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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Getty Images photos: Joshua Roberts and Paul J. Richards/AFP

The devastating West Coast wildfires have, at least for now, put a hot glare on the role of climate change in the 2020 presidential election.

Catch up fast: Joe Biden called President Trump a "climate arsonist" Monday in a speech that argued his dismissal of consensus climate science is a threat to people nationwide.

Shortly afterward, Trump clashed with California officials over global warming's role in states' fire crisis, even as both sides agreed on the need for better vegetation management.

  • "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch," Trump told Wade Crowfoot, the state's natural resources secretary. Crowfoot said, "I wish science agreed with you," and Trump replied, "I don't think science knows."

Why it matters: The day's events together represent a proxy clash over climate policy, and also show how the disasters on the West Coast are raising the topic's profile in the election's final stretch.

Quick take: Let's go back to Biden's speech, which showed the campaign's political strategy on climate change and extreme weather.

  • Biden is trying to politically flip the script as they compete for suburban votes. Trump has, among other things, suggested that the sometimes-destructive protests in some cities will drive suburban voters to embrace his law and order message.
  • "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," Biden said.
  • From a raw political standpoint, the states hardest hit by the wildfires — California, Oregon and Washington — are not up for grabs.
  • But while the wildfires prompted Biden's speech, it was shot through with efforts to emphasize the effects of climate change across the country — including key swing states.
  • The speech ranged from discussing flooding in Michigan to the impact of powerful storms hitting Florida and North Carolina, all of which are in play in November.

What we're watching: How much climate change comes up in the Trump-Biden debates that begin in late September.

  • It seems very likely that the tragedies unfolding in on the West Coast will lead to more questions about climate change than would have occurred otherwise.

Go deeper: In California, Trump continues to deny climate change is real: "It will start getting cooler" (L.A. Times)

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Dec 19, 2020 - Energy & Environment

"The Ministry for the Future": How to solve the climate crisis

Photo: Hachette Book Group

A recent novel illustrates the likely consequences of climate change in the decades to come, and offers hope that better technology and politics might help us save the future.

Why it matters: Perhaps no subject as important as climate change has also proven so difficult to effectively and accurately dramatize. "The Ministry for the Future" is the one novel I've read that captures the consequences of warming while offering a realistic blueprint for how we can stop it.

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Dec 18, 2020 - Energy & Environment

How to judge America’s climate-change responsibility

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Historically, America has emitted the most greenhouse gases of any country in the world. But over the next 80 years, the U.S. may account for as little as 5% of such emissions.

Why it matters: Installing technologies to address climate change will, therefore, be most critical in places other than America where emissions’ growth is expected to be higher, according to physicist Varun Sivaram.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.