The trail of post-debate, fact-checking breadcrumbs reveals multiple falsehoods put forward by Donald Trump

By Tom Yulsman | September 27, 2016 2:22 pm

Last night’s climate claim was just one of many going back years. Others include falsehoods on energy, China and climate change, and drought in California.


Donald Trump, as photographed on Aug. 19, 2015, and Hillary Clinton, on Jan. 24, 1956. (Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Trump by Michael Vadon; of Hillary Clinton by Gage Skidmore.)

Science came up explicitly just once during the debate last night, as Dan Satterfield admirably pointed out quickly in an American Geophysical Union blog post. It happened when Clinton accused Trump of saying that climate change was a hoax.

Trump butted in, saying, “I did not, I do not say that.”

Except, he does.

The trail of fact-checking breadcrumbs that prove Trump’s claim to be, well, a hoax, leads to other equally mendacious statements he has made on climate, energy and other issues.

Let’s follow the trail, starting first with his denial that he ever said climate change is a hoax. Have a look at these comments he made on Fox News and judge for yourself:

This was not just a one-off. Trump has been making similar claims about climate change for at least four years:

On Jan. 18th of this year, Trump said he meant his hoax riff merely as a joke to draw attention to the China issue. As Politifact has reported, Trump told Fox and Friends:

Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change. They burn everything you could burn; they couldn’t care less. They have very — you know, their standards are nothing. But they — in the meantime, they can undercut us on price. So it’s very hard on our business.

This leads to the next breadcrumb — the claim that China is doing nothing to tackle air pollution, including the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving up global temperatures. This is false as well. As Reuters reported last January:

China is likely to have surpassed Germany in the fourth quarter [of 2015] as the country with the most solar capacity, despite missing its target for 2015, industry data showed on Thursday.

And in March, MIT Technology Review ran a story under the headline, “China Is on an Epic Solar Power Binge.” The story points out that:

China now has 43.2 gigawatts of solar capacity, compared with 38.4 gigawatts in Germany and 27.8 in the United States.

This probably is no flash in the pan. China plans on tripling its solar capacity by 2020. According to the Tech Review story:

That will bring the country’s installed solar power to more than 140 gigawatts. To put that in context, world solar capacity topped 200 gigawatts last year and is expected to reach 321 gigawatts by the end of 2016.

China is even working on policies intended to lead to a carbon tax, to help it meet its obligations under international climate change agreements — including the Paris Agreement of December 2015.

In fact, four Chinese government agencies have drafted a new law called the “Environmental Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China.” According to a paper published last year in the journal World Energy Law & Business, this law:

…will adopt a carbon tax into China’s environmental taxes for the first time. It puts coal and coal products, coke oven gas, crude oil, gasoline, diesel oil, fuel oil, liquefied petroleum gas, natural gas and other fossil fuels into the scope of taxation.

Donald Trump could have argued that China should do more on climate. But his claim that “China does not do anything to help climate change” is a pants-on-fire falsehood.

The trail of fact-checking breadcrumbs leads to many more falsehoods as well. I’ll leave you with one example on another environmental issue: drought in California.

Back in June, during a rally with his supporters in Fresno, Trump suggested that there has been no drought. In the video below, fast forward to 22 minutes in and listen for yourself.


Click on this screenshot then fast forward to 22:00 minutes for Donald Trump’s comments on drought in California.

Here’s a transcript of what he said:

You have a water problem that is so insane, it is so ridiculous, where they are taking the water and shoving it out to sea. And I just met with a lot of the farmers who are great people, and they are saying we don’t even understand it, they don’t understand it, nobody understands it. And I’ve heard this from other friends of mine in California where they have farms up here and they don’t get water. I said, Oh that’s too bad, is it a drought. No we have plenty of water. I said, What’s wrong? Well we shove it out to sea. And I said, Why? And nobody even knows why. And the environmentalists don’t know why. Now, they’re trying to protect a certain kind of 3-inch fish. But… [Boos erupt.] No no, think of it. So nobody even knows why. And by the way even the environmentalists don’t know why.

This is a complex and highly contentious issue, so bear with me here as I sort it out.

