One of President Trump’s broadest and longest-standing attempts to minimize the risk posed by the changing climate is to insist that the entire idea that the world is getting warmer has been so disproved that advocates had to rebrand “global warming” as “climate change."
This is not only not the case, but it’s also an inversion of what happened. In 2002, Republican consultant Frank Luntz recommended that the White House of then-President George W. Bush drop “global warming” for “climate change.” He also encouraged the administration, under fire for abandoning a climate-related agreement shortly after taking office, to “continue to make the lack of scientific certainty [on climate change] a primary issue in the debate” to keep the public from accepting that climate change was occurring.
Trump himself has seized on this idea, repeatedly arguing that there is some uncertainty about whether the climate is warming or about the role of humans in that warming. While he’s held nearly every possible position on the subject at one point or another, he seems, as president, to have settled into a dispassionate hand-waving about the reality of the situation.
On Friday, while millions of Americans were burning off turkey by shopping, his administration released a report making it very clear that there was not only broad consensus on the reality of climate change but also on the cause and effects of it. The report, apparently unintentionally, offers fairly direct rebuttals to nearly every critique that Trump has offered in recent years.
(On Sunday, Luntz said that he wasn’t sure he’d still call himself a Republican, based in part on Trump’s “tone.”)
All page numbers below refer to the report’s summary document.
Trump claim: “I don’t necessarily agree” that human activity is the overwhelming cause of climate change.
Climate report, p. 24: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future — but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.”
Trump claim about climate change: “I don’t know that it’s man-made.”
Climate report, p. 30: “[T]he unambiguous long-term warming trend in global average temperature over the last century cannot be explained by natural factors alone. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the only factors that can account for the observed warming over the last century; there are no credible alternative human or natural explanations supported by the observational evidence. Without human activities, the influence of natural factors alone would actually have had a slight cooling effect on global climate over the last 50 years.”
Trump claim: “I don’t believe the impact is merely what some say, and other scientists that dispute those findings very strongly."
Climate report, p. 32: “A key goal of scientific research is to increase our confidence and reduce the uncertainty in our understanding of the world around us. Even so, there is no expectation that uncertainty can be fully eliminated, just as we do not expect a perfectly accurate estimate for our drive time each day. … While there is inherent uncertainty in climate science, there is high confidence in our understanding of the greenhouse effect and the knowledge that human activities are changing the climate in unprecedented ways. There is enough information to make decisions based on that understanding.”
Trump claim: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS - Whatever happened to Global Warming?”
Climate report, p. 65: “Annual average temperature over the contiguous United States has increased by 1.2ºF (0.7°C) over the last few decades and by 1.8°F (1°C) relative to the beginning of the last century. Additional increases in annual average temperature of about 2.5°F (1.4°C) are expected over the next few decades regardless of future emissions, and increases ranging from 3°F to 12°F (1.6°–6.6°C) are expected by the end of century, depending on whether the world follows a higher or lower future scenario, with proportionally greater changes in high temperature extremes.”
Trump claim about wildfires: “Maybe [climate change] contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is [forest] management.”
Climate report, pp. 99 and 150: “Climatic changes, including warmer springs, longer summer dry seasons, and drier soils and vegetation, have already lengthened the wildfire season and increased the frequency of large wildfires. … Analyses estimated that the area burned by wildfire across the western United States from 1984 to 2015 was twice what would have burned had climate change not occurred.”
Trump claim about melting glaciers: “You don’t know whether or not that would have happened with or without man.”
Climate report, p. 65: “In the Arctic, annual average temperatures have increased more than twice as fast as the global average, accompanied by thawing permafrost and loss of sea ice and glacier mass. Arctic-wide glacial and sea ice loss is expected to continue; by mid-century, it is very likely that the Arctic will be nearly free of sea ice in late summer.”
Trump claim: “They say that we had hurricanes that were far worse than what we just had with Michael.”
Climate report, p. 57: “Some extreme events have already become more frequent, intense, widespread, or of longer duration, and many are expected to continue to increase or worsen, presenting substantial challenges for built, agricultural, and natural systems. Some storm types such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and winter storms are also exhibiting changes that have been linked to climate change, although the current state of the science does not yet permit detailed understanding."
Trump claim: “Wind turbines are death to environment.”
Climate report, p. 51: Wind turbines are one of several methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“A growing number of states, cities, and businesses have pursued or expanded upon initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the scale of adaptation implementation across the country has increased. However, these efforts do not yet approach the scale needed to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health expected over the coming decades. … Many activities within the public and private sectors aim for or have the effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as the increasing use of natural gas in place of coal or the expansion of wind and solar energy to generate electricity.”
Trump has regularly used the term “clean coal” to refer to coal generally. In climate terms, “clean coal” refers to a process by which the carbon dioxide released when coal is burned is captured and prevented from entering the atmosphere.
Trump claim: “Clean coal is a great thing. And it’s another source. It has to compete against natural gas. It has to compete against a lot of different things, including solar and including wind and including all of those things. Now, they’re much, much more expensive, as you know. They’re much, much more expensive. In fact, they need subsidy. And if you don’t give them subsidy — I don’t like energy that needs subsidy.”
Climate report, p. 71: “Low carbon-emitting natural gas generation has displaced coal generation due to the rising production of low-cost, unconventional natural gas, in part supported by federal investment in research and development. In the last 10 years, the share of generation from natural gas increased from 20% to over 30%, while coal has declined from nearly 50% to around 30%. Over this same time, generation from wind and solar has grown from less than 1% to over 5% due to a combination of technological progress, dramatic cost reductions, and federal and state policies.”
Trump claim: “What I’m not willing to do is sacrifice the economic well-being of our country for something that nobody really knows.”
Climate report, p. 13: “[T]he continued warming that is projected to occur without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts. With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century — more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.”
Departing for a campaign rally in Mississippi on Monday, Trump spoke with reporters about the report. Asked to respond to the claim that the economic effects would be devastating, Trump responded curtly.
“I don’t believe it.”