It wasn’t much of a surprise Thursday when Donald Trump’s campaign issued a blistering statement condemning the Paris climate agreement. The deal—which has now been ratified by enough countries to go into effect next month—is a giant first step toward cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming. “Politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to make bad deals that undermine the interests of the American people,” said a Trump spokesman. “The Paris Accord is just the latest example. Hillary Clinton and other supporters of this global political agreement ignore the reality that it will cost the American economy trillions of dollars.”
It was a bit more surprising, however, that Team Trump decided to use the opportunity to criticize the nation’s scientists. “Mr. Trump and Gov. Pence appreciate that many scientists are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions,” said the statement. It then added, “We need America’s scientists to continue studying the scientific issues but without political agendas getting in the way.”
A few months ago, the implication that scientists were skewing their results to match their supposed political agendas might have seemed like a relatively tame statement from Trump. After all, he spent years declaring that global warming is a “hoax” perpetrated by “scientists [who] are having a lot of fun.” In July, he defended his use of the word “hoax” by invoking the widely debunked “ClimateGate” scandal: “If you look at Europe where they had their big summit a couple of years ago, where people were sending out emails—scientists—practically calling it a hoax, and they were laughing at it.”
But more recently, Trump has been trying to run away from that rhetoric. During the first debate, Trump insisted (falsely) that he’d never described climate change as a Chinese hoax. The following day, Pence—who once described climate change as a “myth”—acknowledged that human activities do “have some impact on climate.” Regardless, it’s now clear that Trump still thinks scientists are lying to us.
I reached out to a few climate scientists to get their reaction to Trump’s latest attack on them. Needless to say, they weren’t pleased. Trump’s statement is “just another underhanded way of dodging the scientific reality and engaging in mud-slinging against honest scientists by arguing they are engaging in a political agenda,” said Michael Mann, an atmospheric scientist at Penn State, in an email. “This is very Trumpian projection, since of course it is only him and Pence and their fellow congressional climate change deniers who are engaged in a political agenda.”
But years of Trump-like rhetoric seems to have taken its toll. A new survey from the Pew Research Center found that just 32 percent of respondents believe that climate science is guided by the “best available evidence” most of the time. Meanwhile, large majorities of respondents say that climate research is influence at least some of the time by the scientists’ political beliefs and efforts to advance their careers.
All of this helps explain why, according to Pew, just 21 percent of respondent have “a great deal” of confidence that scientists will act in the best interests of the public. Of course, that doesn’t mean the public trusts Trump. In the same survey, just 4 percent of respondents had a great deal of confidence in the nation’s business leaders.