Near the end of last night’s catastrophic “presidential” debate, moderator Chris Wallace lobbed a surprising question at Donald Trump: “What do you believe about the science of climate change? And what will you do in the next four years to confront it?”
It was surprising because, for one thing, it wasn’t on the list of questions Wallace told the campaigns he’d be asking. For another, climate change typically rests out of view at the very bottom of the dumpster fire that is modern American politics. And more significantly, after an hour and a half of nearly constant interruptions and insults, mostly from Trump, what followed was a discussion that inched toward civility.
“It was kind of interesting that that was the most watchable part of the entire debate, I think,” says University of California, Los Angeles climate scientist Daniel Swain. “And that seems to be something that other people have noticed, too. It was the part of the debate with fewest interruptions. I don’t know—maybe that’s because Trump just hadn’t prepared for it at all and didn’t really know what to say.”
What Trump did say was that he wants “crystal-clean water and air,” which might be a tall order given that he’s gutted the Environmental Protection Agency. Also, the Paris Agreement, which the US abandoned during his presidency, was a disaster, he added. As for the wildfires currently ravaging the western states? “The forest floors are loaded up with trees, dead trees that are years old and they’re like tinder,” Trump said. “And leaves and everything else. You drop a cigarette in there, the whole forest burns down. You’ve got to have forest management.”
When Wallace pressed him on whether he believes human-made greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change, Trump said: “I think a lot of things do. But