If you think your week was tough, consider the plight of poor Prince Charles who faced the challenge of trying to educate a visiting American president known for having the attention span of a hyperactive flea on the threat posed by climate change. What must have been going through his mind in advance of the meeting? Should I use flash cards? Cartoons? Props? A line of chorus girls? The prince knew this was his one chance to persuade Donald Trump that the most serious threat facing the planet is, well, the most serious threat facing the planet.
And then, after giving it his best shot. After sitting down and chatting with President Trump for a reported 90 minutes (instead of a planned 15) on a subject he has been tracking for years. After patiently talking to him about the broad scientific consensus about how the climate is warming and how human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, has contributed so heavily to it, but that it is not too late to avert some of the worst impacts. And after leaving the meeting on seemingly amicable grounds, what do you suppose Prince Charles could see on the telly just hours later on “Good Morning Britain”? It was none other than the U.S. president revealing his post-meeting thoughts on a subject he once described as a “Chinese hoax.”
“I believe that there’s a change in the weather, and I think it changes both ways,” Mr. Trump told interviewer Piers Morgan, noting at one point that he “totally listened” to Prince Charles who turned out to be “really into” climate change.
“Don’t forget it used to be called global warming,” he continued. “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.”
Changes both ways? What might the president have meant by this? One can only assume he meant that changes in the weather that are a consequence of increased greenhouse gas emissions might actually benefit some areas in some manner. Places of extreme cold, for example, might gain longer growing seasons if they are warmer. But such change is hardly significant compared to the losses and upheaval experienced around the globe. Flooding from sea level rise alone would be devastating. One study projects that within two decades or so we’ll see as many as 150 tidal floods a year in coastal communities like Washington, D.C., and Annapolis that experience a handful now. Sea levels could rise 1-4 feet by century’s end.
And that’s just one impact. There are heatwaves and droughts, more and stronger hurricanes and other extreme weather, lost fisheries and farm crops as species are driven to extinction and arable land is turned to desert. Wildfires and human disease outbreaks. Experts warn that nations might go to war as they lose access to basic food, fresh water and shelter. Some doomsayers have wondered if human civilization might actually collapse as a result. What’s the upside of that? It’s good for survivalists? Ammo sales? Real-life Soylent Green production?
President Trump went on to talk about air pollution and blamed China, Russia and India for being more polluted than the U.S. Unfortunately, that’s an assessment that ignores how the bad effects of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases aren’t limited to the countries that produce them. India may well have the smoggiest air in the world, but climate change isn’t about nitrogen oxides, ozone or particulates that make a person cough or wheeze or die prematurely. It’s about a global effect. If anything, the borderless nature of greenhouse gas emissions should spur the U.S. to negotiate international agreements to lower them. The best example to date? The 2016 Paris Agreement from which Mr. Trump has already begun a U.S. withdrawal. Oops.
Small wonder tens of thousands of Londoners turned out in Trafalgar Square to protest Mr. Trump’s visit. If their 70-year-old future king can’t penetrate President Trump’s alternative fact-filled noggin after an hour and a half of effort, they probably figured it was at least worth at least voicing their displeasure — including the enterprising teen who mowed “climate change is real” into a lawn directly below the presidential flight path (along with a less wholesome image). If nothing else, such gestures are a reminder that the Brits and their love of pointing out absurdity in everyday life have found no more princely target than a narcissistic developer and former reality TV star from Queens.