Trump’s State of the Union fails to mention the state of the planet: Hot and getting hotter

Dylan Stableford
Senior Editor
Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Getty

President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night clocked in at 82 minutes, the third-longest in U.S. history. In it, Trump called for bipartisan unity while vowing to continue hardline policies on immigration and to oppose abortion. Not once did he mention climate change — an issue that many Democrats in Congress and even in Trump’s own administration believe poses a dire threat to the United States.

Trump said that the U.S. economy is the “hottest” anywhere in the world, speaking metaphorically. He did not mention that the environment is also as hot as it’s ever been, with 2018 ranked as fourth-warmest year since records began in 1880, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Nor did he mention the U.S. intelligence community’s annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report’s warning that climate change remains a national security threat, echoed by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday.

“How can a president of the United States give a State of the Union speech and not mention — not one word about climate change?” Sen. Bernie Sanders, wondered in his response to Trump’s address. “When the leading climate scientists in the world tell us that climate change is real, that climate change is caused by human activity, and that climate change is already causing devastating harm.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders reacts to President Trump’s State of the Union address. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The closest Trump came to referencing the environment was in his exaggerated claim that his administration has “unleashed a revolution in American energy.”

“The United States is now the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas in the world,” he said. “And now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy.”

According to the Washington Post, the United States has led the world in natural gas production since 2009, and has exported more energy than it has imported since 2015. The production boom mostly is due to the improvement of fracking technology, which began under President Obama. But it is accelerating under the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental regulations.

The oil and gas the U.S. exports (or uses domestically) gets turned into carbon dioxide when it’s burned, and the heat-trapping effects spread around the world. Trump has also boasted frequently about reviving the coal industry, which is the most polluting form of fossil fuel, although he made no mention of it in his speech. Coal production increased slightly in his first year in office, although domestic consumption was down.

“Tonight, Donald Trump spoke of ‘choosing greatness,’” Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “But there is nothing great about his administration’s repeated choices to abandon U.S. leadership in the global fight against climate change, to eliminate vital protections for public lands and to roll back the clean air and water safeguards that make our communities safe and healthy places to live.”

CNN’s John King, in a rare moment of on-air editorializing, called Trump’s failure to address the environment in his State of the Union a “disgrace.”

But Trump’s omission of climate change should come as no surprise. He did not mention the issue in his first State of the Union speech last year nor in his first address to a joint session of Congress in 2017. Later that year, the president withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Trump, who once called climate change a hoax invented by the Chinese, has repeatedly downplayed the findings of U.S. scientists. In November, Trump rejected the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment’s conclusion that climate change will cost the U.S. economy “hundreds of billions of dollars” because of the increasing severity of natural disasters, such as hurricanes and wildfires.

“I don’t believe it,” Trump said. (He also suggested the United States would be at a competitive disadvantage if it continued to embrace strict environmental regulations: “If we’re clean and everyone else is dirty, that’s not so good.”)

And late last month, when temperatures across a large swath of the country plunged, Trump took the opportunity to tout his ill-informed speculation that cold weather disproves the fact of climate change.

“What the hell is going on with Global Waming [sic]?” Trump tweeted. “Please come back fast, we need you!”

While Trump may mock the need to address climate change, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has made it a priority. On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on climate change in Washington, D.C., where lawmakers stressed the seriousness of the issue.

“We can’t afford not to take urgent action to fight climate change,” North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper told the committee. “It is not too late, but it soon may be.”

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