LICHTMAN: Trump, Once A Climate-Change Believer, Has Become A Skeptic

Allan Lichtman | Distinguished Professor of History, American University

President Trump has emerged as the world’s leading denier of human caused climate change through the production of greenhouse gas emissions. The president has withdrawn the United States from the 195-nation Paris Agreement on climate change. He has rolled back Obama-era policies to limit the burning of fossil fuels. He has promoted the production and use in America of coal, oil, and natural gas. The president has joined with Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait in an effort to water-down a United Nations declaration about the dangers of climate change.

Yet, before he transited from businessman to politician, Trump’s was singing a very different tune on climate change.

On Dec. 6, 2009, on the eve of U.N. Climate Talks in Copenhagen, business leaders wrote an open letter to President Obama. “If we fail to act now [on climate change], it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet,” they wrote. Signatories included Donald J. Trump, Donald Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump.

The signatories insisted that policies to combat climate change would advance not retard the American economy: “Investing in a Clean energy economy will drive state-of-the-art technologies that will spur economic growth, create new energy jobs, and increase our energy security, all the while reducing the harmful emissions that are putting our planet at risk.”

Since 2009, the science has become even more “irrefutable,” and the dangers of climate change have become a present-day emergency. A comprehensive “National Climate Report” by a panel of administration scientists concluded last month that “in communities across the United States,” climate change threatens “human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growthTrump cavalierly dismissed these findings, saying, “One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers.”

A second report this month from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that the unprecedented warming of the Artic region and the melting of polar ice caps has pushed the world into unchartered territory and threatened the continental United States. The report concluded that, “Continued warming of the Arctic atmosphere and ocean are driving broad change in the environmental system in predicted and, also, unexpected ways. New emerging threats are taking form and highlighting the level of uncertainty in the breadth of environmental change that is to come.” Not just the people and wildlife of the Arctic, but nations across the globe, “are already experiencing the changes and implications of a warming and melting Artic.”

President Trump has not yet commented on the NOAA report, but he had earlier dismissed the reality of melting Artic ice. “The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but they’re setting records, OK?” Trump said in January 2018. “They’re at a record level.” Yet, earlier, in 2017, administration scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had already reached a conclusion opposite to this presidential claim, noting that “Arctic sea ice appears to have reached on March 7 a record low wintertime maximum extent.”

What has changed for Donald Trump since 2009 is cynical political calculation. As a peerless manipulator of reality, as businessman and reality television star, Trump knew that he could not succeed as a Republican politician unless he shifted his intelligence on climate change. So, Trump joined the discredited ranks of the self-interested deniers of science.

Efforts to combat climate change, the National Climate Report concluded, do “not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.” Yet, Trump is throwing into reverse policies aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change,

When it comes to profits rather than politics, Trump returns to his 2009 views on climate change science. An application to government authorities that consultants submitted on behalf of Trump International Golf Links and Hotel Enterprises Ltd. in 2016 to build a sea wall around his golf course and hotel in Doonbeg, Ireland, cited the potential effects of climate change on rising seas and erosion. ‘If the predictions of an increase in sea level rise as a result of global warming prove correct, however, it is likely that there will be a corresponding increase in coastal erosion rates,” the application said.

Trump’s climate change policies may have helped him politically but could contribute to his impeachment. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has expanded its priorities to include the prosecution of governments and individuals for crimes against humanity through “destruction of the environment,” which encompasses catastrophic climate change. Although the United States is not a party to the ICC, the precedent of crimes against the environment as a crime against humanity could become another basis for the impeachment of President Trump.

In another world, if a president of the United States denied the “scientifically irrefutable” evidence of climate change and exposed Trump’s family and his business ventures to “catastrophic and irreversible consequences,” then perhaps, Trump himself would be the one calling most loudly for impeachment.

Allan J. Lichtman (@AllanLichtman) is distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C. and author of The Case For Impeachment.


 The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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