Trump’s Climate Change Denial Confronts Horror of Wildfires in the West

The president manages to entirely avoid the environmental debate in a two-hour stop in California, while Biden calls him a “climate arsonist”

On Monday, the denier-in-chief of the United States landed in the midst of one of the clearest examples of the effects of climate change the country has ever witnessed since the concept first appeared. Donald Trump traveled briefly to California to learn about the wildfires on the ground, while Joe Biden, his Democratic rival in the presidential election, gave a speech about climate change. The dramatic wildfire crisis in the American West has become an unavoidable campaign issue that will only grow bigger.

After neglecting to mention the emergency affecting California, Oregon and Washington for days, Trump spoke last week and blamed forest management. Every governor in the affected states asserts that, while the causes of these fires vary, records are being broken with increasing frequency. This is due to harsher environmental conditions brought about by global warming, caused in turn by greenhouse gasses. This is not scientifically debatable.

Not only has the Trump administration failed to take any steps forward in the fight against global warming, but it has reversed existing policy. Trump’s California trip places his climate change discourse before a nightmarish backdrop. Scorched forests, cities drowning in smoke, neighborhoods burned to a crisp and, above all, a still-provisional death toll, which on Monday amounted to 33. The entire U.S. is witnessing a real-time disaster on its television screens and in its newspapers that cannot be easily countered with water cooler skepticism.

However, Trump avoided the climate change debate entirely. Upon arrival at Sacramento International Airport, the president repeated his forest management charge and blamed trees that “become, really, like a matchstick,” that die and dry up in the forest. In a roundtable discussion with the governor of California and the state’s emergency chiefs, Trump asked how many individual fires there were. The officials responded that there were 29 major active fires, and Gov. Gavin Newsom interrupted to say that there had been 1,100 in the last 29 days. Newsom told Trump that “(T)he hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting drier.” Newsom gave a presentation about why wildfires are now more severe than ever, and called on Trump to respect California’s perspective on this issue. It “is self-evident that climate change is real, and that is exacerbating this.” “Absolutely,” Trump responded.

Later, Trump presided over a ceremony to honor the California National Guard pilots who conducted a number of aerial rescues under extreme circumstances involving families trapped in a recreational area surrounded by the Creek Fire near Fresno. After the ceremony, Trump left for a campaign rally in Phoenix. In short, Trump managed to spend two hours in California without seeing a single fire, and entirely avoided public confrontation on the subject of climate change.

The Democratic Party has, since last week, taken the opportunity to list climate change as another brutal result of Trump’s incompetence, just like the coronavirus tragedy and the economic crisis. Against the backdrop of wildfires, Democrats are trying to get voters to ask themselves if the U.S. can afford another four years of a White House that denies climate change and boycotts environmental policy.

Minutes before Trump arrived in California, Biden gave a speech in Delaware, where he called Trump a “climate arsonist” and presented an ambitious transition plan toward a green economy. “This is another crisis, another crisis he won’t take responsibility for,” said Biden. “If we have four years more of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned by wildfires … Or destroyed by floods or hurricanes?” Biden posited.

So far this year, California has witnessed the torching of 12,000 square kilometers (approximately 4,633 square miles), most of which took place these last three weeks, since a mid-August electric storm started hundreds of fires simultaneously that overwhelmed the state’s resources. The area is 10 times the size of New York, and has surpassed the previous record of burned acres 30 times over. Major fires generally start in late September and last until November. The neighboring state of Oregon also has a record-breaking amount of burned acres.

“The debate is over, around climate change,” Newsom said Friday, visibly annoyed. “This is a climate damn emergency.” Newsom intended to meet with Trump in private. In the past, Newsom has remained cordial when speaking to Trump, especially when thanking the president for federal assistance to California in fighting the coronavirus and for emergency resources. The president’s trip entirely avoided public confrontation.

Over the past decade, the fight against climate change has become an issue of vital importance in California, so much so that the state level Republicans seldom protest the emission reduction objectives which are similar to those of the European Union and are the most ambitious in the U.S. It is simply out of the question. This denial on the part of Trump and Republican sectors in other states is considered eccentric, a matter that generates something between stupor and annoyance. In turn, Trump has tried to do away with California’s right to set its own emissions limits. The environment, together with immigration policy, is the issue where the clash between California, a self-proclaimed “resistance state,” and Trump has been the harshest.

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