When asked about climate change, President Trump has a ready answer. The United States has the “cleanest air” and “cleanest water” in the world.
But there is a big, glaring problem with that superlative response. Clear air and climate change, though related, are hardly the same thing.
Over and over again when pressed by reporters during sit-down interviews or at news conferences, Trump appears to confuse the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere with the sort of sooty air pollution that contributes to lung and heart problems when inhaled.
The president most recently made that error on Saturday during a news conference at the end of the second day of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
“We have the cleanest water we have ever had. We have the cleanest air we’ve ever had, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the tremendous power of what we’ve built up over a long period of time and what I’ve enhanced and revived,” Trump said.
Here's the issue with that statement: The gases that are causing temperatures to rise globally and those that make the air “dirty” — that is, those that contribute to health problem when inhaled — are not always the same.
While carbon dioxide, for example, traps energy in the atmosphere, it is safe for humans to breathe at the levels at which it is currently accumulating. Meanwhile, exposure to particulate matter leads to higher instances of a host of health problems, but some sulfur-containing forms of it actually have a cooling effect by blocking sunlight from reaching the Earth's surface.
This is not the first time Trump has conflated climate change and clean air.
During a trip to the United Kingdom last month, Trump was asked by British broadcast journalist Piers Morgan what Prince Charles, an avid environmentalist, had told him about climate change.
“He wants to make sure future generations have climate that is good climate, as opposed to a disaster, and I agree,” Trump said in response. “I did mention a couple of things. I did say, well the United States right now has among the cleanest climates there are based on all statistics, and it’s even getting better. Because I agree with that, I want the best water, the cleanest water. Crystal clean. Has to be crystal clean.”
Does the US President believe in climate change?— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) June 5, 2019
Trump says he discussed climate change with Prince Charles, who he believes is 'a very good person' who 'wants to have a world that's good for future generations'. pic.twitter.com/QNlXhiS1mO
And again in June when asked about Irish President Michael Higgins's recent comment that Trump has a “regressive and pernicious” record on climate change, the U.S. president said: “I haven’t heard those comments . . . But we have the cleanest air in the world in the United States and it’s gotten better since I became president, we have the cleanest water, it is crystal clear, I always say I want crystal clear water and air, so I haven’t heard his comments, but we are setting records environmentally.”
Trump's erroneous refrain on climate change is so persistent that even other members of the administration have picked it up. “America has the cleanest air and water in the world,” Vice President Pence told CNN host Jake Tapper when asked last week whether he thinks climate change is a threat.
One potential explanation for Trump's apparent confusion is that these different climate- and health-related emissions often come from the same source.
For example, a linchpin of the Obama administration's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was a set of tougher pollution standards for coal-fired power plants. But when justifying the Clean Power Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency also calculated the positive health effects — or “co-benefits” — of reducing smog-forming pollution directly harmful to human health.
When Trump's Environmental Protection Agency last year decided to relax those standards, which never ended up taking effect because of a Supreme Court decision impeding it, the agency admitted that its new rule could lead to 470 to 1,400 premature deaths each year compared with the Obama-era rule.
Another possible explanation: Trump understands the difference, but his go-to line about the country having the “cleanest air” is simply an easy deflection.
— More from the G-20 summit: "Leaders from the Group of 20 nations renewed their vow to take action to curb climate change on Saturday, as the United States once again stood apart and at odds with the rest of the world," The Post's Simon Denyer and Brady Dennis report. "The United States was the lone dissenting voice in the final communique, in which 18 countries and the European Union underlined that the Paris climate accord is irreversible, and reiterated their commitment to its full implementation." Trump had pressured Brazil, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Australia to weaken the statement on climate change, Politico reports.
— The latest on the climate debacle in Oregon: After a week-long standoff, state Senate Republicans returned to the Capitol over the weekend, only for the controversial climate bill at the center of their stalemate to be buried by top Democrats. “Minutes after the Senate convened, Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, made a motion to send the carbon capping plan — which was on the agenda for a vote Saturday — to the Senate Committee on Rules,” the Oregonian reports. “Burdick offered no speech or other explanation in support of her motion, which passed 17-10 with support from eight Democrats and all present Republicans.”
