“I don’t think science knows, actually.”
These words rolled out of President Trump’s mouth during a briefing on the West Coast wildfires Monday after California’s natural resources secretary, Wade Crowfoot, pleaded with him to “really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forests.”
Trump has ignored climate change many times before, calling it all a “hoax.” In addition, last weekend at a campaign rally in Nevada, he blamed the fires exclusively on poor “forest management” – an insulting slap in the face to overwhelmed first responders, governors, and others. Before Monday’s briefing, he dodged a question about climate science, insisting that Democratic governors in the western U.S. were at fault for the wildfires.
Crowfoot had told the president that the science behind climate change will be the key in the fight against wildfires, warning that “if we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.”
Trump scoffed, responding with, “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” Crowfoot replied, “I wish science agreed with you.” The tense exchange ended abruptly with Trump stating the now-newsworthy retort about science not really knowing.
He Who Laughs Last…
Accompanying Trump’s condescending denial of climate change was laughter, serving as a reminder that the president is rarely corrected by those who are around him, regardless of how outrageously wrong he may be. It isn’t clear which participant the laughter came from, however. Seated at the table were Ray Haupt, a supervisor from Siskiyou County, and Margaret Mims, Fresno County Sheriff.
Neither were wearing masks, and both are conservatives. Haupt has talked to Trump’s White House (by invitation, no less) about increasing timber production in California…from forests owned by the federal government. Mims refused to enforce California’s shelter-in-place orders earlier in the year and has loudly supported Trump’s policies on undocumented immigrants.
California Chief Thom Porter was also at the table. Although he was wearing a mask, making it impossible to tell if he laughed after Trump’s comment, it’s highly unlikely that he did so. He has been an avid supporter of climate science for quite some time.
It didn’t take long for Former Vice President Joe Biden to get wind of the exchange, leading him to tweet “Science knows” on Twitter as a response. Earlier in the day, Biden spoke in Delaware and called the impact of climate change on the wildfires an “undeniable, accelerating, punishing reality” that “requires action, not denial.”
Everybody has an Opinion…or Not
Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, more delicately confronted Trump about the climate issue:
“When we’re having heat domes, the likes of which we’ve never seen in our history, the hottest August ever in the history of the state, the ferocity of these fires, the drought – five-plus years, losing 163 million trees to that drought – something has happened to the plumbing of the world. We come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science is in and observed evidence is self-evident that climate change is real, and that is exacerbating this.”
While Newsom avoided asking Trump to accept the science, he did request that the president respect “the difference of opinion out here, as it relates to this fundamental issue, on the issue of climate change.” Twitter users were quick to point out that climate change is “not a difference of opinion” and it’s “a matter of science vs those who reject science.”
Fight Fire Like Finland?
In 2018, Trump claimed that Sauli Niinisto, President of Finland, had told him that his forest nation had no issues with wildfires thanks to the regular raking of leaves in forests. “They spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning, they don’t have any problems,” Trump tweeted.
However, Niinisto denies ever having said that.
Finland does remove dead trees as part of its forest management; however, it has nothing to do with raking leaves. Finland’s climate is not even close to that of Washington, Oregon, or California. Temperatures in that country are far lower than in the western U.S., and rain is more frequent. Finnish forests also do not contain the naturally flammable chaparral wildlands that are found across western America.
The “Hoax” Explodes
It seems Trump is continually searching for anything that will explain the wildfires, as long as it has nothing to do with local, regional, or global climate science – which he still claims is nothing but a hoax.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines climate science as:
“Climate science investigates the structure and dynamics of earth’s climate system. It seeks to understand how global, regional and local climates are maintained as well as the processes by which they change over time.”
On the morning before the wildfire briefing that took place on September 14, 2020, Trump claimed that “explosive trees” are causing the fires to start, spread, and rage on. He explained that 18 months or so after trees fall down and dry out, they become like “matchsticks” and “explode” when no more water is “pouring through” them.
But that, Mr. President, sounds a bit like climate science.