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Trust Index: Fact-checking Trump-Biden final debate comments on climate change

Candidates make claims about emissions, energy industry, fracking in final presidential debate before election

Climate change was the focus of one of the sections during the final presidential debate Thursday night as it was the first time voters were able to hear from both President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on their records and plans to combat climate change.

Trump’s claims on carbon emissions

We’ll start with a couple claims from the President about the state of the energy industry, starting with emission levels in the U.S.

“We have the best carbon emission numbers that we’ve had in 35 years under this administration,” Trump said.

The Trust Index team is labeling this “be careful” because it depends on the number the President is using.

Be Careful

After reviewing this topic, we've found some issues - Be Careful.

What is the Trust Index?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. CO2 emissions are at their lowest since 1992, which is only 28 years ago. However, that number per capita is the lowest since 1950 making it much longer than 35 years. It’s also worth noting for context: While those numbers are praised by climate scientists, they point out the U.S. is still the world’s second largest carbon emitter behind China.

Energy independence claim from Trump

Next is a claim about American energy independence from the President.

“We are energy independent for the first time. We don’t need all of these countries,” Trump said.

This is not true.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

What is the Trust Index?

While the U.S. did surpass a threshold under the Trump administration where we export more than we import, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. still relies heavily on Canada and the Middle East for millions of barrels of crude oil and oil products each year, certainly not strictly independent.

Biden’s fracking claim

Next, we’ll take a look at a claim from Joe Biden about fracking.

“I do rule out banning fracking because the answer we need, we need other industries to transition,” Biden said.

We’re calling this true, but it needs context.

It's True

We’ve reviewed information surrounding this topic and confirmed that It’s True.

What is the Trust Index?

There are clips of Biden on social media saying things like he’d “love” to ban fracking or even a mistake at a debate back in March where he agreed with Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) about a full ban on fracking. Those statements have been corrected by both Biden and his campaign numerous times.

According to the vast majority of his statements and his plan online, the Biden campaign would end new permits for fracking on public lands but not impact existing operations. His plan also calls for a transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050, which would mean a draw down in fracking at some point, but it does not call for a ban.

Biden on climate change timeline

Finally, one more from Biden on the climate change timeline.

“We don’t have much time, we’re going to pass the point of no return, return the next eight to 10 years,” he said.

We are labeling this “be careful” because while the sentiment is accurate, the timeline is murky without concrete steps to mitigate climate change.

Be Careful

After reviewing this topic, we've found some issues - Be Careful.

What is the Trust Index?

According to a study from the Yale School of the Environment, depending on strategies and keeping global warming to its highest threat level of 2 degrees, the point of no return could be anywhere from 2026 to 2045 although some climate scientists say the point of no return has already passed.


More fact checks from the final presidential debate:


Presidential Town Hall fact checks from the Trust Index:


First Presidential debate fact checks from the Trust Index:


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