“So how did the wheels come off?”: “Environmental groups are ladling the blame on Republicans, a corporate misinformation campaign funded by the Koch brothers and other climate deniers, and, increasingly, on [Senate President Peter Courtney],” per the Oregonian. “They say they’re not giving in, but they’re incredulous that the new Democratic supermajority ‘wasn’t permitted to govern.’ ‘In the era of Donald Trump, there’s nothing that’s off the table,’ said Doug Moore, executive director of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. ‘And that’s moving to Oregon.’ ”
— Iran nears uranium limits: The country says it will “soon” breach uranium stockpile limits set by the nuclear deal after failed efforts by Europe to persuade it to stick to the accord, The Post’s Loveday Morris reports, citing Tehran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency. “Iran has been threatening to surpass the limit of 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium that the country is allowed to possess under the nuclear agreement, unless it receives the sanctions relief that the deal promised in return,” Morris writes. “Breaching the limit would be a symbolic move but would not put Iran significantly closer to building a nuclear weapon. The 300-kilogram limit of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent is suitable for use in power plants but falls far short of the more than 90 percent enriched uranium needed for fissile material in a nuclear bomb.”
— Public hears from Michigan prosecutors who dropped Flint cases: About 100 residents gathered at a public forum late last week, where Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy explained their decision to drop charges in the city’s water scandal. The officials told frustrated residents about the restarted investigation, which will require them to “look at hundreds of mobile devices and millions of documents that a previous investigative team never reviewed,” the Associated Press reports. Some at the forum also “demanded charges against Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder, who has apologized for his administration’s role in the crisis, and a closer look at local officials involved in the construction of a regional pipeline that was a factor in the temporary switch to using water from the Flint River. The prosecutors said they will go where the evidence takes them.”
— The price of “progress”: The Belo Monte dam complex in Brazil, a massive project that was set to be one of the world’s largest by power capacity, has sparked a population surge and development boom — like a new Burger King, for example — and also has led to a wave of deforestation. “Scientists believe the Amazonian ecosystem is far closer to an existential tipping point than previously thought, with potentially grievous results for the region and the planet,” The Post’s Anthony Faiola, Marina Lopes and Chris Mooney write in this deeply reported dispatch from Brazil.
“The global impacts could also be severe,” they write. “Unless deforestation is stopped before reaching the tipping point, some 50 or 60 percent of the Amazon will be lost, meaning the forest will no longer be able to pull carbon out of the air at the same rate, allowing about 550 million tons of carbon dioxide to remain in the atmosphere each year, according to [Carlos Nobre, a senior researcher at the University of Sao Paulo].”
— Oil watch: Oil production in the United States surpassed 12 million barrels a day in April, growing 2.1 percent to reach a new output record, according to a government report released Friday, Bloomberg News reports. “Booming shale production from places like the Permian basin of West Texas have enabled U.S. oil output to overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia,” per the report. “At the same time, trade disputes and escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf have clouded the outlook for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which is expected to extend current output cuts” when it meets this week.
More ahead of OPEC’s meeting: “Russia has agreed with Saudi Arabia to extend by six to nine months a deal with OPEC on reducing oil output, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said, as oil prices come under renewed pressure from rising US supplies and a slowing global economy,” the Guardian reports. “The Saudi energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, said on Sunday that the deal would most likely be extended by nine months and no deeper reductions were needed.”
- The Atlantic Council hosts the 13th Meeting of the IEA's Gas and Oil Technology Collaboration Program on July 8.
- The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on “Glacial and Ice Sheet Melt in a Changing Climate” on July 11.
- The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment hold a hearing on hurricane resiliency on July 22
—Researchers say a palace in northern Iraq was discovered in a submerged reservoir after a drought in the area meant waters retreated enough for archaeologists to excavate, The Post’s Kayla Epstein reports.