Observers and experts were dismayed as seemingly all but one candidate onstage during the first 2024 Republican presidential primary debate seemed to deny the universal scientific consensus that human behaviour is causing the climate crisis.
“Climate denial is alive and well in the year 2023,” meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote on X, previously known as Twitter, on Wednesday night.
During the debate in Wisconsin, the candidates fielded a pre-taped question by a youth named Alexander Diaz, who spoke about how the climate crisis is “young people’s number one issue.”
“How will you as both president and leader of the Republican Party calm the fear that the Republican party doesn’t care about climate change?” Mr Diaz asked.
The moderators of the debate then asked candidates to raise their hands if they believed in the human origins of the climate crisis.
“We’re not schoolchildren, let’s have the debate,” said Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who later insisted he never raised his hand in affirmation.
Instead of expounding on his views, he lashed out at Joe Biden for his response to the deadly Maui fires, the deadliest wildfire in more than a century in the US, a disaster that was fuelled in part by the climate crisis, according to scientists.
“First of all, one of the reasons our country has declined is because of the way the corporate media treats Republicans versus Democrats,” Mr DeSantis said. “Biden was on the beach while those people were suffering. He was asked about it and said no comment. Are you kidding me? As someone who has handled disasters in Florida, you’ve gotta be activated. You’ve gotta be there. You’ve gotta be present. You’ve gotta be helping people who are doing this.”
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy then chimed in, to a mix of cheers and boos, and said the “climate change agenda” is a “hoax.”
“Let’s be honest, as Republican I’m the only person who isn’t bought and paid for,” he said. “The climate agenda is a hoax... The reality is, the anti-carbon agenda is the wet blanket on our economy. The reality is, more people are dying of and by climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.”
“This isn’t that complicated,” he later said. “Unlock American energy. Drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear. Put people back to work by no longer paying them more to stay at home.”
The only candidate who affirmatively acknowledged the reality of the climate crisis at length was former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.
“If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman,” she said, quoting former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
“Climate change is real,” she continued. “Yes, it is. If you want to change the environment, we need to start telling China and India that they have to lower their emissions.”
Climate experts and politicians were dismayed about the denial onstage, as the climate crisis helped fuel an unprecendented tropical storm in the California desert in recent days.
“Climate change is real, by the way,” Joe Biden wrote on X on Wednesday.
“Vivek calls climate change a hoax,” added the climate-focused Sunrise Movement in a post of their own. “We call bluff that he’s been outside this summer.”
July was the hottest month on record in human history, according to scientists, the latest indicator of the gravity and urgency of the climate crisis.
“Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said of the record last month.
“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”