Trump, Climate Change and the Parable of the Two Dogs

Occasionally we are surprised by Mr. Trump when he makes pronouncements that none of us thought to be within his realm of expertise.  Of course, those realms are so all inclusive, as we have learned during the course of his presidency, that we should not be surprised.  His recent pronouncements on wind, and wind related devices, however, have caused some of us to wonder if there resides within Mr. Trump, a body of scientific knowledge of which we were unaware or, alternatively, is he is simply an ignoramus.

The question presented itself because of an interview he had with one of his admirers, ardent follower, and assistant policy maker, Sean Hannity, of Fox News, followed by public comments made to adoring crowds at rallies and other events.

In an interview with Mr. Hannity (known to some as Sean Inannity for reasons that need no explanation,) Mr. Trump surprised listeners with an observation about a climate phenomenon, and a device used to take advantage of it.  It pertained to wind of the non-flatulent sort.

In the interview, Mr. Trump explained to Mr. Hannity, that wind power doesn’t work because wind only blows sometimes. Following up on that cogent observation, in a rally in Michigan shortly after that interview, he said that he “knows a lot about wind, if it doesn’t blow, you can forget about television for that night.”

It is not only the unreliability of wind that troubles Mr. Trump. He is also troubled by the large turbines that are used all over the world to store wind energy.  He believes those turbines are a hazard to human health. At the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner in Washington on March 28, 2019, he explained to the audience that: “They say the noise [from the windmills] causes cancer.” Those comments were not Mr. Trump’s only encounter with matters environmental.

On November 23, 2018, 13 federal agencies issued a landmark report explaining how damage from global warming is intensifying throughout the country.  That report was released more than a year after Mr. Trump had disbanded the 15-person advisory panel for National Climate Assessment. The task of the Advisory Committee had been to provide guidance to policymakers and private-sector officials, based on the Sustained National Climate Assessment.  It was reportedly disbanded by Mr. Trump not because of any deficiency in its science, but because of the make-up of the committee.  It did not have adequate representation from the energy industry.

The report that was issued on November 23, 2018 by federal agencies, explained how damage from global warming is intensifying throughout the country. Among its findings was that impacts of climate change threaten the natural and social systems we rely on, both within and beyond the nation’s borders.” It observes that the response to climate change has not taken place at the scale needed to avoid substantial “damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.”

Some might have thought such conclusions from 13 federal agencies would cause Mr. Trump alarm.  They needn’t have.  Mr. Trump offered the sorts of comforting comments about the report that we have learned to expect from him when confronted with awkward situations.  About the report he said: “One of the problems is that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers.”

In an email following his comments, Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, responded to Mr. Trump’s comments saying: “Facts aren’t something we need to believe to make them true-we treat them as optional at our peril.  And if we’re the president of the United States, we do so at the peril of not just ourselves but the hundreds of millions of people we’re responsible for.”

It is tempting to think that Mr. Trump is making his scientific judgements out of ignorance.  He is not. In an October 2018 interview with the Associated Press, the question of Mr. Trump’s familiarity with matters scientific came up. When the topic was whether or not climate change is occurring, Mr. Trump said his Uncle John was a long time professor at MIT and although he and Uncle John never talked about “this particular subject, I have a natural instinct for science and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the issue.”

Mr. Trump’s comments on matters scientific certainly show that he has an instinct.  It brings to mind the story of two dogs.  One of the dogs says to her companion, that she relies on her instinct to tell her which way to travel. Her companion says his end stinks too, but it doesn’t tell him which way to travel.  Mr. Trump is like the second dog except he believes it does tell him what to do.


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