Donald Trump’ ignorance about the climate crisis is, alas, not altogether new. As regular readers know, in 2012, Trump made the case 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.
Last summer, after the president announced his rejection of the Paris climate accord, 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.
It’s far less of a secret now. Trump sat down over the weekend with Piers Morgan and the Republican elaborated on his perspective.
MORGAN: Do you believe in climate change? Do you think it exists?
TRUMP: There is a cooling and there is a heating, and I mean, look: It used to not be climate change. It used to be global warming.
TRUMP: Right? That wasn’t working too well, because it was getting too cold all over the place. The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records, O.K., they’re at a record level.
None of this makes any sense. When it comes to understanding the crisis at even the most basic level, everything the president said was just pure madness.
For a point-by-point refutation, The New Republic’s Emily Atkin published a great item yesterday, which is well worth your time.
But I also wanted to step back and return to a point we discussed several weeks ago: appreciating the difference between ignorance and willful ignorance.
When there’s little practical difference between the head of state of the world’s preeminent superpower 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 details 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.
A bill will come due. Given the seriousness of the climate crisis, the costs and consequences will be severe.
Postscript: In Sunday’s interview, Morgan also asked if Trump is “completely out” of the Paris climate accord. The president replied, “I’m completely out of it.” To the extent that reality still has meaning, that’s not, strictly speaking, true.