“I don’t believe it,” said Donald Trump when asked about the fourth national climate assessment, authored by 13 government agencies and hundreds of the US’s top climate scientists. His administration had tried to hide the report, publishing it on Black Friday when many Americans were either recovering from a Thanksgiving food coma or stampeding department store sales.
The administration’s plan backfired badly – the latest alarming climate science report became front-page news. Numerous Republican politicians were asked about it on TV news and politics shows, and their answers demonstrated that Trump’s climate science denial continues to pervade the GOP.
Republican party leaders’ answers ranged from platitudes – such as “our climate always changes” and “innovation” is all that is needed to solve the problem – to accusations that “a lot of these scientists are driven by the money”.
Addressing the latter point,one of the report’s lead authors, Prof Katharine Hayhoe, noted that many of its contributors were “paid zero dollars” and estimated that in the time she devoted to the assessment, she could have written eight of her own papers. Conversely, GOP politicians and operatives are paid millions of dollars annually by the fossil fuel industry. Some people are clearly driven by the money, and it’s not climate scientists.
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Read moreTrump’s comments did not stop at disbelief – he also appeared to shift blame to other countries and tout the US’s clean air and water.
“You’re going to have to have China, and Japan, and all of Asia, and all of these other countries – you know, [the report] addresses our country. Right now, we’re at the cleanest we’ve ever been, and that’s very important to me. But if we’re clean but every other place on Earth is dirty, that’s not so good. So, I want clean air, I want clean water – very important,” the president said.
AdvertisementThese comments confuse climate change with air pollution, but the two are connected. The national climate assessment report pointed out that climate change was exacerbating wildfires, which in turn create air pollution. The Camp fire in November produced so much smoke that California had the worst air quality in the world at the time.
A key figure showed that climate change had approximately doubled the area burned by wildfires in the western US, and the report noted that – contrary to the administration’s frequent claims – this increase was “more closely related to climate factors than to fire suppression, local fire management, or other non-climate factors”.
The cumulative forest area burned by wildfires in the western US between 1984 and 2015. Photograph: Fourth National Climate Assessment ReportTrump’s claim that US air is “the cleanest it’s ever been” is also not strictly true. Despite a long-term downward trend, owing in large part to the replacement of coal power plants that the Trump administration is desperately trying to save, particulate matter levels were up slightly from 2016 to 2017.
The administration’s efforts to weaken and repeal every possible environmental regulation certainly do not merit credit for the long-term improvement in air and water quality in the US.
Trump’s efforts to shift blame to other countries is also at odds with the fact that every other nation in the world has signed up to the Paris climate accords and only one government has announced its intent to withdraw from them.
US president Donald Trump. Photograph: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters
AdvertisementThe Republican party has become Trump’s as well. The few party leaders who were willing to acknowledge the threats detailed in the report claimed that all the climate policies proposed thus far would be harmful to the economy, and that we should instead focus on innovation.
While individual climate policies may or may not slow the economy, the scientific research is clear that climate change will curb economic growth – particularly in the US. The assessment report makes clear that if we’re worried about the economy, we must slow global warming. And while research into potential carbon-cutting technology innovations is needed, hoping that somebody will invent a way out of this mess is too big a risk. It is accepted that solving global warming won’t be cheap or easy but failing to do so will come at a much higher cost and not just in terms of money.
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Read moreThose were the least irrational of the Republican party’s reactions to the report, as most of the five stages of climate denial were on display. One conservative panelist went as far as to claim: “We had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years.”
In reality, at the end of this year, 2014–2018 will be the five hottest years ever recorded. And virtually everything Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said about the report was wrong, including that it was “not based on facts … not data-driven”.
As the US astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has said: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
Americans elected many climate-realist Democrats to the House of Representative and state governorships in the midterms. If the Trump administration and the GOP continue to a platform of disbelief on climate change, he and Senate Republicans may also face being voted out in 2020.