First, it’s patently absurd to claim that “nobody understands” what’s going on in California. And what’s going on is undeniable:

California has been experiencing a drought of epic proportions. One study has shown it to be the most severe in 1,200 years.

Many California reservoirs were at least partially replenished this past winter by El Niño enhanced rains. But according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 83.6 percent of the state is still in drought, and almost 64 percent remains in severe to exceptional drought:


Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

At the same time, large amounts of fresh water that could have gone to agriculture from the Sacramento Delta — the “beating heart” of the state’s water system, says U.S. Davis biologist Peter Moyle —  have been allowed to flow out to sea even during the drought. The reason? To protect a 3-inch fish species threatened with extinction called the delta smelt.

A widely circulated Wall Street Journal column published last year claims that it amounts to 1.4 trillion gallons of water each year since 2008. The column provided no source for this number, and I’ve had a difficult time documenting it.

Let’s just assume the number is accurate. That is certainly a lot of water. But we need to put it in perspective.

An estimated 63 trillion gallons of water were lost to the drought throughout the western United States between 2013 and mid-2014 alone, as reported in Quartz, based on a study published in the journal Science.

The severe lack of water falling to the ground in California has actually caused the mighty Sierra mountains to rise up, as if the weight on a spring has been reduced. According to precise GPS measurements, the mountains rose 15 millimeters in places, or more than a half inch — in just one and a half years.

When mountains are rising because of a lack of precipitation, it’s obvious that easing California’s undeniable water woes will be no simple task — no matter what Donald Trump or any other politician may say.

Without question, the political issues raised by the drought, the laws and regulations intended to protect species, and the struggles by governments and stakeholders to find a balanced approach to allocating water during a time of extreme shortage, are all very real and knotty. This is especially true when water that’s being allowed to flow out to sea does not appear to be forestalling the extinction of the Delta smelt. The species declined from an estimated 112,00 fish in the Sacramento Delta in 2015 to an estimated all-time low of just 13,000 this year.

As Peter Moyle, the U.C. Davis biologist, puts it, “Today the smelt are on the verge of extinction. They will probably disappear in the next few years.”

A national politician like Donald Trump could help us get out of the fixes we’re in with climate change, energy production, and issues like drought and endangered species. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be on his agenda.

  • OWilson

    Say hello to Hillary for us! :)

    Folks around the world and in your America, getting mowed down by terrorists and bombs, every day are not worried about your “smelt”.

    A candlelight vigil, and a couple versus of Cambaya should be enough!

    (We miss the wonderful dinasaurs, too!) :)

    Oh, and that $20,000,000,000,000.00 dollar National Debt you folks racking up?

    At least y’all be dead before that comes due!

    Enjoy the free ride!

    • CB

      “Folks around the world and in your America… are not worried about your “smelt”.”

      You may speak for yourself!

      You may not speak for anyone else.

      Mr. Wilson, have you been formally diagnosed with a mental disorder?

      “Delta Smelt, Icon of California Water Wars, Is Almost Extinct”

      • Richard Turnbull

        Some of these people are trolls from overseas, particularly China and Russia, Notice the spelling of “Kumbaya” and the gloating tone — could also be some aggrieved fan of ISIS etc. But no one who oversimplifies the national debt, as if it were solely a “bad thing” for which the people who have been loaned these gigantic sums receive nothing of value, can be taken seriously as an economist.

        • OWilson


          Mental disorder?

          I confess and apologize to your Dear Leader!

          Now go back to your Safe Zone, kiddies. :)

          • CB

            “Trolls? Mental disorder?”


            Mental disorder.

            Mr. Wilson, what are the chances of an average American being killed in a terrorist attack?

            Have you voiced your hysterical concern over falling couches recently?

            “You’re more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist”


          • Mike Richardson

            If they were good, conservative couches, no, probably not. If they were liberal couches, there would be much hysteria indeed, I’m sure.

          • CB

            lol @ TerrorCouches…

            Mental illness can be an ugly and dangerous thing!

