How Trump’s climate change beliefs put the environment at risk
To hear Donald Trump tell it, no one knows more about the climate than him. No, really. When asked about climate change, the President of the United States told reporters earlier this week, "I think I know more about the environment than most people."
This is not the first him he's offered assurances that he is actually a genius when it comes to the climate. He's previously said, "I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth," referring to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.
Given his self-appointed status as an expert, it perhaps makes sense that Trump felt comfortable enough skipping a conversation on the climate at the G7 summit to instead tweet. (His administration apparently wasn't as comfortable with that version of the story, opting instead to claim he missed the session because of meetings going long — even though the world leaders he was supposedly meeting with were at the climate session). No matter how Trump's absence is explained, the fact of the matter is the president appears to feel like he knows enough about the climate already that he doesn't need to be introduced to new information. Trump has decided that he knows everything there is to know — or at least everything he needs to know — to dictate environmental policy. He is choosing to remain ignorant when it comes to the science surrounding the issue of climate change, and that willful disregard for facts and new information is going to cost us money, land and lives. Let's take a look at Trump's beliefs about climate change and just how wrong they are.
Climate change is a hoax
One of Trump's longest-standing positions on climate change is that it doesn't even exist. He's stated this belief in multiple ways, most famously that the concept of climate change was made up entirely by the Chinese government in some sort of convoluted attempt to devalue and destroy the American manufacturing industry. In 2012, Trump said in a now-deleted tweet, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." He later claimed the tweet was just a joke, but his skepticism on the concept of climate change certainly isn't. In 2015, he said during a radio interview "I am not a believer" in climate change. Instead, he believes "there’s change, and I believe it goes up and it goes down, and it goes up again," suggesting humans don't play a significant role — or any role at all — in climate change. When presented with federal scientists' fourth annual National Climate Assessment published in 2018, which predicted widespread harm to the national economy if action isn't taken to address climate change, Trump said, "I don't believe it."
Because Trump doesn't believe in climate change, his administration likewise has chosen to not just ignore the issue but pretend it doesn't exist at all. Massive amounts of information on the topic were removed from the Environmental Protection Agency's website following Trump's election. The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, which tracks changes made to government websites, reported that more than 200 web pages that distill information about our climate were omitted in Trump's first year, while other pages were altered to remove mention of climate change entirely.
Likewise, department heads under Trump have carried out a climate change denial agenda. The United States Geological Survey has started only projecting the impact of climate change out to 2040 instead of 2099. Similarly, the upcoming National Climate Assessment will reportedly not include any "worst-case scenario projections" that could occur that far out into the future, even though most models show the most damaging effects of climate change are likely to start around 2050.
Climate change, of course, is real. We know for a fact that the earth's climate is warming. There is also a consensus among most scientists that humans are at least in part responsible for recent climate-warming trends. More than 97 percent of peer-reviewed scientific journals come to this conclusion. We know that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere is linked to the average global temperature, we know that those greenhouse gas levels have been rising since the Industrial Revolution, and we know that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, the United Nations — just about every major scientific organization that one can imagine will vouch for this.
Global warming just means warmer temperatures
Part of Trump's schtick when it comes to climate change is insisting that global warming simply means higher temperatures. He has, on multiple occasions, made the comment that maybe we "need" global warming when it gets too cold outside. He's done this for years, dating back to before he was president, and has carried on the bit while in office. As recently as last winter, Trump has made comments to the effect that global warming can't be real because it's so cold outside. "In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming [sic]?" Please come back fast, we need you!" he tweeted in January as record-breaking freezing temperatures that killed dozens of people blanketed the country.
This isn't how global warming works, and is also, in part, why scientists have moved away from using the term in favor of "climate change." The word "warming" causes confusion, or in the case of Trump gives cover for willful misunderstanding. Global warming does not refer to the temperature that we experience, otherwise known as the weather. It refers to the Earth's average surface temperature. As it rises, it will get hotter on earth and we will experience more extreme weather events. That includes more record-breaking cold fronts, not just heat waves.
