On October 16, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that climate change will be one of six topics for the presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden hosted by NBC on October 22. This is just the second time in recent history that a moderator will ask a presidential candidate about climate change on a debate stage (the other time came during the first presidential debate in September), and while various climate activists are celebrating, not everyone is happy about it.
The October 19 edition of Fox & Friends saw numerous instances of hosts expressing their displeasure at the decision, including by attacking the debate moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News. In one segment discussing Welker, co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked if President Donald Trump needs to be coached for the debate. In response, co-host Brian Kilmeade brought up the topic of climate change and delivered a monologue on what he thinks should be Trump’s prepared response on the issue:
Kilmeade’s response here is typical of Fox News on the issue of climate change -- deeply out of touch on the issue, and filled with outright lies and misinformation.
A point-by-point breakdown on Kilmeade’s bad climate advice
Kilmeade mentions clean air and clean water. But this is not climate change.
Kilmeade’s first bit of advice was bringing up the tired “clean air and water” trope. Kilmeade phrased this in a way that suggested Trump should move beyond just mentioning clean air and water, but given Trump’s penchant for mentioning it -- for example, he did it at the first presidential debate, in Davos earlier this year and in an interview with Piers Morgan last year -- he will probably do it again. It is thus worth pointing out that having clean air and clean water is a totally separate issue from climate change, which involves the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump succinctly notes, it’s entirely possible that Trump has no idea what climate change is, which is why he always conflates the two. Bump also writes,
We should assume that — willingly or accidentally — he’s simply moving the argument into safer political territory. Since many of those whose experience with the environmental movement predates the emergence of climate change as an issue probably similarly understand “caring for the environment” as “not dumping tires in lakes,” he’s simply pivoting from something on which his record is nonexistent to something on which his record is merely bad. He’s done nothing on climate change but move backward; he has, at least, talked about clean air and water.
What Kilmeade did not mention in making his clean air and water suggestion is that the Trump administration has rolled back nearly 100 environmental rules — including those governing clean air and water — since the start of his presidency.
Kilmeade claims the Paris agreement will hurt taxpayers. It won’t.
While Trump claims the Paris climate accord is “a bad deal,” much of the country disagrees. A bipartisan coalition of 25 U.S. governors -- part of the U.S. Climate Alliance -- have demonstrated that climate action and “economic growth go hand-in-hand.” These 25 states have pledged to reduce carbon emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris agreement. As a result, “between 2005 and 2017, Alliance States reduced their emissions by 16 percent compared to 7 percent for the rest of the country. In that same time period, the combined per-capita economic output of Alliance states grew by 12 percent while the rest of the country grew by only 4 percent.” Additionally, seven in 10 U.S. voters support U.S. involvement in the Paris agreement.
Recent research by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics highlights the economic case for the U.S. to remain in the Paris agreement. It concludes that “the interests of American citizens and businesses are best served by the United States continuing to participate in the Paris Agreement for four main reasons:”
- Reaching net-zero global annual emissions is necessary for the increasingly costly climate change impacts to decline.
- The US needs a global policy response to limit the growing damage from emissions by other countries.
- Even unilateral action by the US could provide net benefits, limiting accumulating damages but also offering associated advantages such as reducing local air pollution.
- The international negotiation process initiated by the UNFCCC, in which the US is still a participant, is the best available way of achieving coordinated global action on climate change.
Kilmeade also failed to mention that it will cost U.S. taxpayers much, much more to deal with the consequences of climate change as opposed to supporting action to fight it. Climate disasters in 2020 alone have cost the U.S. close to $50 billion, while one study notes that climate change could cost the U.S. over 10% of its gross domestic product by 2100. Supporting investment in climate action through deals like the Paris accord looks a lot better when faced with the alternative.
Kilmeade claims that fracked gas is clean and makes the U.S. energy independent. It’s not clean, and it has terrible climate consequences.
Kilmeade sang the praises of natural gas, calling it “not evil” and saying that it “burns clean.” While natural gas is technically cleaner carbon-wise than coal, and the switch from coal to natural gas has helped the U.S. reduce its carbon emissions, natural gas is not “clean” in the climate sense, nor does it have a place in any attempt to solve the looming climate crisis.
