The National Climate Assessment, reflecting the combined judgment of 13 federal agencies, from NASA to the Pentagon, was originally scheduled to be released late last year. The Trump administration, however, decided to move up the release date to Nov. 23 – the day after Thanksgiving – to help ensure the smallest possible audience for the information.
That’s probably because the report was quite terrifying, warning of dramatic environmental, economic, and national security consequences resulting from an intensifying climate crisis. Asked for his reactions to the document, Donald Trump briefly pretended he’d “read some of it,” before adding, “I don’t believe it.”
And who, pray tell, does the president believe? Some guy he saw on Fox News this morning. Trump published this tweet a few hours ago:
“Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace: ‘The whole climate crisis is not only Fake News, it’s Fake Science. There is no climate crisis, there’s weather and climate all around the world, and in fact carbon dioxide is the main building block of all life.’ @foxandfriends Wow!”
As is too often the case, Trump has no idea what he’s talking about. As Greenpeace USA explained soon after, “Patrick Moore was not a co-founder of Greenpeace. He does not represent Greenpeace. He is a paid lobbyist, not an independent source.”
The environmental organization added on its website that Moore has been a “paid spokesman for a variety of polluting industries for more than 30 years.”
Moore also happens to be an adviser to the Heartland Institute, a conservative advocacy organization that rejects the mainstream scientific consensus on the climate crisis.
Oddly enough, Trump neglected to mention any of this in his misguided tweet.
But stepping back, the larger problem is the president’s strained relationship with reality. When it comes to global warming, Trump has a choice between believing scientists and officials in his own administration, or accepting the word of some guy he saw on Fox News. Naturally, the Republican chooses the latter without hesitation.
This same epistemological dynamic has come to define his presidency.
As we discussed in November, one of the most important jobs of any American president is applying sound judgment while processing an enormous amount of information. To a very real extent, it’s how a president spends most of his or her day: people come to the president with challenging issues, and he or she makes the best decisions possible based on the available information.
A president has to make snap judgments all the time about what information to value, what to discard, and what to remember for future reference. Given the panoramic nature of a president’s responsibilities, it’s profoundly difficult.
And unfortunately for all of us, Trump is tragically bad at this part of his job. It’s evident in his embrace of ridiculous conspiracy theories, and it’s equally clear in his rejection of facts bolstered by evidence.
Trump believes what he wants to believe. He starts with the answer that satisfies him and works backwards to rationalize the version of “reality” that satisfies him.