Coal and natural gas are clean energy sources
Given the fact that Trump doesn't believe climate change is caused by human activity, it tracks that he'd also have no issue with digging up and burning as much fossil fuel as humanly possible. In setting the agenda for his administration, the president revealed his America First Energy Plan, which touted plans to increase drilling for natural gas and mining for coal. "America has been held back by burdensome regulations on [its] energy industry," he claimed. The Trump administration claims that untapped oil and coal resources within the nation's borders are worth nearly $50 trillion, and it has freely given the green light to just about anyone who wants to go get those supposed resources. To highlight the appeal of these fossil fuels, the Trump administration has launched a branding effort for them. Trump regularly talks of "clean coal" in an attempt to rehabilitate the resource's tendency for being a major pollutant. Similarly, the Department of Energy under Trump has started referring to natural gas as "freedom gas" and claims it is packed with "molecules of U.S. freedom."
In order to facilitate the apparent need for more natural gas and coal, Trump has signed off on tons of rollbacks of policies designed to protect land, human health, and the environment. The administration has shrunk the borders around national monuments in order to allow for drilling in areas where it was otherwise prohibited. Regulations that restricted fracking on federal and Native American lands have been done away with, and permission has been granted to construct an oil pipeline that would run just one mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The administration has also started pushing to open up Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the world's largest remaining temperate rainforest, to logging and mining efforts.
It's not just on land, though. The Trump administration has also opened up the shores for oil drilling. Rules meant to preserve coastal areas near oceans and the Great Lakes have been scrapped, as have offshore drilling safety regulations that were designed to prevent another oil spill like the 2010 disaster in the Gulf Coast that poured 4.9 million barrels worth of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Along with opening up previously protected areas to new drilling, Trump has also done away with initiatives meant to hold companies accountable for their potential environmental impact. The president's administration no longer requires oil and gas companies to report methane emissions and partially repealed a rule that limited the amount of methane emissions allowed on public lands, as well as loosened a law that restricted the amount of toxic emissions from industrial polluters. Mine owners no longer need to prove that they can pay for clean up and any future pollution caused by their operations, and oil rig owners no longer have to prove they can pay the cost of removing a rig after it has finished drilling.
All of this is incredibly harmful to the environment, and rolling back safety requirements for those attempting to extract natural gas and oil not only could result in reckless drilling and mining practices but also could put the lives of workers at risk. But beyond that, the whole idea that the United States is leaving money on the table by keeping companies from expanding drilling and mining efforts is totally bunk in the first place. America already had the largest oil reserve in the world, with more barrels available than even oil-reliant economies like Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Even though under Trump the U.S. has taken over as the largest oil producer in the world, it hasn't changed much for the nation's economy because it is private companies rather than government-owned entities doing the drilling. As far as coal goes, clean coal simply isn't a thing. It's a nebulous term that has no actual definition and can essentially mean whatever you want it to mean. However you choose to define it, though, it doesn't exist. There is no clean coal, there is coal that is responsible for slightly fewer carbon emissions than standard coal but still considerably more than any alternative. Coal is dying because it is inefficient, more expensive, and bad for the planet, not because of regulatory attempts to make mining less destructive.
Solar power and wind power are too expensive
One of the primary explanations Trump gives for increasing the production of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, is the idea that clean energy alternatives like wind and solar are simply too expensive to justify. In a 2016 interview with Herman Cain, Trump said that wind and solar don't work on a "large-scale," explaining that in his view, "Solar is very, very expensive. Wind is very, very expensive, and it only works when it’s windy." He's maintained these beliefs while in office, claiming that when the wind doesn't blow, people will have to turn off their televisions and lights if they are reliant on wind farms for energy. He's also claimed that wind turbines are responsible for killing birds. The President has called solar "wonderful" but also "not strong enough and it's very, very expensive." Trump has also made the completely bizarre claim that noise from wind turbines causes cancer.
The killing birds thing is an odd critique considering that the Trump administration has reversed a policy that considered the accidental killing of birds by wind turbines to be a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and recent changes made to the Endangered Species Act will almost certainly result in the deaths and possible extinctions of more animals.
Beyond that, most of what Trump is saying is nonsense. Solar and wind have become increasingly affordable, with analysis from Energy Innovation suggesting that both will soon be more cost-effective sources of energy than coal in the coming years. The Department of Energy reported in 2016 that costs of renewable energy were down by as much as 64 percent from just eight years earlier and has become so efficient that countries like Germany and the United Kingdom have found it to be the cheapest energy source available to them. Wind and solar also don't only work when the weather conditions are right, because we have gotten exponentially better at energy storage, so even when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining, there are large reserves of stored power to tap into generated during ideal conditions. Also, it should go without saying, but: wind turbines don't cause cancer. Of course they don't.