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Climate Crisis? What Climate Crisis?

by on June 12, 2019 4:30 AM

Like a kitty tracking a red dot pointer, the news media locked onto our preposterous president last week as he dined with the queen, saluted the heroes of the D-Day invasion and, of course, tapped out some nasty tweets.

Leaving aside the general mindlessness of all-president-all-the-time coverage, and the advantage this gives an incumbent who seeks a second term, I was struck by which bits of news drew comment and which did not.

Take Trump’s tux. About how ill-fitting it was, there was much mirth and scorn. About Trump’s comments about climate change, there was little. Here, if you missed it, is what was reported:

Prince Charles and President Don had a 90-minute chat. Much of the conversation was devoted to climate change. The prince, according to Trump, wants “a good climate.” Trump told the prince that America’s climate is “among the cleanest there are based on all statistics.”  

In contrast to our “crystal clean” water, Trump told Piers Morgan on “Good Morning Britain,”

China, Indian and Russia “have not very good air, not very good water, and the sense of pollution…They don’t do the responsibility.”

Let’s skip the inarticulateness of these remarks – it’s tough to speak elegantly on the fly – and go right to the message. In the brain of Donald J. Trump, apparently, climate and environment are synonymous: If our water and air are clean, or at least cleaner than certain other countries’ water and air, we must be “doing the responsibility” when it comes to climate. In other words, don’t blame us.

This gives you an idea of how much Trump has actually thought or read about climate change. It reminds me of the thinking behind the Bush administration’s decision to invade a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks:

Osama bin Laden = Arab bad guy.

Saddam Hussein = Arab bad guy.

Ergo, Osama bin Laden = Saddam Hussein, which means if we can’t locate bin Laden, but we know where to find Saddam, getting Saddam is just as good as getting bin Laden.

Here’s the Trumpian version of that kind of thinking when it comes to climate change:

Environmentalists care about climate change.

Environmentalists care about pollution.

Ergo, climate change = pollution, so if we’re doing something about one (pay no attention to the water quality in Flint, Michigan), we must be doing something about the other.

When Morgan asked if he accepted the science on climate change, Trump echoed his infamous remarks about the “very fine people on both sides” of the 2017 confrontation over Confederate statuary in Charlottesville, Virginia:

“I believe there’s a change in weather,” he said, “and I think it changes both ways.”

Meaning, one supposes, that sometimes it’s hotter and drier than normal and sometimes it’s colder and wetter than normal.

The only part of any of this that Trump understands, apparently, is that a January cold snap made for a marketing problem for those who were trying to convince us that the world was getting warmer.

“Don’t forget,” he said, “it used to be called global warming, that wasn’t working, then it was called climate change. Now it’s actually called extreme weather, because with extreme weather you can’t miss.”

To go back to Morgan’s original question, the president may not respect the science, but he respects the rebranding.

Unable to pin Trump down on the question of whether the U.S. should be doing more about climate change, Morgan finally asked him if Prince Charles had “moved him a little bit.”

What moved him, Trump replied, was the prince’s “passion for future generations… He doesn’t need that. You know, he’s Prince Charles. He doesn’t have to worry about future generations in theory, unless he’s a very good person who cares about people.”

This, too, was revealing: It seems not to have occurred to Trump that one might worry about future generations out of the goodness of one’s heart and not because one had something to gain.

Meanwhile, fire season has begun in the West and flooding and tornados continue to wreak havoc in the South and the Midwest. Like mass shootings, natural disasters are happening so frequently that they’re not even all that newsworthy anymore – certainly not as newsworthy as the cut of the president’s tuxedo, or his latest swipe at Nancy Pelosi or Robert Mueller (or Bette Midler!).

This brings us back to the news media’s fixation on the words and deeds of the person in the White House. If the president is silent about the most pressing issues of our time, the journos fall silent as well.

Even Gail Collins, whose New York Times column I have enjoyed for years, recently suggested that the country is so polarized because there are no crises “calling us to pull together.”  She acknowledged that climate change is a profound issue – “maybe the biggest of the big.”

But not a crisis, apparently. If it were, the president and the leaders of Congress would be doing something about it.

Wouldn’t they?

A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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