Just this week, wildfires scorched an unprecedented 4 millionth acre of California, a powerful Category 4 hurricane barreled toward the Gulf states, and federal scientists declared 2020 a record year for billion-dollar climate-related disasters.
Yet it was the incumbent in an administration dismantling even the most basic climate protections who went on the offensive at Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate.
Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly attacked Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) over her past support of scientifically sound proposals and successfully shifted the focus of their lone debate away from the Trump administration’s abandonment of virtually every major policy to cut emissions.
Over and over again, the Republican lobbed the Green New Deal at the Democratic senator as a smear, depicting the movement to rapidly transition from fossil fuels and fortify the country’s infrastructure for climate catastrophes as a radical green boogeyman.
“We’re all about freedom and respecting the American people,” Pence said. “They want to abolish fossil fuels and ban fracking.”
That rhetorical tactic created an uncomfortable wedge for the Democrat.
Harris co-sponsored the congressional resolution outlining the core tenets of a Green New Deal last year, and said last year she favored “banning fracking.” Those calls were largely in line with the rapid phase-out of oil, gas and coal that scientists ― including those who wrote the federal government’s own National Climate Assessment ― say is necessary to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages and to avoid ecological collapse and hundreds of millions of human deaths.
Public opinion is shifting against fracking, which produces air and water pollution and increases emissions of methane, a super-heating gas. Just 22% of Americans supported increasing fracking, while 45% opposed more fracking, an August 2019 Associated Press-NORC poll found. In September 2019, a YouGov Blue poll found that 46% of voters backed a ban on fracking, while 33% opposed a ban. Pollster Franklin & Marshall’s January survey found Pennsylvania voters were split on banning the drilling practice. But influential labor unions fiercely defend fracking, which remains more widely unionized than most renewable energy sectors.
Joe Biden, Harris’ running mate, has steadfastly refused to come out against the drilling practice also known as hydraulic fracturing. Last month, the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council, a union representing workers in the state’s fracking industry, endorsed Biden.
“I will repeat, and the American people know, that Joe Biden will not ban fracking,” Harris said Wednesday night. “That is a fact.”
At last week’s first debate with President Donald Trump, Biden distanced himself from the Green New Deal, insisting his plan was different. Harris largely ignored Pence’s repeated attempts to invoke the three-word slogan.
Instead, she highlighted an analysis the Wall Street firm Moody’s published last month that found that Biden’s economic plan ― which centered on green infrastructure ― would create more jobs than what Trump proposed.
“Part of those jobs will be about clean energy and renewable energy,” she said. “Joe understands that the West Coast of our country is burning, including my home state of California. Joe sees what is happening in the Gulf states, which are being battered by storms. Joe sees and talks to the farmers in Iowa whose crops have been battered by storms.”
I will repeat, and the American people know, that Joe Biden will not ban fracking. That is a fact. Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris
She, too, went on the attack at times, criticizing the Trump administration’s Orwellian removal of information from federal websites, a move that demonstrates the White House’s efforts to undercut climate regulations.
“Did you know this administration took the word ‘science’ off the website, then took the words ‘climate change’ off the website?” she asked. “We’ve seen a pattern with this administration, which is that they don’t believe in science.”
Pressed to explain his understanding of climate science, Pence followed a similar script to Trump and other Republicans who have quit denying that warming is even occurring now that that position has become tangibly indefensible.
“The climate is changing,” he said. “We’ll follow the science.”
Yet it’s unclear how any peer-reviewed research led him to the other conclusion he reached onstage in Salt Lake City Wednesday night. He derided Biden’s plan to help retrofit buildings to reduce energy and water use. During a year when so many major storms formed in the Atlantic that forecasters ran out of names, the vice president claimed hurricanes are no worse than before.
“Many of the climate alarmists use hurricanes and wildfires to sell a bill of goods with the Green New Deal,” Pence said.
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