Most analysts did not expect climate change to be one of the subjects highlighted by moderator Chris Wallace. But Wallace dropped a bit of a surprise by bringing global warming into the debate.
Although the candidates did not make many specific comments worth fact checking, there were three that I was able to look into.
First, President Trump blamed the western wildfires solely on forest management. This statement is rated as BE CAREFUL.
While forest management may have some role, the president clearly ignored a definite correlation between the number of large western wildfires and warming temperatures, as can be seen in this research by Climate Central. And this does not even take into account increasing drought out west.
Put simply, increasingly hot, dry weather out west creates conditions more conducive for wildfires, so it’s much more than just forest management that is causing the increase in large wildfires.
Vice President Biden, in highlighting the importance of the Brazilian rainforest in reducing carbon dioxide, said that more carbon dioxide is taken in by the Brazilian rain forest than the U.S. produces every year. This statement is rated as FALSE.
While the Amazon rainforest does indeed absorb a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide, its estimated annual total of two billion metric tons of absorbed annual carbon dioxide is less than half of the estimated 5.1 billion metric tons of energy-related carbon dioxide produced by the U.S. every year. There is no questioning that the Amazon is very important in taking in carbon dioxide, but it does not by itself offset the total U.S. carbon dioxide emission.
To highlight how global warming is causing more destructive storms, Vice President Biden talked about the big storm (called a derecho…pronounced duh-RAY-show) that devastated Iowa this summer, and said that “those didn’t happen before”, because of global warming. This statement is rated as BE CAREFUL.
Derechos have happened in the past, so the statement itself with no additional context is false. However, global warming IS directly increasing high-impact extreme weather events, which is the point the Vice President was making, as you can see in this data showing, for example, the increase in extreme precipitation events:
Hopefully, the upcoming vice presidential and presidential debates will provide more insight into the candidates' thoughts about Earth’s unnaturally warming climate, the ramifications, and what they propose to do (or not do) about it.