On Friday, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, declared that it was not appropriate to discuss the issue of climate change in the midst of a major set of hurricanes hitting the United States.
Environmentalist and some lawmakers scoffed at the logic, equating it to a government official declaring counter-terrorism strategy taboo in the aftermath of a terrorism attack.
But though he has no actual control over what gets discussed, Pruitt’s position seems to be winning out. Few pundits are talking about climate change, and fewer reporters are asking about it, even as parts of Texas remain underwater from Hurricane Harvey and Florida braces for potential devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma.
Since August 23, there have been a dozen opportunities for reporters to question either President Donald Trump, top aides, or top White House spokespeople during on-the-record sessions. According to transcripts of those briefings, press conferences, and gaggles, not a single question about climate change or global warming has been asked in those sessions.
In the past, the president has said that he believes climate change to be a hoax created by the Chinese government to weaken American industry. Scientists, however, say that climate change is warming the oceans and, in turn, feeding the intensity of the hurricanes battering America’s coastline. It’s unclear if Trump’s position has evolved in light of these dual hurricanes. No one’s asked.
But it’s not just the White House press corps that hasn’t broached the topic. There was only one question related to climate change on all of the Sunday shows this weekend, even as Irma made landfall on the continental United States later that day. CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) why much of the Republican Party—McCain excluded—acts as if climate change isn’t real. McCain said he couldn’t speak for his colleagues.
A review of transcripts from NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox did not reveal a single other mention of “climate change” or “global warming” from Sunday morning.
This phenomenon is not abnormal. To the immense frustration of environmentalists, the issue of climate change often goes unmentioned in the wake of environmental-related crisis, such as droughts and hurricanes. One Democratic lawmaker conceded to The Daily Beast earlier this week that there is hesitation among some to make it an issue for fear that it comes off as politically opportunistic. The extent of Harvey’s damage isn’t yet known. Irma had not yet made landfall.
Not everyone is avoiding the topic. A TVeyes review of cable coverage over the past weekend shows 31 mentions of “climate change” and four mentions of “global warming” on MSNBC. But the still liberal-leaning network is the exception to the rule. Beyond Tapper’s interview with McCain, there was only one other mention of climate change during the weekend on CNN: retiring Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-FL) declaring it real and dangerous to her home state.
Fox News had four mentions of climate change and two mentions of global warming over the same time period. Each instance, however, involved a guest or a host mocking actress Jennifer Lawrence for blaming the changing climate and, by extension, Trump, for the storms.
The White House did not immediately answer whether the president still has doubts about the science of climate change.
Update: Shortly after this piece posted, Trump was asked about climate change while walking on the South Lawn. According to the pool report, he did not answer a question as to whether the storms were tied to global warming.