Pence provided a friendly face for the same-old Trump climate reality denial

At the vice-presidential debate in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence put a friendly face on the Trump administration’s many transgressions. But Pence’s pleasant facade, honed over decades of talk radio and electoral politics, ultimately could not disguise President Trump’s failings. A slightly more attentive listening revealed what he said for the nonsense it was.

One of many clarifying moments came when Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., addressed climate change. Despite overwhelming evidence that human beings drive global warming and that the Trump administration is indifferent to the danger, Pence had the temerity to declare that the president listens to the science.

His administration has never found a climate rule it did not want to rip up. This is an administration that hired a coal lobbyist to run the Environmental Protection Agency. An administration that pulled out of the Paris climate accord, rolled back the Clean Power Plan, undermined federal car and truck fuel-efficiency standards — against the wishes of the auto industry itself — and scaled back even the most obvious of climate regulations on methane.

All the while, scientists have shouted that Trump is ignoring, not listening, to them. “The climate is changing. The issue is: What’s the cause, and what do we do about it?” Pence said, as he warned that if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is elected, he would crush jobs in his effort to address the problem.

Climate skeptics have mostly moved from challenging the notion that anything at all is changing to arguing that it is unclear whether humans have anything to do with it. The shift in emphasis doesn’t excuse their efforts to play down the problem’s severity. Pence backed up his happy talk by pointing out that the United States has reduced carbon dioxide emissions “through natural gas and fracking.” Estimates of the nation’s carbon emissions have indeed clocked in lower than might have been expected a decade ago as cheap natural gas, compliments of the fracking boom, has displaced coal as the country’s predominant electricity source.

But fracking has unaccounted-for environmental costs, including methane leakage. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that seeps into the air if energy companies carelessly drill for natural gas. Methane emissions undermine gains from the fracking boom.

And the Trump administration has cut methane leakage regulations. Natural gas is, at best, a bridge fuel, not the energy source the nation needs in the long term. The only debate about what to do about this massive problem is occurring among Democrats and those further left, because Republicans tend to deny or deemphasize the issue, just as Pence did on Wednesday.

The transition to sustainability would not be costless. But it would be far more affordable to start the transition now than to do nothing until the problem becomes overwhelming. And it would be far cheaper if people such as Pence pushed for market-based solutions instead of ceding the search for solutions to the left and far left.

Want to know who won the vice-presidential debate?

One measure would be who answered forthrightly about addressing the greatest identifiable, long-term threat to human civilization.

It wasn’t Mike Pence.

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