Trump Addresses Climate Change

There is so little regard for well established truths in Trump’s statements on climate change that it would be painful to listen to even if the fate of human civilization didn’t hang in the balance. Trump admits that the climate is changing but denies that we know what is causing it. Leslie Stahl appeals to the authority of scientists and Trump impugns the motives of scientists, accusing them of being politically motivated. So let’s just digest this much for starters.

We know human activity is causing climate change and we’ve known this for a good while. It’s a pity the 60 minutes format doesn’t afford the few sentences it would take to explain this. We know that burning fossil fuels results in CO2 emissions. Your car emits several tons of CO2 per year. We know that CO2 traps heat energy. This is easy to demonstrate in the laboratory. And we know that the extra energy that gets trapped in the atmosphere as a result of our CO2 emissions has to go somewhere and do some work, which means changing the rhythms of nature human flourishing depends on. This is the first law of thermodynamics. From here the implications are clear. This much is basic physics and chemistry. The level of scientific literacy required for understanding how human activity is changing the climate is basic.

And yet, the standard journalistic move when confronted with climate skepticism is to appeal to the authority of scientists. This move opens the door to the ad hominem fallacy that our president perpetrated in this interview.  Scientists, it is alleged, are just another special interest group lobbying for their economic interests. This canard has been around for a while, but the lie is transparent. Smart people who care more about money than truth don’t go into any branch of science. They go into IT, engineering, law, or better yet, finance. Scientific research is hard, often tedious work that usually doesn’t pay very well. You have to be interested in figuring things out to take research up as a career. It’s sometimes hard to tell what motivates people. This is not one of those times.

Finally, true to form, Trump views the politics of climate change as a zero sum game, where we are being asked to forego our best interests for the sake of  others. This, however, is a case where we the others are our children. Poker is a zero sum game. Being a parent, a citizen, a part of human civilization, is not.

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