            “Fact Checkers Prove That 91% of the Things Donald Trump Says Are False”


          • Richard Turnbull

            A classic fallacy, can you spot the difference between taken 324 million people INCLUDING infants and furniture movers going about their daily business as a sample, noting the raw number of deaths, and then assimilating that in a one-to-one correspondence with deaths intentionally brought about by terrorists, or for that matter, any other group?
            But as if that isn’t absurd enough: is it or is it not the case that we as a society should take all reasonable steps to avoid having “furniture” (including the flat screen tvs insecurely placed within homes) set up such that it is reasonably foreseeable that young children might be crushed to death, or other wise injured? Of course!
            Is it the case that we require furniture movers to be licensed, and not to move large furniture when inebriated or otherwise operating with diminished capacity? Of course!
            Why, then, are you amazed that society, mutatis mutandus, takes similar steps to avoid becoming the victims of plots by terrorists?

          • OWilson

            You having problems with your furniture, or something? :)

          • Richard Turnbull

            “CB” is having problems with very basic reasoning about cause and effect — it’s the kind of nonsense that I first saw posted on the Guardian six or seven years ago, although I think it was couched (no pun intended) as “you are more likely to die in a traffic accident than be killed by terrorists.” It’s completely inane.

          • Richard Turnbull

            You’re the one who cited the national debt completely out of context — about $4 trillion is “money we owe to ourselves.” A huge part of the remainder was created when Bush (and earlier, Reagan) started in on massive tax cuts and tax giveaways to the 1%. Then there’s the two wars “fought on a credit card,” another $6 trillion or so. So the real questions are all obscured by your whining projection that you need a “safe space” to avoid internet bullies like me once your gibberish is exposed.
            Now go back to your mindless trolling, jackass. On the other hand, if you want to debate political economy, go for it, junior.

      • Mike Richardson

        If not formally diagnosed, it’s only for avoiding professionals in that field like the plague. Yes, much like Trump, our resident contrarian lives in a world of his own, immune to facts and logic. Not that Hillary Clinton impresses me with a devotion to honesty, but no other presidential candidate has earned so many “pants on fire” ratings from nonpartisan fact checkers. Truly a YUUUGE accomplishment!

    • Richard Turnbull

      Why do economically illiterate numbskulls like you shriek about a $20 Trillion national debt as if that’s a major worry? Do you think it is structured so that it all comes due at once? Do you think the USA’s bonds are not considered a sound investment? Do you think that if some holder of large amounts of the total debt were to no longer invest in the United States, others wouldn’t take their place?
      Not only that: when you balance the debts against the assets owned as well as the uses to which the debt was put, the picture is even less of a problem. The US has the world’s largest economy and the most productive per capita by far. China will see massive social changes and the end of the current authoritarian regime before it begins to catch up.

      • OWilson

        Don’t worry, be happy! :)

        • Richard Turnbull

          Well, you are certainly untroubled by any sense of responsibility for evolving your views, so I suppose if that makes you “happy,” that’s one type of “happiness.”
          Better Socrates dissatisfied, than a pig, satisfied. — John Stuart Mill.
          Try not to take that too literally, o.k.?

    • Tom Yulsman

      Ah, always amusing to hear from you Mr. Wilson. Just for the record, I think we live in the greatest country on Earth (at least for now), and I am not mortally terrified like you evidently are of being killed by terrorist bombs and the like. (Although I do think we need sensible policies to help keep us as secure as possible without violating the Constitution.)

      As for the smelt, they’re not at all “mine.” They are a distinct, independent species with a life and evolutionary history all their own. They once played a key role in an ecosystem that has been described as once being “America’s Serengeti.” And I clearly pointed out in my piece that the water releases intended to save them have failed. They are now dead fish swimming. I merely called for a rational approach to balancing the needs of various stakeholders — and all humans who depend on ecosystems for such things as fresh water, food, clean air, etc.

      • OWilson

        You realize, of course that equating “falling couches” with domestic and international Radical Islamist Terrorism, which is killing hundreds of thousands and displacing many more, shows the level of intelligence of your fan club.

        You should not encourage such nonsense!

        As for your own liberal delusion that I am “mortally terrified” of being killed by a terrorist bomb, well, lets just say that is pulled from your ……..!

        I live in a relatively safe country, and I am planning to move to an even safer Third World country, where even the schoolchildren have more common sense, than can be found here!


  • John C

    So, following the word put out by Camp Hillary, it’s the “duty of responsible journalists to fact check Donald Trump’s lies”. Because, obviously, Hillary is so honest she doesn’t need fact checking.

