We are well aware of President Trump’s dismissive position on climate change. Dino Grandoni writes in the Washington Post about the errors he continues to make when discussing the topic.
Trump keeps making this error about climate change
When asked about climate change, President Trump has a ready answer. The United States has the “cleanest air” and “cleanest water” in the world.
But there is a big, glaring problem with that superlative response. Clear air and climate change, though related, are hardly the same thing.
Over and over again when pressed by reporters during sit-down interviews or at news conferences, Trump appears to confuse the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere with the sort of sooty air pollution that contributes to lung and heart problems when inhaled.
The president most recently made that error on Saturday during a news conference at the end of the second day of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
“We have the cleanest water we have ever had. We have the cleanest air we’ve ever had, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the tremendous power of what we’ve built up over a long period of time and what I’ve enhanced and revived,” Trump said.
Here’s the issue with that statement: The gases that are causing temperatures to rise globally and those that make the air “dirty” — that is, those that contribute to health problem when inhaled — are not always the same.
While carbon dioxide, for example, traps energy in the atmosphere, it is safe for humans to breathe at the levels at which it is currently accumulating. Meanwhile, exposure to particulate matter leads to higher instances of a host of health problems, but some sulfur-containing forms of it actually have a cooling effect by blocking sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface.
This is not the first time Trump has conflated climate change and clean air.
During a trip to the United Kingdom last month, Trump was asked by British broadcast journalist Piers Morgan what Prince Charles, an avid environmentalist, had told him about climate change.
“He wants to make sure future generations have climate that is good climate, as opposed to a disaster, and I agree,” Trump said in response. “I did mention a couple of things. I did say, well the United States right now has among the cleanest climates there are based on all statistics, and it’s even getting better. Because I agree with that, I want the best water, the cleanest water. Crystal clean. Has to be crystal clean.”
And again in June when asked about Irish President Michael Higgins’s recent comment that Trump has a “regressive and pernicious” record on climate change, the U.S. president said: “I haven’t heard those comments . . . But we have the cleanest air in the world in the United States and it’s gotten better since I became president, we have the cleanest water, it is crystal clear, I always say I want crystal clear water and air, so I haven’t heard his comments, but we are setting records environmentally.”
Trump’s erroneous refrain on climate change is so persistent that even other members of the administration have picked it up. “America has the cleanest air and water in the world,” Vice President Pence told CNN host Jake Tapper when asked last week whether he thinks climate change is a threat.
One potential explanation for Trump’s apparent confusion is that these different climate- and health-related emissions often come from the same source.
For example, a linchpin of the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was a set of tougher pollution standards for coal-fired power plants. But when justifying the Clean Power Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency also calculated the positive health effects — or “co-benefits” — of reducing smog-forming pollution directly harmful to human health.
When Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency last year decided to relax those standards, which never ended up taking effect because of a Supreme Court decision impeding it, the agency admitted that its new rule could lead to 470 to 1,400 premature deaths each year compared with the Obama-era rule.
Another possible explanation: Trump understands the difference, but his go-to line about the country having the “cleanest air” is simply an easy deflection.