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An Opportune Moment to Hit Trump on Climate Change

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An Opportune Moment

As the picture of the gathering climate crisis gets ever more grave, and the inadequacy of the response to this greatest challenge ever faced by humankind grows ever clearer, the conclusion is inescapable: those who care about the future of human civilization and the health of our planet must look for every opportunity to fortify their impact on the politics of climate change.

(Which, as with almost all the political battles being waged in America these days, calls for the side of sanity to go more aggressively on offense.)

Two factors have come together in recent weeks to create such an opportunity:

1) The “Fourth National Climate Assessment” has just been released, stating quite clearly how vital a threat to our future well-being climate change represents.

(E.g. this, the first of 12 “Summary findings”:

Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.”) 

2) Asked about this report issued from within his own government, Donald Trump dismissed it with the bald statement: “I don’t believe it.”

Here’s why that creates a political opportunity to

  • 1) bring the issue of climate change more fully into the public spotlight,
  • 2) expose the complete intellectual bankruptcy not only of President Trump’s climate denialism, but also the dishonesty of the denialism of the Republican Party generally, and
  • 3) demonstrate, by contrast, the deep and compelling reasons for crediting and heeding the warnings being issued from the world of science.

While the “Fourth National Assessment” that Trump dismisses is made on the basis of an enormous body of evidence and careful analysis, Trump’s disbelief has nothing to back it up.

Exposing that stark contrast could be impactful. And here’s a way that could be done.

“On What Basis, Mr. President…?”

A full-out, multi-pronged challenge to the President for his unsubstantiated “I don’t believe it” should be mounted.

From every available direction should come the question, “On what basis, Mr. President, do you justify your not believing this well-supported document from the scientists?”

  • Reporters — the people who shout questions to him about pardons for Manafort and such — should be encouraged to shout out “On what basis” questions, and be prepared to follow up if they get the expected insubstantial answers.
  • Democrats in Congress should use their platforms to not let the President get away with such an indefensible dismissal. (The fact that the latest polls show that 70% of the American people are “concerned” — “very” or “somewhat” — about climate change suggests that this would be a political winner.)
  • Environmental organizations should a) encourage reporters and congressional Democrats to challenge the President in the ways described above and b) organize events to dramatize the contrast between the vast body of science and the ignorant dismissal, challenging the president with that challenging question, “On what basis…?”

Trump should be pressed on all sides to defend his dismissal. And when he cannot, the contrast between that indefensibility and the mountain of evidence behind the “Assessment” should be used as a weapon in the battle over climate change:

That contrast can be used as a vehicle to make the climate issue more central to our national conversation. And it can be used to move public opinion still more strongly toward the all-too-appropriate “concern” about the scientists’ warnings and pleas for us as a nation, and a civilization, to take responsible action.