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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty

The most notable part of Thursday’s presidential debate on climate change was the fact it was included as a topic and assumed as a fact.

The big picture: This is the first time in U.S. presidential history that climate change was a featured issue at a debate. It signals how the problem has become part of the fabric of our society. More extreme weather, like the wildfires ravaging Colorado, is pushing the topic to the front-burner.

Flashback: Until now, climate change either was wholly absent from presidential general elections or debate was fleetingly focused on whether or not it is real — it is and humans are the driving factor, most scientists agree.

My thought bubble: It’s a (good) sign that politics has finally caught up with reality and the debate didn’t focus on whether or not climate change is real.

  • But, Trump has largely denied the science and hired people with similar views to run the federal government, which is having a major impact on policy. So a question about Trump's record of climate change denial would have helped put him on the record.

The intrigue: Moderator Kristen Welker of NBC asked how the candidates would create jobs while also tackling climate change and how to combat environmental justice.

  • The latter is the concept that communities of color often live closest to polluting facilities, a dilemma receiving renewed attention as the nation focuses more on system racism in the wake of police brutality toward people of color.

The highlights:

  • Prompted by Trump asking whether he would “close down the oil industry,” Biden said: “I would transition the oil industry because the oil industry pollutes significantly.” That incited Trump to remark: “That’s a big statement.” Expect this to come back again in remainder of the campaign.
  • The candidates’ sparring over whether Biden opposes fracking made another appearance Thursday evening, which cued the moderator to ask whether Biden would rule out banning fracking. Biden responded: “I do rule out banning fracking.” He then said he would ban fracking of oil and gas on federal lands. Actually, his plan bans new leasing of oil and gas on federal lands (not current production).
  • One of the odder parts of the exchange came when Trump indicated Biden wants no windows in buildings as part of the Green New Deal.
    • Reality check: Biden has said he doesn’t support the Green New Deal and windows actually make buildings more energy efficient.
  • Trump largely deflected when asked about environmental justice, diverting to talk instead about how he helped get oil-producing nations like Saudi Arabia and Russia to agree to curb production in the depths of the pandemic. “Everybody has very inexpensive gasoline,” said Trump.

My quick take: When gasoline prices are high, that’s pretty much the only thing politicians will talk about when it comes to energy policy. With low prices, it affords the political room to talk about longer term problems like climate change.

Go deeper: Climate’s surprise appearance in the first debate

Go deeper

Dec 2, 2020 - Science

The "war on nature"

A resident stands on his roof as the Blue Ridge Fire burned back in October in Chino Hills, Calif. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

Apocalyptic weather is the new normal because humans are "waging war on nature," the UN declared on Wednesday.

What they're saying: "The state of the planet is broken," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, reports AP. “This is suicidal.”

Biden plans to ask public to wear masks for first 100 days in office

Joe Biden. Photo: Mark Makela/Gettu Images

President-elect Joe Biden told CNN on Thursday that he plans to ask the American public to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his presidency.

The big picture: Biden also stated he has asked NIAID director Anthony Fauci to stay on in his current role, serve as a chief medical adviser and be part of his COVID-19 response team when he takes office early next year.

What COVID-19 vaccine trials still need to do

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

COVID-19 vaccines are being developed at record speed, but some experts fear the accelerated regulatory process could interfere with ongoing research about the vaccines.

Why it matters: Even after the first COVID-19 vaccines are deployed, scientific questions will remain about how they are working and how to improve them.