The second week of October had been an exceptional one for climate change. It started with the long-awaited Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ℃ (SR 15) from the IPCC, which was quickly followed by the Nobel Prize Committee issuing the award for economic sciences to William Nordhaus, “for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis,” and Paul Romer, “for integrating technological innovations into long-run macroeconomic analysis.”
A surprise came on October 15th, when Donald Trump was interviewed by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, where he opened up for the first time as president on climate change. The topic was introduced with a question: “Do you think climate change is a hoax,” to which the president responded: “I don’t think it’s a hoax, I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade.” Prodded by Stahl’s example of the loss of the ice sheet in Greenland, Trump added that “you don’t know whether or not that would have happened with or without man.” As Stahl was attempting her rebuttal that the administration’s own scientists at NOAA and NASA (have stated that climate change was man-made), Trump interrupted before she could finish: “we have scientists that disagree with that.” Then Trump revealed his views on climate change: “I’m not denying climate change, but it could very well go back.” Stahl then adeptly pointed out that he was “denying it.” When pressed about hurricanes getting worse, Trump said: “You have to show me the scientists, because they have a very big political agenda.” The president had been “educated” by the free-market think tank, Heartland Institute, who helped the president “understand the truth about climate change.”
Since becoming president, until the Stahl interview, Trump had been uncharacteristically silent on climate change. Even when pressed, his closest staff had refused to make any comment on the personal beliefs of the president on man-made climate change.
Before the election, we knew of the climate change (and global warming) views of TV-celebrity Donald Trump mainly from Twitter. Trump launched the first of his climate-denial tweets on November 1, 2011: “It snowed over 4 inches this past weekend in New York City. It is still October. So much for Global Warming.” Cold weather demonstrating the fallibility of climate change science would be a common theme of his tweets. Another frequent theme was related to the “hoax” of climate change science; for example, on January 25, 2014: “NBC News just called it the great freeze – coldest weather in years. Is our country still spending money on the GLOBAL WARMING HOAX?”
One of his more imaginative climate-denial tweets appeared in 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” This tweet later came back to haunt candidate Trump, when Bernie Sanders lambasted him for the tweet, on January 17, 2016. The following day, on Fox & Friends, Trump clarified the controversial tweet: “Well, I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money. I know much about climate change. I’d be—received environmental awards. And I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change.” Only a few months later, Trump denied even making the China accusation at a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton.
While Trump’s tweets on climate change had been frequent, they suddenly stopped at the end of 2015, just as his election campaign was getting underway. After a total of over one hundred tweets on this subject, why did Trump stop? The climate-denial hiatus remains a mystery.
While Trump had not been directly tweeting about climate change in 2016, his influence had not gone away. In fact, in a Twitter Influence Ranking study that mapped the climate change conversation in 2016, Donald Trump was ranked #1 and the study concluded: “So, across the whole climate change conversation on Twitter in 2016, the single most important person is not engaged at all in the actual conversation.”
During this hiatus from climate change (or global warming), Donald Trump has broken his Twitter silence on the topic only once, on December 28, 2017, as a severe cold wave hit eastern North America: “In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”
After the Stahl interview, though, President Trump awoke from his Twitter slumber on climate change; a tweet appeared on November 21, 2018: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?” Three more followed, the most recent on February 10, 2019.
As with most climate deniers, President Trump uses Twitter to preach an ideological gospel against climate change. Unlike most deniers, though, he has exceptional reach; President Trump is ranked #13 on Twitter with 60 million followers. By comparison, the most famous climate science organization in the world, the IPCC, has 147,000 followers! Social media is an enabler of such anti-science propaganda that threatens the greater good of society and the fabric of democracy itself.