By Clare Foran
25 December 2016
(The Atlantic) – Denial of the broad scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of global warming could become a guiding principle of Donald Trump’s presidential administration. Though it’s difficult to pin down exactly what Trump thinks about climate change, he has a well-established track record of skepticism and denial. He has called global warming a “hoax,” insisted while campaigning for the Republican nomination that he’s “not a big believer in man-made climate change,” and recently suggested that “nobody really knows” if climate change exists. Trump also plans to nominate Republicans to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department who have expressed skepticism toward the scientific agreement on human-caused global warming.
Indeed, Trump’s election is a triumph of climate denial, and will elevate him to the top of a Republican Party where prominent elected officials have publicly rejected the climate consensus. It’s not that the presidential election was a referendum on global warming. Climate change barely came up during the presidential debates, and voters rated the environment as a far less pressing concern than issues like the economy, terrorism, and health care. But that relative lack of concern signals that voters have not prioritized action on climate change, if they want any action taken at all. Trump’s victory sends a message that failing to embrace climate science still isn’t disqualifying for a presidential candidate, even as scientists warn that the devastating consequences of global warming are under way and expected to intensify in the years ahead.
If Trump fails to take climate change seriously, the federal government may do little to address the threat of a warming planet in the next four years. A presidential administration hostile to climate science also threatens to deepen, or at the very least prolong, the skepticism that already exists in American political life. “If the Trump administration continues to push the false claim that global warming is a hoax, not happening, not human caused, or not a serious problem, I’d expect many conservative Republican voters to follow their lead,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication.
The entrenchment of climate-science denial is one of the ways the United States appears to be exceptional relative to the rest of the world. A comparative 2015 study of nine conservative political parties in countries such as Canada, Germany, and Spain concluded that “the U.S. Republican Party is an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change.” Meanwhile, Americans were least likely to agree that climate change is largely the result of human activity in a 2014 survey of 20 countries, including China, India, Australia, and Great Britain. [more]