There are a range of policy issues on which President Trump’s approach varies dramatically from that of his opponent in this year’s presidential contest, former vice president Joe Biden. But on none is the difference more stark than on the issue of climate change.

Even on the coronavirus pandemic, Trump at least will occasionally pay lip service to the need to follow the lead of scientific experts. But on atmospheric warming — manifested dramatically in recent weeks in massive wildfires on the West Coast — Trump is far more likely to smirk.

Consider an exchange that took place in California at an event focused on the fires. Wade Crowfoot, head of the state’s Natural Resources Agency, called on Trump to recognize the role of climate change in the historic conflagrations.

“We’ve had temperatures explode this summer,” Crowfoot said. “You may have learned that we broke a world record in the Death Valley: 130 degrees. But even in greater L.A., 120-plus degrees. And we’re seeing this warming trend make our summers warmer, but also our winters warmer as well.”

He acknowledged Trump’s repeated point that ground cover and fallen trees contribute to fires.

“But I think we want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forest — and actually work together with that science,” he continued. “That science is going to be key, because if we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together in protecting Californians.”

“It’ll start getting cooler,” Trump replied. “You just — you just watch.”

“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot said.

“I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump responded.

As it turns out, science knows quite well. For more than 100 years, it’s been speculated that burning fossil fuels (in particular coal) emits gas that can trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. By now, that effect is well documented and obviously manifested, with atmospheric carbon dioxide hitting levels never before measured and the effects of that saturation felt everywhere from increased droughts to increased severe precipitation events (since warmer air can hold more moisture) to higher temperatures to things such as dissolving shells on marine life.

Though it is obviously the case that temperatures won’t increase steadily forever, it is just as obviously the case that temperatures are increasing broadly. A good analogy for temperature fluctuations in a warming world is walking a dog in a park: The dog meanders all over to sniff things, but it’s clear where the two of you are headed over the long term. And where we are headed is a steadily warming world.

The six hottest years on record include 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

This denial from Trump — flat, baseless — may remind you of another similar claim he’s made over and over about the coronavirus pandemic. Constantly, even now, Trump asserts without justification that the virus will simply “go away.”

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, President Trump has repeatedly said that the virus will disappear. (The Washington Post)

At least in that case, it is true that the crisis triggered by the emergence of the new virus will fade, even if the virus itself simply moves into the background. (The virus that killed millions a century ago is still around, for example.) That’s in part because world governments, including that of the United States, are acting urgently to address it. Trump has repeatedly insisted that the United States is on track for deploying an effective vaccine in short order, an application of science to address the threat that he declines to use for the murkier, steadier increase of climate threats.

As Trump was heading to California to address the fires (after weeks of largely ignoring them), Biden was speaking about climate change at an event in Delaware. He noted that Trump’s campaign has repeatedly offered melodramatic warnings about the threat of crime to suburban residents.

“If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires? How many suburban neighborhoods will have been flooded out?” Biden asked. “How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms?”

“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?” he continued. “If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?”

“We need a president who respects science, who understands that the damage from climate change is already here — and unless we take urgent action, it’ll soon be more catastrophic,” Biden said. “The president recognizes, understands and cares that Americans are dying, which makes President Trump’s climate denialism, his disdain for science and facts all the more unconscionable.”

When Trump arrived in Sacramento on Monday, he was asked if he agreed that there was an issue with climate change in the state.

“Uh,” Trump replied with a sly smile, “you’ll have to ask the governor that question. I don’t want to step on his toes.”

One reason Trump feels comfortable in rejecting climate change as an issue is that it has become increasingly obvious only after the issue became deeply embedded in partisan politics. The polarized fight over the need for face masks to respond to the coronavirus pales in comparison with the breadth and scale of the rhetoric on global warming. Trump’s approach to the pandemic was something of his own creation; his dismissiveness about climate change was inherited from his party and conservative media.

So, we get the president laughing off the idea that the planet is getting warmer as residents outside the venue were struggling with smoke-heavy air that the Environmental Protection Agency labels as “unhealthy.”

His approach to the coronavirus pandemic has almost certainly resulted in more infections and deaths than would otherwise have occurred. But at least he has advocated some scientific intervention to make it better and not, as he has with climate change, done nearly everything in his power to scale back efforts at mitigation.