President Donald Trump speaks about the US role in the Paris climate change accord in the Rose Garden, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo...
Andrew Harnik

On climate change, Trump offers an example of willful ignorance

In 2012, Donald Trump said he believes that climate data is part of an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by China to undermine the American economy. That, of course, made Trump sound hopelessly bonkers, but it didn’t stop him from dismissing climate change as a “hoax,” over and over again.

With this in mind, after the president announced his rejection of the Paris climate accord on June 1, Trump World faced a simple question: does Trump still think global warming is fake? In a curious development, no one in the president’s orbit – Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt – was willing to answer the question. The president’s position on one of the world’s biggest issues was, to a very real extent, a White House secret.

I guess it’s not much of a secret anymore.

Frigid temperatures are expected to grip much of the upper Great Plains and Northeast through the New Year – a forecast that President Donald Trump used to cast doubt on global warming.

Trump tweeted Thursday night that parts of the eastern U.S. could see the coldest New Year’s Eve on record, adding, “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against.”

Now, at this point, we could talk about the fact that cold weather in a small part of the planet in late December does not disprove climate change. Or we could talk about the fact that the Trump Organization is taking global warming seriously, even if Trump himself is not. Or maybe we could explain in great detail all of the evidence showing just how warm 2017 was.

And while all of this is important – indeed, the future of life on the planet may depend on it – this seems instead like a good time to talk about the difference between ignorance and willful ignorance.

That the American president is basically trolling everyone, pointing to cold weather as proof against global warming, is insulting to the nation’s intelligence. We are, after all, supposed to be the world’s preeminent superpower. When there’s little practical difference between the leader of our executive branch and your weird uncle who watches Fox News all day, it undermines our capacity for international leadership and casts the United States in a deeply embarrassing light.

The difference, however, between your weird uncle and the American president is that the latter has almost limitless access to the best information in the world.

Donald Trump, however, doesn’t care about taking advantage of this unique epistemological opportunity.

It’s discouraging, of course, that the president doesn’t understand the most rudimentary basics of climate change. But it’s far worse than the president doesn’t want to understand. Trump knows the information is there, but he’s simply too lazy care.

What we’re left with is a president who is unnervingly comfortable with his ignorance. Trump seems convinced that his own baseless assumptions must be true, so he experiences no curiosity, asks no questions, and makes no effort to grow intellectually. He revels in his blissful obliviousness, using it as a punch-line in poorly written tweets.

A bill will come due. Given the seriousness of the climate crisis, the costs and consequences will be severe.

Climate Change, Donald Trump and Global Warming

On climate change, Trump offers an example of willful ignorance