Republicans’ embrace of outright climate denial came roaring back at last night’s first debate of the 2024 presidential primary contest. And given the global climate chaos this summer, that felt more disconnected from reality than ever before.
The FOX News-hosted debate lacked the climate denier-in-chief, former President Donald Trump, but the rest of the field more than made up for his brand of lying, distortion, and anti-science gobbledygook when it comes to energy and climate. Throughout the night, various candidates dismissed climate science, lied about the historic climate legislation signed into law by President Biden, and ignored the clean energy manufacturing boom underway across America.
They even breezily dismissed the very first questioner from the audience, a young conservative concerned about the party’s inability to speak to voters like him who care deeply about the issue. Vivek Ramaswamy, whose center stage position reflected his rising poll numbers, responded by saying “the climate agenda is a hoax,” adding that America should instead “drill, frack and burn coal.”
Gov. Nikki Haley, happily sacrificed South Carolina’s economic and environmental future by claiming President Biden’s tax incentives for cleaner energy were not working. In fact, they are far exceeding economists’ predictions, creating thousands of new jobs, including billions of dollars worth of new investments in clean energy projects in her home state of South Carolina.
The debate made one thing abundantly clear, however. The 2024 election is about two vastly different visions of our future.
President Biden believes America – and the world – must and can wean itself off dirty fossil fuels by building a cleaner, healthier, and stronger economy that will also stabilize our climate and avoid the direst consequences of runaway warming.
None of the Republican candidates on the debate stage shares that vision. Instead, they see an America locked into dependence on oil, gas, and coal in a depressing global competition to pollute the most. The GOP will try to sell voters on that dark future over the next 14 months, but they will be competing with reality.
Americans are waking up to the damage fossil fuels are doing to our lives and livelihoods, and they are seeing the vast economic upside of investing in the transition to a clean energy economy. They want cheap, abundant, domestic renewable energy powering our future, and they want to break the cycle of dependence on volatile, dangerous fossil fuels.
Our job as advocates and activists throughout this election cycle will be to highlight these choices for voters, motivate them, and build a winning coalition to continue moving forward into the brighter future our country needs.
Kevin S. Curtis is executive director of the NRDC Action Fund.