News flash: President Donald Trump no longer believes that climate change is a hoax. In an interview with the CBS program 60 Minutes on Sunday, he told Lesley Stahl that he’s “not denying climate change” and that “something’s happening.”
Has the president finally accepted what scientists have been saying for decades? Did he read the UN special report that came out last week? Or the key findings of the Fourth National Climate Assessment released by his own administration last November?
Nah. Although Trump backed off on his earlier, evidence-free claim that climate change is a Chinese invention, he made what a New York Times fact-check described as “several new assertions unsupported by science,” claiming that global warming could reverse itself and casting doubt on whether it is driven by human activity. In other words, his position on climate change is shifting in lockstep with virtually every other prominent climate denier: from “it’s not real” to “it’s a natural cycle.” Although Trump is still playing catchup with more-evolved deniers who have already admitted that climate change is human-caused but say the problem is too expensive to fix, his references to “trillions and trillions of dollars” and “millions and millions of jobs” suggest he is headed in that direction.
It’s hard to say which of the president’s misconceptions is the most wrongheaded. Yes, the planet does oscillate between warm periods and ice ages. But since about 10,000 years ago, the Earth has been in an overall cooling cycle, and this cooling would continue for thousands of years if not for human influences. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s most prominent climate research organization, reported in 2014 that the observed global warming since 1950 is “extremely likely” to be a result of human activities—meaning that the certainty level is at least 95 percent. The national report by Trump’s own administration “concluded that humans caused at least 93 percent of the warming that scientists measured from 1951 to 2010,” according to an Associated Press report.
Then there’s the idea that it would be cheaper to do nothing than to take climate action. Economists have shot down that argument repeatedly, saying that the sooner global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, the lower the cost of dealing with climate impacts. And climate change may cost the United States more than almost any other country.
My personal favorite: Climate change is a concept cooked up by money-grubbing scientists who, as Trump put it in the CBS interview, “have a very big political agenda.” I love how climate deniers seem to believe that scientific research grants are so much more lucrative than the record-setting profits made by the big oil and gas companies that contribute generously to Republican campaigns.
In some ways, the president’s new (to him, anyway) climate-denial talking points are more insidious than his claim of an outright “hoax,” which was harder for reasonable people to swallow. But his changing story does at least raise the possibility that the president will eventually arrive at a position more in keeping with the scientific consensus on climate change.