Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump (right)

United States President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden locked up horns in the final presidential debate over completely different visions on the future of the country’s fossil fuels industry., which monitored the debate reported that the two presidential candidates found each other at odds on Thursday night on whether the United States needs to transition away from fossil fuels to address climate change.

This, apart from being the first time the candidates were not asked if they believed in climate change was the lengthiest exchange two presidential candidates have ever had on the topic – nearly 12 minutes. That is way too little by any standards but still a step forward.

During the discussion, the Democratic candidate Biden pledged to move the United States away from oil in favour of renewable energy and predicted the strategy would generate millions of jobs.

The president stated that Biden’s plan would be costly and hurt the economy, particularly in oil-producing states where the two men are competing for votes.

Biden said climate change posed “an existential threat to humanity”, that in eight to 10 years, the country would “pass the point of no return”, and that the U.S. has “a moral obligation to deal with it”.

It would not take the controversial Trump to hit back with a question whether Biden would close down the oil industry.

He also asked Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Texas – although he could have easily included Gulf of Mexico states in that as well – to remember that Biden stated that he would transition to renewable energy like solar and wind and stop giving federal subsidies to the oil industry.

It is worth mentioning that Biden previously clarified that the country’s need to transition off fossil fuels does not mean he would impose a ban on the oil industry and that he would only get rid of subsidies for fossil fuels.

During the debate, Trump reminded that he withdrew from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, aiming to keep the globe from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. A point beyond which scientists say the planet will be irreversibly damaged.

Although Trump claimed that the U.S. would have to spend trillions of dollars and sacrifice tens of millions of jobs and thousands of companies, Biden ensured those watching that rejoining the Paris accord would create millions of new good-paying jobs in the field of energy transition.

The two also clashed over the price of transitioning from fossil fuels. Trump claimed Biden’s plan would cost $100 trillion while Biden estimated the cost at about $2 trillion over four years.

Fracking was another point of contention as Trump falsely accused Biden of supporting a ban on fracking — a claim he repeatedly knocked down.

“I never said I oppose fracking”, Biden stated. Instead, Biden’s plan is to end permitting fracking and other oil and gas drilling only on federal lands in the West — not on state or private lands such as those in Pennsylvania – a known swing state that both candidates are fighting for.

It sounds almost surreal that climate change disappeared from presidential debates for two decades until the Trump-Biden debates when there was simply no avoiding it. Not in a year marked by record wildfires, devastating hurricanes, and other climate-related catastrophes such as drought and floods.

The last debate that tackled issues of climate change was the one between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush in 2000 – and climate doubters had the better of the pro-climate change-oriented Gore.

The shift comes as a result of Americans increasingly expressing concern about the planet. A poll last year by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a growing number of Americans describe climate change as a crisis, and two-thirds said Trump is doing too little to tackle the problem.

It also found that a strong majority of Americans — about 8 in 10 — say that human activity is fuelling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects.

And even though the coronavirus pandemic was way above all other concerns, climate change emerged as a front-burner issue during the Democratic presidential primaries. Voters in numerous states ranked it as one of their top concerns, alongside health care and economic issues.

Then there are the mounting real-world effects. California saw record wildfires and the Atlantic saw a historic hurricane season. And that is just in the U.S. As for the rest of the world we can note fires in Siberia, ice melting across the Arctic, and so on.


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