Last week, federal scientists released their damning new National Climate Assessment, which warned that if action is not taken to stop global climate change, the U.S. will suffer greatly from consequences including dwindling water supplies, sea-level rise, epidemics, natural disasters, and billions of dollars in damages. It also noted that storms, wildfires, floods, hurricanes and other extreme events are already being worsened by warming average temperatures.
Donald Trump’s administration has tried to undercut its own scientists with tactics like burying the report on Black Friday and dispatching spokespeople to spread blatant lies about its methodology and conclusions. But if you want to hear what the big man himself has to say, a Tuesday interview with the president in the Washington Post is, really, incredibly painful to read.
The Post’s Josh Dawsey asked Trump, “You said yesterday when you were leaving that you were skeptical of a climate change report that the government had done. Can you just explain why you’re skeptical of that report?”
The president’s response was less an answer than an unedited stream of consciousness, with Trump touching on everything from from his “very high levels of intelligence” and the “incredibly dirty” air invading the U.S. from China, Russia, and South America to how “oceans are very small” compared to the atmosphere. Trump also doubled down on his comments that the president of Finland, Sauli Niinisto, told him that wildfires could be prevented by “raking”—something Niinisto said never happened—as well as brought up the possibility that maybe the Earth is actually about to enter a new Ice Age.
Trump began by explaining his theory that U.S. water and air is “record clean,” but other countries are “incredibly dirty. And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small... It blows over and it sails over”:
One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water and it’s right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including – just many other places — the air is incredibly dirty. And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over. I mean, we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific, it flows, and we say where does this come from. And it takes many people to start off with.
Pollution is bad. Smog and garbage are bad. But shifting the focus to particulate exposure, water contamination, and literal garbage that supposedly “comes over from Asia” is a deliberate distraction from greenhouse gases, which are the drivers of rising average global temperatures. This attempted sleight of hand relies not only on redefining industrial greenhouse gas emissions as somehow not pollutants themselves but ignoring that Trump’s administration has launched massive attacks on regulations and agencies responsible for safeguarding the environment.
Also, he’s full of it on how clean the U.S.’ air and water is.
Barely missing a beat, Trump then suggested that since he’d heard of “articles” talking about “global freezing” before—doubtlessly referring to some brain poison he’d ingested via Fox News—scientists couldn’t be trusted beyond rare points of agreement like that there is “movement in the atmosphere.” He then turned the subject back to bad “forest management,” which virtually all experts have said is not the cause of the devastating California wildfires:
Number two, if you go back and if you look at articles, they talked about global freezing, they talked about at some point the planets could have freeze to death, then it’s going to die of heat exhaustion. There is movement in the atmosphere. There’s no question. As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it—not nearly like it is. Do we want clean water? Absolutely. Do we want clean air to breathe? Absolutely. The fire in California, where I was, if you looked at the floor, the floor of the fire they have trees that were fallen, they did no forest management, no forest maintenance, and you can light—you can take a match like this and light a tree trunk when that thing is laying there for more than 14 or 15 months. And it’s a massive problem in California.
In any case, “forest management” is just the president’s euphemism for environmentally destructive logging.
Finally, Trump reaffirmed that he still likes the way “raking” rolls off the tongue in a conclusion so rambling it isn’t worth addressing. But here it is anyhow, if you wanted to have a spontaneous aneurysm:
Josh, you go to other places where they have denser trees — it’s more dense, where the trees are more flammable — they don’t have forest fires like this, because they maintain. And it was very interesting, I was watching the firemen and they’re raking brush — you know the tumbleweed and brush and all this stuff that’s growing underneath. It’s on fire and they’re raking it working so hard, and they’re raking all this stuff. If that was raked in the beginning, there’d be nothing to catch on fire. It’s very interesting to see. A lot of the trees, they took tremendous burn at the bottom, but they didn’t catch on fire. The bottom is all burned but they didn’t catch on fire because they sucked the water, they’re wet. You need forest management, and they don’t have it.
This kind of stuff is nothing new coming from Trump, who lives so far in his own reality that he is still insisting the existence of winter proves the planet isn’t heating up. But that shouldn’t make it any less alarming, or frankly offensive to the countless people the National Climate Assessment projects have faced or will face severe consequences from a warming climate. At a time when wildfires linked to climate change-worsened droughts are wiping swathes of California off the map and extensive damage to U.S. ecosystems is already occurring, the president can’t be bothered to understand the issue. He really can’t even be bothered to learn what the climate is, exactly, beyond some kind of thing that has to do with air.
“Facts aren’t something we need to believe to make them true—we treat them as optional at our peril,” Texas Tech University climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told the Post. “And if we’re the president of the United States, we do so at the peril of not just ourselves but the hundreds of millions of people we’re responsible for.”
Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences expert Andrew Dessler was more blunt, telling the paper “How can one possibly respond to this?” He added that Trump’s remarks were “idiotic.”