With tens of thousands of Americans reeling from the devastating impacts of climate change and the 2020 election looming, President Donald Trump is out to prove as he seeks a second term that he has no intention of accepting the crisis as reality ― much less lifting a finger to combat it.
An unwavering ally of the fossil fuel and other polluting industries, Trump has repeatedly denied the all-but-irrefutable science that climate change is real and driven by human carbon emissions. But his statements and actions in recent weeks have proven particularly dangerous.
During a Sept. 14 visit to fire-scorched California, the president, who has no scientific background, casually dismissed decades of scientific research: “It will start getting cooler,” he declared, falsely. “You just watch.”
When Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, told Trump the science disagrees with him, Trump responded, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
To be clear, science absolutely knows. The world is barreling toward potentially cataclysmic climate breakdowns, which have hit with devastating impacts to people, economies and food security around the world. Trump knows this. But time and again the president has proven that his concern is for the industries that would see their profits shrink with a concerted effort to tackle the global crisis.
Since Trump’s California trip, the administration has tapped two climate contrarians for top positions at the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ― moves that climate scientists say threatens to undermine the nation’s premier scientific agency, which had largely escaped the political influence exerted by the president and his allies seen at the EPA and other agencies.
David Legates, a University of Delaware climatology professor and close affiliate of the climate-denying Heartland Institute, was hired last week as NOAA’s deputy assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction. Legates has falsely claimed, among other things, that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is good for the planet and dismissed his critics in the scientific community as “a bunch of thugs.”
The White House has also tapped Ryan Maue, a meteorologist who believes in human-caused climate change but regularly downplays its threat and links to extreme weather, to be NOAA’s next chief scientist, The Washington Post reported Monday.
Neither position requires Senate confirmation.
The two appointments are the latest in the Trump administration’s yearslong effort to sow doubt about the climate change threat.
Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric and climate sciences at Texas A&M University, wrote in a Twitter post that Maue’s sole qualification appeared to be “a willingness to advance the agenda of climate deniers.”
“To me, this emphasizes how thin the climate deniers’ bench is,” he added.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has in the last two weeks taken several swings at Trump over his record of denial. He called the president a “climate arsonist” and vowed in a post to Twitter not to put a climate change denier in charge of NOAA if he wind the White House, prefacing the latter comment with “I can’t believe I have to say this.”
With the election fast approaching, Trump appears intent on surrounding himself with people who share and will echo his anti-science views about the environmental threat. On Monday, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, who in the past has acknowledged humans play a role in driving climate change, falsely asserted that “no one knows that” when asked if he believed human carbon emissions are causing warmer temperatures.
“Scientists say a lot of things,” Brouillette told local media in Pennsylvania when a reporter confronted him with the scientific consensus that climate change is driven by human carbon emissions. “I have scientists inside of the Department of Energy that say a lot of things. Look, the bottom line is we live here, so we must have some impact. The question is, what is the exact impact that we’re having? And that’s the question that has not been resolved.”
A federal climate report released by the Trump administration in 2017 concluded that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
Yet Trump and his team have plowed ahead with rollbacks that allow for more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. An analysis released last week by the Rhodium Group, a New York-based independent research provider, found that Trump’s dismantling of Obama administration climate policies will result in the U.S. releasing an additional 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by 2035. As Politico noted, that amount exceeds Russia’s annual emissions.
In recent weeks, millions of Americans have come face-to-face with the climate crisis ― scientists say it has played a role in driving extreme wildfires in the West and record-setting cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin.
Last week, Public Policy Polling surveyed voters in eight battleground states and found that 55% trust Biden to address climate change, while 38% trust Trump. Similarly, 55% said their views on climate more closely align with Biden’s recent statements about its impacts. (“The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose,” he said at an event last week in Delaware. “That’s because it’s not a partisan phenomenon. It’s science.”) That figure dwarfed the 28% who said they agree with Trump’s statement that “it will start getting cooler” and that “I don’t think science knows.”
Two-thirds of poll respondents said they believe climate change should be a priority of the next president.
“In the final push to November, voters are looking for candidates who not only believe in science, but also have a bold plan to address climate change,” Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power 2020, the advocacy group that commissioned the poll, told Mother Jones.