Hello. President Donald J. Trump gave an interview to the Associated Press on Tuesday that contained an argument about climate change that is worth noting for its distilled badness. Let us both assess it and not spend much time on it.
It came on the heels of two events that fueled discussion of climate change: Hurricane Michael and a report from the United Nations indicating that the window for keeping global warming within a manageable range was closing.
First Trump argued that Michael was a bad storm but that there had been worse storms in the past. That's true, but it's also not the point. The point is that warm water in the Gulf of Mexico helped Michael build strength rapidly, making it a worse storm than it might otherwise have been.
Then Trump offered his faux-middle-ground position, that the climate has changed back and forth over time for millennia. And that is also true and not the point. I used an analogy earlier this week that I think is worth reiterating: From March to July, the resting air temperature in your house will gradually increase, thanks to the changing seasons. From August to December, it will trend back down. The current change in the climate is not akin to those slow transitions. It’s akin to you setting your house on fire on April 10. Trump would apparently argue that the rapid increase in air temperature from your burning house is just part of the natural cycle of things.
Will Earth’s temperature go back down after increasing, thanks to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? Maybe? But those sorts of shifts happen over millennia. That’s not what’s happening now.
Finally, Trump landed on his central argument, one that he is not the first to offer: He can't defend taking action to address climate change, action that might have a negative effect on the economy, when the science on climate change is unsettled.
"Scientists say this is nearing a point where this can’t be reversed,” the AP reporters said to Trump.
“No, no,” he replied. “Some say that, and some say differently. I mean, you have scientists on both sides of it. My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”
First of all, John Trump was an electrical engineer, not a climate scientist, so it's not clear what insights he would have had on climate change, particularly since he died in 1985.
Second, Trump’s uncle is not Trump. Trump’s arguing that there’s a latent, genetic scientific ability that runs in his family and contributes to his “natural instinct.” There is some evidence that academic ability has a genetic component, but that would have nothing to do with specific scientific findings like those that undergird climate models.
Imagine that you told me that your Tesla was making a weird noise and I said that you could be confident when I told you it was nothing to worry about because my dad’s brother used to repair Oldsmobiles and I had an instinct for cars.
Or imagine that you were curious whether you should wear your seat belt in your car and I said there wasn’t really consensus on the issue but, because my uncle could tear down a Cutlass in two hours flat, you could trust me when I said not to worry about it.
There is consensus on the issue! The consensus is that the increasing global temperatures are not a function of natural climate shifts but of human activity. Bloomberg has one of the best depictions of what we know.
Trump’s approach to climate change is that he doesn’t want to prioritize climate change. That’s his right, certainly; he won the presidency. But his approach to environmental issues has always been driven by his personal considerations. As I was writing this, a Twitter bot I created called @trumphop retweeted a tweet of Trump from six years ago Wednesday.
Here was Trump on wind turbines:
He disliked wind turbines because he was angry at a planned offshore wind farm near his golf course in Scotland. His argument that wind turbines kill birds, which is true, was mostly a function of disparaging the technology broadly.
You know what else kills birds? Buildings built by real estate developers. Nearly a billion birds are killed each year hitting windows of buildings, including millions that hit skyscrapers like Trump Tower. Trump’s views of wind turbines weren’t driven by concern about birds but by his personal considerations. There’s little evidence that his consideration of climate science is any more objective.
And you can trust me as a news source because my father worked for the sports desk of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in the 1970s.