US President Donald Trump may no longer think that climate change is a “hoax,” but he made clear that he still doubts whether humans are driving the phenomenon and thinks the whole thing could reverse itself.
Trump reiterated his doubts on climate change during an interview with 60 Minutes on CBS [television], even as he distanced himself from a past tweet asserting that global warming is a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese.
Trump also said that scientists with “a very big political agenda” have fanned concerns about the phenomenon.
“I don’t think it’s a hoax. I think there’s probably a difference, but I don’t know that it’s man-made,” Trump said. “I’m not denying climate change. But it could very well go back.”
The president’s remarks aired one week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report warning that countries must take “unprecedented” action over the next 12 years to keep global warming in check and prevent a cascade of catastrophic consequences, from devastating droughts and savage storms to rising seas.
Trump’s comments contradict research about the way carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases behave in the atmosphere.
Global temperatures have already risen 1°C since the industrial revolution, and scientists broadly agree that greenhouse gas emissions, including those released when oil and coal are burned to generate electricity, are the primary cause of global warming.
“There really is no serious scientific disagreement that if you put massive amounts of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and you increase concentration, that traps heat,” said Kate Marvel, an associate research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “There really is no dispute on that.”
Trump’s suggestion that the climate will snap back marks an evolution of his views on the issue. He previously told the New York Times in January that “there is a cooling and there is a heating.”
Now, he appears to be confidently forecasting a reversal of climate change.
“I think something’s happening,” Trump told CBS journalist Lesley Stahl. “Something’s changing and it’ll change back again.”
Trump delivered his analysis without offering additional scientific support for his views.
White House officials did not respond on Monday to e-mailed requests for comment.
Scientists draw a distinction between big shifts in the world’s climate stretching over millennia and the recent rapid warming trend.
US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data show that there has not been a cooler-than-average year since 1976. Instead, it has been hotter than average every year — all 41 of them — since.
The Earth keeps setting temperature records — 2014 was the hottest year for surface temperature, until 2015, which was even hotter, NOAA data show.
Then 2016 topped even that., and last year was the third-hottest, after 2016 and 2015, the data show.
“The odds of that happening by chance are just statistically infinitesimal,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor and senior fellow at Stanford University. “We also know that warming is not consistent with volcanoes or solar cycles or these non-human sources.”
The existence of past cool periods — including the Ice Age — are not evidence the current warming trend is illusory — they help support it, scientists say.
Some of the strongest evidence and understanding of what causes Earth’s climate to change come from studies documenting conditions before humans showed up, Diffenbaugh said.
Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, said it is unclear what Trump meant in asserting that the climate can “go back.”
“Given the scientific community’s view that the warming is driven by greenhouse gases, there’s zero reason to think that climate change will reverse itself,” Dessler said.
In the CBS interview, Trump reiterated his view that he is not willing to risk US jobs or the US economy to confront climate change, even if “something’s happening.”
“I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars,” Trump said. “I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t want to be put at a disadvantage.”
That is in keeping with Trump’s decision in June last year to pull the US out of the landmark Paris climate accord, based on an argument that living up to the pact’s carbon-cutting commitments would punish the US and deal a devastating cost to the economy.
Under Trump, federal agencies also are easing a slew of former US president Barack Obama-era regulations designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from oil wells, automobiles and power plants.
Trump has long questioned climate change, declaring in one November 2012 tweet that the entire “concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”
Although Trump told 60 Minutes that “something’s changing,” he later added: “You don’t know whether or not that would have happened with or without man. You don’t know.”
Michael Mann, a scientist at Pennsylvania State University, calls that “one of the standard ‘stages of denial’” on climate.
“The first stage is ‘it’s not happening.’ The second stage of denial, where Trump is currently located, is ‘it’s not human-caused,’” Mann said. “In reality, there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the warming we have seen over the past century can only be explained by human-caused climate change and in particular the burning of fossil fuels, something that Trump’s key supporters and funders profit from directly.”
Trump’s latest assertions dovetail with the careful refrain many of his top officials have adopted on climate change: acknowledging the climate is or might be changing, but questioning how much of it is caused by humans.
The posture, adopted by former US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, might undercut accusations from environmental groups that they are “climate deniers.”
The careful rhetorical formulation also provides room for administration officials to acknowledge climate change without pursuing policies to curb the use of fossil fuels that is driving the phenomenon.
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