As Davis Roberts points out in Vox, the methane leakage from natural gas is enough to wipe out its so-called advantages over coal in terms of greenhouse gas advantages. Natural Geographic also reports that the methane leakage problem from natural gas makes it an extremely dirty energy source. Roberts also noted a study from Oil Change International which states, “There is no room for new fossil fuel development — gas included — within the Paris Agreement goals.” Indeed, climate scientists say that we must significantly draw down natural gas usage in order to avert a future world of catastrophic warming.
The environmental and public health effects of natural gas -- ranging from earthquakes to tainted drinking water to childhood cancer -- were also missing from Kilmeade’s debate advice. A recent grand jury report from the swing state of Pennsylvania found that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection failed to protect public health from the dangers of fracking. And one poll from August shows that a majority of Pennsylvanians oppose fracking.
Fracking is an industry that is built on debt. The coronavirus pandemic has seen oil and gas companies “hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years” despite “millions in coronavirus small business aid” for some of them and the administration’s efforts to essentially bail out oil and gas companies by suspending leases and slashing royalty rates.
Finally, as Media Matters (and many others) pointed out earlier this year, transitioning to a clean energy economy is the only way to be truly energy independent. The Financial Times, a pro-business publication, put it best in a January 5 editorial addressing the financial problems with fracking and the myth of energy independence:
The escalation in the Middle East comes at a time of mounting evidence that America’s shale expansion is slowing. US production is expected to grow less this year than in 2019 and at a significantly slower rate than in 2018. Analysts at Goldman Sachs in November lowered their US oil growth forecast for 2020 by 0.1m b/d to 0.6m b/d year on year. The decade-long expansion in production has failed to boost corporate profits and investors are pressing for greater capital discipline. North American shale producers are nursing a debt hangover thanks to a gargantuan spending spree. Estimates suggest companies have more than $200bn of debt maturing over the next four years, with more than $40bn of that starting this year.
US policymakers, meanwhile, need to recognise that true energy independence is not just about ensuring supply but also about curbing demand. This can only be done through improving fuel efficiency, investing in new technologies such as electric vehicles and a gradual shift away from fossil fuels.
Kilmeade invokes Solyndra and claims that renewable energy hurts the economy. The former is misleading; the latter is wrong.
Kilmeade’s final point was a dig at the now-bankrupt solar firm Solyndra and part of a larger point on why “governmental projects on climate change” are bad.
Fox News has a sort of obsession with Solyndra, and it’s been invoked to attack renewable energy in general. What Fox News has not mentioned is that the Department of Energy loan guarantee program that originally funded Solyndra has actually turned a profit. As NPR noted in 2014:
Overall, the agency has loaned $34.2 billion to a variety of businesses, under a program designed to speed up development of clean-energy technology. Companies have defaulted on $780 million of that — a loss rate of 2.28 percent. The agency also has collected $810 million in interest payments, putting the program $30 million in the black.
When Congress created the loan program under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it was never designed to be a moneymaker. In fact, Congress imagined there would be losses and set aside $10 billion to cover them.
Solar energy usage in the U.S. -- and renewable energy in general -- has also skyrocketed in the past decade. Supported by the U.S. government’s Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit, wind power capacity in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 2007 to 2018, while solar capacity grew from nearly 0 gigawatts in 2007 to over 60 gigawatts in 2019. One recent report from the environmental nonprofit E2 found that clean energy jobs “outnumber fossil fuels jobs nearly three to one" and another found that these jobs represent nearly “40 percent of America’s entire energy workforce.”
Additionally, one recent study from BloombergNEF finds that wind and solar power are now the cheapest forms of energy in most of the world. Couple this with the fact that many companies and investors increasingly see natural gas investments as stranded assets, and it becomes clear that renewable energy has a tremendous upside, and that government action will be necessary in order to fight climate change.
Brian Kilmeade is woefully out of touch on the climate issue
The various suggestions that Kilmeade made either are blatant misinformation or don’t make sense on their merits. Polls show that one of the Trump campaign’s biggest weaknesses is on the environment, and that “the gulf between Trump and Biden on the environment is larger than their perceived differences to voters over race relations, the economy and health care.” Climate change is also an important issue for young voters, and the number of registered voters who care about climate change is rising sharply.
Kilmeade’s suggestions here are just age-old right-wing talking points meant to stymie the necessary action needed to fight climate change. Given Trump’s penchant for watching Fox News and the unrivaled influence that the network has in helping him make decisions, it might not be a surprise to hear Trump mention Kilmeade’s talking points. Luckily, they are easily debunkable, and viewers should be able to see right through them.