Then there’s the joke about the scientist who happens upon a colleague playing chess with a chimpanzee. When the scientist exclaims, “That’s amazing!”, the colleague replies, “Not so amazing, really, I’ve beaten him two games out of three.”
The amazing part in the tale concerning the closeting, for 90 whole minutes, of the Prince of Wales and Donald Trump on Tuesday, was not so much that the whole of the time was spent talking about global climate change, but that Prince Charles actually did most of the talking. Except, unlike the chimp in the illustrative joke, Trump didn’t understand what was going on. He mistook the topic, climate change, for the separate, noble but less urgent, topics of air and water pollution.
He illustrated just how widely he missed the point when he said, after the meeting, “He [Prince Charles] is really into climate change and I think that’s great. What he really wants and what he really feels warmly about is the future. He wants to make sure future generations have climate that is good climate, as opposed to a disaster, and I agree.”
Good climate as opposed to a disaster? Okay, well, so far so good, I guess. But then Trump said, “I did say, ‘Well, the United States right now has among the cleanest climates there are based on all statistics.’ And it’s even getting better because I agree with that, we want the best water, the cleanest water. It’s crystal clean, has to be crystal clean clear.”
Trump’s ignorance doesn’t stop there. When later he was asked by Piers Morgan if he accepted the science on climate change, Trump said: “I believe there’s a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways. Don’t forget, 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.”
Okay, there’s a lot of ignorance to unwrap here. First, it has always been referred to as “climate change.” There’s an oft-touted notion that a shell game was cynically played a few years ago by the scientific community. They noticed, so the story goes, that Global Warming didn’t account for short bursts in local (and sometimes global) cold snaps. So they invented for the occasion from whole cloth the term “Climate Change,” allowing for measurable temperature fluctuations. This assertion is believed by many, even on the Left, and is sometimes reinforced in the media. This switcheroo, it is said, was occasioned in part by the emergence of such papers as, to pick one at random, the one read by Dr George S Benton at a symposium at Johns Hopkins University entitled, “Carbon Dioxide and its Role in Climate Change.”
There’s just one problem. That paper was read (with precisely that title) at the symposium at Johns Hopkins on the 29th of April, 1970. As it happens, the origins of the term “Climate Change,” as occasioned by the overproduction and burning of fossil fuels, is traceable all the way back to 1955. So much for that myth.
Second, the terms “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” are used interchangeably all the time, without the slightest intention to deceive anyone. But, Trump to the contrary, the term “Extreme Weather” is never used as a synonym for Climate Change. Extreme Weather is what climate change sometimes causes. This highlights yet another problem with Trump. No matter how often the difference between “climate” and “weather” have been explained to him, over Twitter and other places, Trump seems incapable of learning.
Does Trump accept the findings of 97% of all climate scientists, that Climate Change is a clear and present threat to our continued existence? Who really knows? The important thing is he behaves as though he doesn’t. With so much at stake, the future of our beautiful planet and our very existence on the line, it never ceases to astonish me how blasé Trump and people like him are. The Prince of Wales understands this now, and he probably sees at last, despite everything that’s at stake, that he could have put his time to better use.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.