Standing a floor above a somewhat damp White House basement, President Trump spoke on Monday about the supposedly incredible accomplishments his administration continues to make when it comes to the environment.
“We’re working hard,” he said, “I think harder than many previous administrations, maybe almost all of them.”
He touted his “environmental leadership” on wilderness protection, clean air and water, and even on carbon emissions reductions, while simultaneously bragging about pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. And he did all this while Washington, D.C. was largely under water. The city received more than three inches of rain in an hour, flooding streets and subways, and yes, even the White House basement. Talk about draining the swamp! If there is one thing this administration excels at, it is cognitive dissonance.
It was a day for dubious boasts, but environmental advocates, the administration’s own clear record, and the actual planet itself conspired to toss those boasts back in the president’s face. D.C.’s deluge is made substantially more likely by climate change, with a warmer atmosphere capable of holding more moisture which it can then release in greater amounts until it starts to rain inside the subway.
One could question the wisdom of a speech that again bragged about pulling out of a global climate change accord on such a day, but then again, there aren’t that many good days for such an argument at this point. At the other end of the country, Alaska set its all-time temperature record on Saturday, cracking 90 degrees F for the first time; that record lasted one day, until Sunday broke it. Last week, Europe suffered through one of its worst heat waves ever as well, including France’s highest temperature ever recorded, at just under 115 degrees F. Experts say that “a heatwave that intense is occurring at least 10 times more frequently today than a century ago.”
Of course, Trump didn’t spend much time talking about climate change (in fact, though he mentioned the Paris agreement and carbon dioxide emissions, neither he nor the various Cabinet secretaries who spoke actually said the words “climate change”). The calculus inside the administration appears to be that people tend to like clean air and clean water—shocker—so they simply repeat over and over how clean the country really is.
“We want the cleanest air, we want crystal clean water, and that’s what we’re doing,” Trump said. “Today, the United States is ranked—listen to this—number one in the world for access to clean drinking water.”
The president touted moves to improve drinking water standards and clean up air pollution, but the administration’s record on environmental regulation is literally the opposite of what it claims. An ongoing analysis has found at least eighty-three attempts to roll back regulations, forty-nine of which have already been completed. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler spoke as well, touting a four-decade drop in air pollutants—which, of course, raises the question of why such effective regulations need to be rolled back.
Every corner of the speech seemed to pit reality against projection. In a world where Energy Secretary and Dancing With the Stars loser Rick Perry “knows more about energy than anybody,” why should there be any rules at all? “There is a very good place for solar energy,” the president said. “It hasn’t fully developed, it’s got a long way to go, but it’s really got a tremendous future.” In fact, solar power has dropped in price so fast that it can out-compete coal across much of the world at this point.
Both Trump and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt touted the public lands bill that protected 1.3 million acres of wilderness—good! A Center for American Progress analysis has found that administration actions have resulted in protections for 2.4 million total acres of land, and reductions or removals in protections for 13.5 million acres—bad.
“Donald Trump is the only president to shrink the amount of federally protected lands,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune told The Daily Beast.
And even though he refuses to say the words, climate change and its accompanying basement-flooding deluges sat behind a lot of the overblown claims. Trump cited the beyond dubious “nearly $100 trillion” price tag on the Green New Deal (“A number not affordable, even in the best of times,” went the off-prompter expert analysis), ignoring that the price tag should actually be on climate change itself rather than a proposed solution.
“Trump’s refusal to even mention the climate crisis is disqualifying enough, but the fact that he pushed thoroughly debunked figures to undermine climate action is shameful when we’re witnessing the massive cost of inaction in communities across the country on a daily basis,” Brune said.
The president also claimed that other signatories to the Paris agreement actually lag behind the U.S. in terms of emissions reductions. “U.S. emissions declined between 2007 and 2017 in spite of, not because of, any action taken by the Trump administration,” said Dan Lashof, U.S. director of the nonprofit World Resources Institute. “In fact those reductions happened in part due to policies that Mr. Trump is trying to dismantle.”
Derek Walker, vice president of climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, agreed. “President Trump is claiming credit for the work of his predecessors,” he said. “The fact is that pollution has gone up in the U.S. since the day he took office.”
In the end, trying to parse through all the misdirection in a Trump speech on the environment is a bit like staring straight at a solar eclipse: It’s a bad idea, it will probably hurt, and a lot of people will make fun of you for it. It may seem like a coincidence that climate change itself helped offer the best rebuttal those lies require, but the flooded basement, streets, and subways, the baking Alaska and Europe aren’t one-off climate weirdness—it will only get harder to dodge the metaphors in the future.