How Does Trump Get Away With Ignoring Climate Change?

Americans suspect scientists are amoral robots who prioritize knowledge over morality; scientists say the people need to take more science classes.

Donald Trump pictured at a rally in, San Jose, California, June 2, 2016.
David Paul Morris, Bloomberg

It's hard to ignore a python when it's wrapped around your torso. When the python is squeezing the breath out of nearly 8 billion people, pretending it isn't there becomes downright bizarre.

Yet that is what every person contemplating a vote for Donald Trump and the Republicans is doing – they're letting the GOP get away with pretending climate change isn't a thing. Let alone an existential danger to the entire planet and yes, to America too.

Now scientists have explained why Americans are rejecting not only the science, but the empirical evidence before their very eyes. It isn't that they think the scientists are wrong – they don't know about that. They think scientists are unfeeling robots who place knowledge over morality, ergo, their motives are suspect.

"Scientists are perceived not as inherently immoral, but as capable of immoral conduct," write Bastiaan Rutjens and Steven Heine of the University of Amsterdam in a study published last month in Plos One, "The Immoral Landscape? Scientists Are Associated with Violations of Morality."

And thus, as the water rises to our ankles and the dog dehydrates from the heat, the Republicans continue on their merry way denying climate change. They are very lonely in that. No other major political group anywhere in the world simply rejects climate change. As the Israeli Air Force's unofficial slogan goes, "If there's doubt, there's no doubt." This applies to any case where rejection of a possible scenario is too dangerous a policy.

If you think global warming might be a thing, and that if it is, your island nation will disappear beneath the waves of the rising ocean, you have to assume that is going to happen, and prepare accordingly.

It would be stupid to do the opposite – assume that global warming isn't a thing, that the rising waters are a fluctuation, and that your island nation is safe.

Who's your daddy

Yet how can they deny the facts? Facts are facts, aren't they? Another paper may explain that. Americans specifically don't trust scientists at the empiric level either, not just at the moral one, according to a report published this month in Phys.Org.

Thus in America's election campaign, while the issue is whispered here and there, nobody is screaming that the biggest issue on the agenda isn't walls (stay out!) or fetuses (stay in!), it's climate change. The people don't want to believe it, they don't trust the scientists telling them so and they badly want daddy to tell them it ain't so, they can keep driving monster SUVs and barbecuing cows, and they can water their lawns in California and  Oregon, and keep the lights in Vegas burning bright.

At least the Democrats acknowledge the problem. The Donald isn't admitting that the deteriorating state of the planet and rising seas are a problem, let alone that Floridians are seeing fish in the streets of Miami.

Americans do appreciate (or at least 79% of American adults do) that science has improved their lives, says the Pew Research Center in a report released in January 2015. They just don't agree with them about much, according to the Pew paper, which showcased the vast gaps between scientific opinion and that of the American in the street.

A staggering 88% of scientists say it's safe to eat genetically modified foods, says Pew, compared with 37% of American adults.

On climate change, almost 100% of scientists agree that it's happening. Some 87% of scientists agree that climate change is mostly due to human activity rather than natural fluctuations – but only 50% of American adults agree with that. (The only area where Science and Americana seem to meet in the middle is that space station, which around 65% of both agree was a "good investment for the U.S.")

A girl drinks water from a cup standing next to water tanks inside a temporary camp set up by local political party Shiv Sena for the rural poor traveling to Mumbai to find water, in Thane, Maharashtra, India, on Sunday, April 17, 2016. The drought in India, one of the worst in living memory, is being blamed in part on climate change.
Bloomberg

Donald Trump on the other hand has called it “bullshit” and a “hoax”.

The scientists think the difference between them and people who heed statements like Trump's is partly because American science education is so poor.

They may have a point – for one thing, many people seem not to realize the difference between "fluctuations" and "trend".

There could be another reason, though: Americans are deeply religious, as people go. They also feel that morality stems more from faith than from science.

Any notion that science might offer a basis for morality "is likely a minority view," writes the Dutch team, adding: "For many, perhaps most, lay people, the strongest associations with morality are with religiosity." Fine. But there's a reason an "empiric fact" is called an "empiric fact".

On a  more hopeful note,  it is possible that Trump, in his heart, knows the truth and will apply it, if elected. As Politico reported last month, "The New York billionaire is applying for permission to erect a coastal protection works to prevent erosion at his seaside golf resort, Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland" – from what? The application for a permit to build the wall, filed by Trump International Golf Links Ireland, says Politico, explicitly cites global warming and its consequences.

Donald Trump drives his golf buggy during the Women's British Open golf championship in Turnberry, Scotland. Trump has called climate change a “con job” and a “hoax” but has applied for a permit to build a wall to keep out the rising seas threatening to swamp his luxury golf resort in Ireland.
Scott Heppell, AP