; and he chose the Green New Deal’s co-sponsor to lead his Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force. But Biden never vocally supported a Green New Deal. So this is completely in line with who he said he was. Not passing a value judgment, just reminding you. Also, he’s trying to win Pennsylvania.
OK, that’s all from me for now. You can find more climate-related notes on the debate from the Washington Post’s Energy 202 gang.
The AWCS book club is coming. Join a circle!
Next week marks the start of HEATED’s book club partnership with All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. For the next 10 weeks, two newsletters per week will be dedicated to the book, and each week will focus on a different chapter. Tuesday newsletters will feature discussion questions and supplementary materials for that chapter, and Thursday newsletters will feature original Q&As with an author from that section.
The discussion questions and supplementary materials in Tuesday’s newsletters will be for “circles”—self-organized small groups who are committed to reading the book together over the course of 10 weeks. I asked the book’s editors, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson, to explain how that will work. Their explanation is below.
If you want to join a circle but don’t have anyone to organize with, I encourage you to use the comment section of today’s article to find each other. Since the comments are subscribers-only, though, you can also reach out to me at email@example.com, and I’ll try to help put interested folks together.
Looking forward to starting next week!
What are circles? How do I join one?
By Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson
We know how hungry folks are for deeper, more generous dialogue about the climate crisis, and to circle up in ways that connect, nourish, and seed action. All We Can Save circles are designed to meet those needs, using the book as our grounding and jumping off point. This kind of work is vital to grow and strengthen any movement for social change.
What is a Circle? Each Circle will be a self-organized small group committed to reading the book together over the course of 10 meetings. The aim is to foster meaningful conversation and allow every voice to be heard. A Circle can be as small as 2-3 people, but 6-10 people is probably the sweet spot. If you want to go bigger, cool! Your Circle is your oyster.
What does it mean to lead a Circle? Circle leaders are the connective tissue. You’ll invite friends, family, colleagues, and/or fellow good-troublemakers to be part of a Circle; coordinate when your Circle will meet; and lightly facilitate each session (more on that below). If leading solo seems daunting, invite someone to co-lead with you.
How often do Circles meet? All We Can Save is really rich. We suggest that Circles meet once a week for 10 weeks, each time delving into one section of the book. But, if you want to change that up (e.g., merging into 5 sessions and meeting every fortnight) do what works best for you! You’ll likely want 60-90 minutes together for each weekly meeting.
When will we start? Circles will officially kick off the week of October 5th. If you want to synchronize your Circle with others, please start that week. We’ll foster a broader conversation online via @allwecansave + #allwecansave, and want you to be part of it. If that’s not a good week for you, no worries! The facilitation content is evergreen, so start at the earliest date that works. Speaking of . . .
What support will you provide? Generous dialogue needs generous questions. We’ve designed those for each of the 8 main sections of the book, as well as the “Begin” and “Onward.” We’ll share those weekly, along with a simple facilitation guide and read-watch-listen resources for those who want to go deeper. The best conversations are the least complicated, so we promise this will be simple.
What does success look like? This may vary from Circle to Circle. To our mind, if you create a space in which people arrive at deeper understanding, bring their whole selves to the conversation, and clarify what role they can play in the movement, that’s a win-win-win.
Ok, I’m in. What do I do next? If you haven’t already asked folks to join your Circle, that’s your big action item: extend the invitation. If you can include diverse perspectives, your Circle will be stronger for it. Then, determine when you’ll meet, in what form (via zoom? distanced with masks? or . . . ?), and make sure everyone has the book. Feel free to share this email to help answer any questions.
And if you have questions we haven’t answered here, holler!
Let’s strengthen the “we” in All We Can Save.
Katharine + Ayana
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Stay hydrated, eat plants, do push-ups, and have a great day!