Sep 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden calls Trump a "climate arsonist," warns of wildfire threat to suburbs

Joe Biden on Monday called President Trump a "climate arsonist" and warned that another four years of Trump's policies would expose suburbs to more deadly wildfires.

Why it matters: Biden's speech addressing the record-setting wildfires in the West sought to cast Trump — who rejects consensus climate science — as a threat to the safety and livelihoods of people nationwide, rather than just an environmental issue.

  • His remarks on the suburbs in particular show how Biden is trying to politically flip the script on Trump, who has suggested that looting and rioting in some cities will drive suburban voters to embrace his law and order message.

What they're saying: "Donald Trump's climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes, but if he gets a second term, these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating, and more deadly," Biden said.

  • "Meanwhile, Donald Trump warns that integration is threatening our suburbs. That's ridiculous. You know what is actually threatening our suburbs? Wildfires are burning the suburbs of the west. Floods are wiping out suburban neighborhoods in the midwest," he added.
  • "Hurricanes are imperiling suburban life along our coast. If we have four more years of Trump's climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires? How many suburban neighborhoods will have been flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms?"

The bottom line: "He fails the most basic duty to a nation. He fails to protect us from the pandemic, from an economic free fall, from racial unrest, from the ravages of climate change — it's clear that we're not safe in Donald Trump's America," Biden argued.

Where it stands: Biden's remarks come on the same day that President Trump is meeting with officials in California to discuss the fires.

  • Trump, who does not endorse the scientific consensus on human-induced global warming, has not linked the fires to climate change.
  • The president has repeatedly zeroed in on forestry practices, and at a rally in Nevada Saturday said the blazes engulfing Western states are "about forest management, and other things."

The big picture: The remarks come amid record-setting and deadly wildfires in Western states that are also creating serious air quality problems.

  • In California, fires have already burned over 3.3 million acres this year, an area larger than the state of Connecticut, according the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
  • Six of the 20 largest fires — and three of the top five in records that date back to the 1930s — have occurred this year, including the largest ever, called the August Complex fire.

Threat level: Scientists say climate change is contributing to Western wildfires thanks to hotter and drier conditions. For instance, an August paper in Environmental Research Letters found that the frequency of autumn days in California with "extreme fire weather" conditions has doubled since the 1980s.

Quick take: The western disaster and Biden's focus on the wildfires is raising the profile of climate change as the race enters its final phases, even though the states hardest hit by fires — California, Oregon and Washington — are not up for grabs.

  • But Biden's remarks addressed other extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods that are affecting people in states in multiple regions of the country.
  • He also used the speech to promote his plans to greatly bolster investments in climate-friendly energy and infrastructure and said it would be a major job creator.
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