Week 91: Speak No Climate Change, Hear No Climate Change . . .

Trump denies climate change on “60 Minutes,” and yet his administration says climate facts are indisputable in court. Also, strange things are afoot between Ben Carson and Ryan Zinke’s scandals.

October 19, 2018

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.

Climate Change Denial Denial

President Trump relaunched his climate change denial campaign on 60 Minutes this week, telling Lesley Stahl:

I think something’s happening. Something’s changing, and it’ll change back again. I don’t think it’s a hoax. I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s man-made . . . I’m not denying climate change, but it could very well go back.

When Stahl challenged him, Trump wasn’t prepared. Stahl pointed out that Trump’s position is, in fact, climate change denial. No one disputes that there is variation in the earth’s climate—to deny that is to argue with thermometers. What Trump denies (despite scientific evidence) is that humans have made a significant impact on the climate via our carbon emissions.

“What about the scientists who say it’s worse than ever?” Stahl asked.

“Ah . . .” Trump began. Then he froze, gape-jawed, his rolling rhetorical bluster briefly interrupted by an unfamiliar moment of contemplation. When he eventually snapped to, Trump reverted to his familiar strategy of attacking people rather than confronting facts, saying, “You’d have to show me the scientists, because they have a very big political agenda.”

How long can this situation persist, in which one side of a debate produces reams upon reams of undisputed data and incontrovertible evidence, while the other side alleges political bias without ever producing a scintilla of proof?

“There’s never been a conspiracy by a huge field of science,” points out Texas A&M climatologist Andrew Dessler. “And this would have to be an extremely massive conspiracy, considering the thousands of scientists working on this.”

Which brings me to my other point: how nonsensical the bias allegation is. Trump professes to know that climate scientists have a political agenda but in the same sentence admits that he doesn’t even know who the scientists are. To “show” Trump these scientists, we would need a small football stadium.

Speaking for the Dead

An interview with the Associated Press provided another odd climate moment for the president this week. Trump said of climate change, “My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years—Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”

Let pass, for a moment, the inanity of Trump’s claim that having an uncle in science is proof of his own great scientific “instincts.” Focus instead on Trump’s admission that he never discussed climate change with his uncle.

Now look at this quote, from a 2016 interview with the New York Times editorial board, in which Trump again discusses climate change: “My uncle was for 35 years a professor at MIT. He was a great engineer, scientist. He was a great guy. And he was . . . a long time ago, he had feelings—this was a long time ago—he had feelings on this subject.”

The Roman writer Quintilian once wrote, “Mendacem memorem esse oportet.” A liar should have a good memory. Donald Trump is not a good liar.

Professor John Trump, who worked on high-voltage X-rays, died in 1985. That was three years before climatologist James Hansen’s congressional testimony on global warming, which is generally considered the moment that climate change entered the national discourse. It is exceedingly unlikely that several years beforehand John Trump would have been so worked up about climate change that his views would have been widely known to his family—enough that young Donald would have known about them without even having to ask Uncle John.

Tell lawmakers to act now to avoid climate catastrophe

Gag the Lab Coats

A landmark climate change lawsuit is about to go to trial, and the Trump administration doesn’t want scientists to testify.

Three years ago, a group of young Americans accused the government of failing to fulfill their right to live in a safe and stable climate. After a series of procedural maneuvers and government attempts to get the case dismissed, the lawyers are gearing up for trial in Oregon.

But now a legal dispute has arisen over whether prominent climatologists should be allowed to testify and what they should be allowed to say. The Department of Justice claims that there is no need to litigate the basic facts of climate change, because those are not in dispute.

What’s that, now? The president of the United States spent the week disputing the basic facts of climate change on CBS, and his underlings have been spreading the seeds of climate change denial since before he even took office. But now, when witnesses have to testify under oath while people in intimidating black robes scowl down at them from elevated chairs, suddenly the administration admits that climate change is settled science.

So the Trump administration won’t deny climate change in court, where you have to tell the truth and present evidence. But on television, denying climate change is one of the president’s favorite pastimes.

Getting Nervous, Zinke?

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the subject of more than a dozen government investigations, including one about a shady deal back in Montana involving the oil industry and a brewery. It would surprise no one if he’d like a friendly face investigating his alleged shenanigans rather than an impartial law enforcement official.

Late last week, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson announced that Zinke would get that friendly face, saying that a HUD appointee was moving to the Department of Interior to serve as Inspector General. In that position, the former Trump official, who has neither law enforcement nor auditing experience, would replace a 20-year veteran of conducting investigations at DOI.

“This is a very big deal,” tweeted a former Justice Department inspector general, Michael Bromwich. “Politicizing the oversight function is dangerous, especially in the absence of any congressional oversight.” The inescapable assumption was that Zinke felt the brewpub that he’d been promised slipping away and had to make a move.

Then, late yesterday, the administration announced that the move was off, blaming the media for jumping to conclusions. And by jumping to conclusions, they meant trusting what Ben Carson says.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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