Untidiness vs. climate change: Candidates on wildfire causes
Another record wildfire season in the West put climate change atop the presidential campaign agenda Monday. Here’s a look at President Donald Trump's and rival Joe Biden’s sharply different stands on the culprit behind worsening wildfires.
Biden in a speech Monday said climate change is worsening, and it’s making wildfires and other natural disasters ever more dangerous.
“The unrelenting impact of climate change affects every single, solitary one of us,” Biden said.
Trump, on the other hand, makes no mention of any role played by climate change in the wildfires raging through the West, even as scientists say it's behind the rising heat and dwindling snow and rain that are making California far drier and fires far worse.
Trump throughout his term has played down and actively mocked the warnings of scientists inside and outside his administration that damage to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is changing the climate and worsening natural disasters, including wildfires.
Trump says the wildfires come down to a single main cause — sheer untidiness. He has said repeatedly that forest managers in Democratic-led California are at fault for letting flammable material pile up on forest floors.
"When you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground, it just sets it up,” Trump said Monday on a visit to the West, where wildfires have rendered thousands homeless and killed at least 33. “It’s really a fuel for a fire. So they have to do something about it.”
Trump has offered no evidence for that and his earlier claims that cluttered forest floors were to blame. On Monday, University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch said it was difficult to know just what Trump meant.
While it made sense for homeowners to purge yards of burnable material, it was “misguided” to talk of forest managers doing the same across the U.S. wilderness, Balch said.
Biden largely has stayed out of the finer details of forest management in addressing the West’s wildfires.
Trump's administration has encouraged looser regulation of oil, gas and coal industries, and de-emphasized efforts to harden communities, infrastructure and government sites against worsening natural disasters under climate change.
Biden’s campaign proposals include a detailed, $2 trillion plan to stave off the very worst of climate change by reducing burning of fossil fuels over the next several decades. That includes boosting U.S. production of electric cars, eliminating carbon pollution from the nation’s power sector, and retrofitting millions of U.S. buildings for greater energy efficiency.
Biden points not just to wildfires in the West and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, but to droughts affecting farmers in the Midwest and even climate-related threats to U.S. military installations around the world, as underscoring the urgency.