    Discover is so much better when the left wing attack ads masquarading as articles are left out of it. That really detracted from Keith Kloor’s blog. If I want Trump bashing and Hillary worship we have plenty of options in the mainstream media. So, enough already.

    • OWilson

      Today’s liberalism must be some kind of sickness.

      Their acceptance of the Clintons, who went from Dead Broke to amassing a $2,000,000,000.00 “family” Global Empire (WP) from the foreign interests she was supposed to be negotiaing with on the country’s behalf says it all.

      Their business partners went to jail, their law partner and Associate Attorney General went to jail, their White House lawyer committed “suicide” at the hieght of the Whitewater/Resolution Trust Failure scam. 150+ witnesses left the country of Pleaded the Fifth to avoid testifying.

      Her husband was Impeached, fined, disbarred, and paid out $800,000.00 to Paula Jones to settle her sexual harassement law suit.

      Old news, you say?

      Now she sets up illegal servers in her bathroom (see item 1) destroys government records, and (here we go again) 5 of her aides and employees Plead the Fifth.

      Yep, let’s talk about Trump’s comments about smelt and the Clifornia drought, complete with photos, and even video.

      Hillary did “well”, and mouthed all the right liberalese in the debate, and delighted her supporters, but there is an elephant in the room, that won’t go away, which is why all the debate polls showed Trump winning handily.

      Not by what was said, but what was not said, and not asked!

      Check back with me November 9th!

      • John C

        Well, I can’t say that it’s a sickness any more than they can say that Trump is Hitler. But I would just prefer not to have a political agenda creep into every place I go to take a break from that.

        • OWilson

          If you want to stay away from political agendas, stay away from current media.

          Or do what I do and leave them behind to fight each other1

          • Mike Richardson


          • OWilson

            Down in the DR they call it weather. As in wind and rain.

            Doesn’t even make TV.

            I’m down there most hurricane seasons, and I only see the hype on your news starved MSM, after I get back!

            A flash flood can cover the main street a foot or so, but it drains away in an hour. The threatened Armageddon as hyped on your MSM, never actually arises.

            This recent “major” one I was in was “responsible” for three deaths in Haiti, but Haiti has yet to build proper shelters for it’s people after the earthquake.

            (They are still complaining about the money that the Clinton “family” Foundation collected, and was supposed to spend there, but went to political cronies.The real story on that will never make the MSM.)

            Compare the 3 (only tentatively) connected deaths from this Cat 5 Hurricane with the 15,000 or so annual traffic deaths, and you can see why life goes on normally.

            In my DR, they use a lot of concrete and cement block in their tiny homes, and they don’t set up housekeeping on low lying lands.

            You folks in Louisiana could learn a lot from them!

            They call you stupido norte americanos, with more dinero than brains.

            When I tell them that you actually have no money, you just rack up a $20,000,000,000,000.00 US Debt.

            They look confused!

            Aye yi yi!

          • Mike Richardson


          • OWilson

            You should expand your mother’s basement worldview.

            As I said, many Haitians do not have adequate housing and live in squalor and corruption. They are the Caribbean equivalent to your trailer parks in Kansas and your swamp and Delta dwellers in Louisiana. First bit of inclement weather and you’re all blown away or washed out again :)

            It’s an old story.

            Like N and S Korea, the DR shares a land (the Island of Hispaniola) with Haiti. Like N and S Korea one is a basket case, and the other is thriving, although they share the same natural resources.

            Like N and S Korea, one is at starvation level, and one is well fed.

            Haiti has a state command economy and lots of input from Western “Agencies”

            DR encourages laissez-faire capitalism. and foreign interference in internal affairs is not encouraged, nor is it apparent in daily life.

            You can grow your own produce, sell your own produce, and cook and serve your own produce to customers, without hordes of government regulations and corrupt inspectors rifling through you cash box. (and not a Clinton in sight)

            Why am I so certain you would be quite at home in Haiti? :)

            (Mention corruption and there’s always a Clinton connection – see below)


            “Corruption in Haiti is a serious problem. In 2015, Haiti ranked 161 out of the 177 countries measured on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, the lowest ranking in the Caribbean region. On the Corruption Perception Index, Haiti ranked 163 in 2014 and 164 in 2013.

