This could become President Trump’s Sen. Jim Inhofe moment, in which a dramatic flourish to make a political point instead just displays an astounding mix of arrogance and ignorance.
So what did Trump do this time (how’s that for an evergreen question)?
It’s cold in most of the country. Of course, it’s also winter, and they go hand in hand in most of the U.S. As does snowfall. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, famously carried a snowball made of fresh-fallen snow on Capitol Hill to the Senate floor in February 2015 as evidence that global warming isn’t real. Which is like citing a few sprinkles of rain as proof that a drought isn’t happening.
On Thursday, amid all that cold back East, the climatologist in chief tweeted:
Let’s dissect that. The line about using “a little bit of that good old Global Warming” by itself is a shrug-off, the kind of (predictable and not funny) one-liner you’d hear around a water cooler in just about any worksite (probably not at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). But then Trump undercut the joke (if it was one) by crowing about his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement. “Look how smart I am!” he implies. “I saved us trillions of dollars!”
Not really. The U.S. pledged $3 billion in aid to developing countries to help them develop energy sources and comply with the emissions reductions necessary to keep the global atmospheric temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The U.S. also pledged to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases 28% below 2005 levels. To do so will be expensive, and likely will cost jobs in the fossil fuel sector, but it also offers investment and development opportunities in renewable energy sources — and add jobs.
Not confronting global warming itself will be expensive. In fact, over the last decade climate change propelled by global warming has cost the U.S. about $350 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget. And the country will spend billions a year over the next few decades to cope with rising seas inundating infrastructure, damage from more frequent and more powerful extreme weather events, and shifting agricultural and human migration patterns. Doesn’t it make sense that, if we have to incur costs, we do so along a path to a better and more habitable world?
Incidentally, some scientists believe that cold snaps like the one hitting most of the U.S. now can also be traced to global warming, as reduced ice on the Arctic Ocean affects the polar vortex, sending extremely cold temperatures farther from the polar region. So the frozen fountain at Bryant Park depicted above might be evidence of the very phenomenon that Trump so steadfastly refuses to accept.
These are serious issues, but they are being addressed by the president in a decidedly unserious manner. True, the nation is used to Trump firing up his little Tweet machine first thing in the morning and blasting out ridiculous comments. When they’re not self-aggrandizing, they’re needlessly provocative, designed to rile people up and simultaneously distract attention from serious issues confronting the administration and the nation, while making Trump the focus point of attention. It’s like having a 4-year-old at a cocktail party, where an adult conversation is impossible until the little noisemaker gets packed off to bed.
That’s why many of us try to ignore the bleating tweeted out from the presidential phone. So much of it is just tantrums — annoying and distracting, but inconsequential.
But here we have the president of the United States yet again braying on about global warming as if he knows what he’s talking about. His ignorance and his hubris seem to be locked in a death struggle with each other. The net effect is he gives cover to the small segment of people who deny the scientific reality about what human activity — notably burning fossil fuels — has done and is doing to the atmosphere. And he sets back necessary discussion and planning for an inevitable future.