At the first Republican debate of the 2024 campaign season, moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum asked the eight assembled candidates about issues like abortion, the war in Ukraine, and the national debt.
The candidates also fielded a question about climate change, and at least one took it seriously.
Spurred by a question from a college student, MacCallum asked the candidates to raise their hands if they believe “human behavior is causing climate change.” Gov. Ron DeSantis objected to the hand-raising aspect of the question, while entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy declared “the climate change agenda is a hoax” and decried “the anti-carbon agenda.” But former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said yes: “Is climate change real? Yes it is. But if you really wanna go and change the environment, then we need to start telling China and India that they have to lower their emissions.”
Haley also went after President Joe Biden’s energy policies and the electric vehicle (E.V.) subsidies contained in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. “These green subsidies that Biden has put in,” she said, “all he’s done is help China,” because “half of the batteries for electric vehicles are made in China. So, that’s not helping the environment. You’re putting money in China’s pocket.”
Haley was slightly off: China assembles 54 percent of the world’s electric vehicles, but it makes over 70 percent of the world’s E.V. batteries. And while China is responsible for 30 percent of the world’s carbon emissions—twice as much as the U.S.’s share—India only emits 7 percent.
Haley’s claim about the subsidies themselves—that they’re “putting money in China’s pocket”—is harder to quantify. In drafting the incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, lawmakers like Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) intentionally excluded manufacturers from outside the U.S. (specifically China). In doing so, they also excluded the European Union, which Manchin later admitted he hadn’t realized.
Even if Haley’s numbers were a little hazy, though, the Inflation Reduction Act’s incentives are wasteful and counterproductive market distortions.
Beyond the issue of subsidies, Haley’s acknowledgement that climate change is real is a welcome development. A 2013 poll found that 58 percent of Republicans thought climate change was a “hoax.” But there is evidence that the party may be softening: A 2022 Pew Research Center poll found that 73 percent of Republican respondents under 40 years old thought climate change was an “extremely” or “somewhat” serious problem, compared to 58 percent of Republicans as a whole. Wednesday night’s exchange was prompted by a college student who asked how the candidates would “calm their fears that the Republican Party doesn’t care about climate change.”
All in all, Haley was the only candidate on stage Wednesday to answer the question directly.