            Corruption is a severe and widespread problem in all levels of government. Although there has been some progress since 2008, when Haiti was rated the world’s fourth most corrupt country, there remains much room for improvement.[1]

            Corruption in Haiti, according to the Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, inundates all parts of Haitian society.[2] Robert Klitgaard, an expert on the subject, wrote in 2010 that corruption in Haiti “is not the activity of a few rogue officials or politicians”[3] but is more like “organized crime,” with corrupt procurement deals arising through collusion and kleptocratic racket.[3]

            In a January 2012 article, Peter Worthington stated that Haiti’s dependency on foreign aid and corrupt legacy have hurt the nation’s development more that the growing trend of educated Haitians emigrating.[4]

            Between 1984 and 2009, foreigners contributed over $2.6 billion to relieve poverty in Haiti, but thanks largely to corruption, their efforts had little impact.[5]
            Several journalists investigating corruption in Haiti have been killed or fled into exile.[5] In 2015, the Washington Post reported that there was “a growing backlash that too little has been accomplished in the past five years and that some of the most high-profile projects” backed by the Clinton Foundation “have helped foreign investors and Haiti’s wealthy elites more than its poor.”[32]

            Further controversy arose after it was reported that the Haitian government had granted a rare Haitian mining permit to a company for which Tony Rodham (Hillary Clinton’s younger brother) served on the advisory board. Spokespeople for Bill and Hillary Clinton said that they were unaware of the fact, and the permits have been placed on hold by the Senate of Haiti.[32]

        • Tom Yulsman

          Mr. Wilson: If you do not like my commentary, then do not read it. But evidently you get quite a lot of out it because you are probably the most consistent commenter on this blog.

          • OWilson

            I do enjoy your blog.

            I accidently came to it as part of my scientific interest in global warming.

            I had noticed that the summers were warmer and the deciduous trees in the northern hemisphere (I have travelled extensively through the U.K., Eastern Europe, Canada and the the U.S.) were stressed and succumbing to many kinds of insect carried diseases.

            I shared the concern.

            (I have stated here before that I am a tree afficianado, and try to plant trees wherever I go, I have planted many)

            But they are now well and thriving!

            When I saw that environmental issues in general and global warming in particular, had been so completely co-opted by the global radical left/socialist political movements, I became very skeptical about the claims of climate catastrophe.

            The folks who post here, obviously need some balance to their radical views.

            Let’s just say I do it for the children!

            And as always, thanks for allowing this old gent to participate.

          • Tom Yulsman

            You are most welcome. And thank you for sticking with the blog.

      • cgs

        Check back with me November 9th!

        Will do.

        Neither candidate is the best our country has to offer.

        Let me repeat that.

        Neither. Candidate. Is. The. Best. Our. Country. Has. To. Offer.

        I wish it weren’t so, but for many years now it’s been this way. When it comes to wanting the best people to run for the Presidency, well you can wish in one hand and you know what in the other.

        I consider myself a pretty levelheaded, reasonable guy. (Perhaps that’s not so either.)

        And when it comes to judging between these two which has the better chance of doing better in this office, it’s no contest.

        It really, really isn’t. I think you probably can guess who’s getting my vote.

        • John C

          I can’t actually, and don’t tell me. But I do agree that out of 318 million people in the U.S. it’s down to these two?

          • cgs

            If you can’t guess, then unfortunately I won’t help further. Sorry.

    • Tom Yulsman

      I haven’t said a single word about Hillary Clinton here, let alone “worship” her. (I do not.)

      Only one matter of science came up during the debate: whether Trump ever called climate change a “hoax.” Trump denied that he ever said it. In my commentary, I showed that this is patently false. And because Trump tells so many falsehoods like this, he invites scrutiny on other issues too — from journalists like myself, whose job it is under the First Amendment to hold the powerful to account for their words and deeds. In this case, I focused in particular on Trump because of all the consistent falsehoods he utters on the issues that I cover in this blog. I have not seen a similarly egregious record of misleading and flat-out false statements on these topics from Clinton.

      I’m sorry you disagree with me. That is absolutely your prerogative. And I’m gratified that you took the time to share your thoughts here.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar