“Fake news” – the phrase is self-explanatory, and remained a general set of words until it was frequently used in recent times – most prominently by US President Donald Trump. The first time he used the phrase publicly was in December 2016 to accuse news outlets of blatantly lying about his possible continuation as an Executive Producer of ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ after he became president. Subsequently, in the next one year, he tweeted the phrase ‘fake news’ over 150 times – and even found himself tweeting it 8 times in a single day in September 2017 in frustration over the media’s negative reporting of his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico (Coll, 2017) – and these are only tweets! But what scandalized the whole world is his blatant and irresponsible claim that Climate Change was fake news while holding the position of President. Climate change refers to the long-term changes in Earth’s climates, including global temperatures, extreme weather conditions, precipitation, wind speeds and so on. This is not to be confused with global warming, which refers to only a rise in average global and ocean temperatures (Leiserowitz, 2014).
Trumps suspicion of Climate Change was apparent well before he became President. In 2012, Trump tweeted “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” This was not the first time he had placed the blame on China – or claimed that climate change was not real. The very first tweet that can be found related to his skepticism about global warming was in November 2011: “It snowed over 4 inches this past weekend in New York City. It is still October. So much for Global Warming.” (Matthews, 2017)1 This may not only show his lack of understanding of the entire notion of global warming, which I will explain further in the essay briefly, but we also cannot discount how Trump and other climate change deniers may be manipulating scientific terminology for ideological purposes and personal agendas (Atkin, 2017) by taking advantage of the layman’s lack of knowledge of such jargon.
When Trump claims that Climate Change is fake news, he is not only claiming that the media is reporting misleading news that denies what is ‘reality’ or is satirically describing the extent of climate change, he is also implying that it is more than just yellow journalism – journalism that is unethical, unprofessional exaggerated or sensationalist news (Campbell, 2001). He is inferring that it is a false piece of information created by governments and powerful individuals and companies to enforce their own schemas for their own profit (this is not considering the fact that Trump possibly uses this phrase to label anything that he does not like, for example, like the time he called a CNN reporter ‘fake news’ because he did not like the questions2 asked.) Being at the helm of a superpower, taking responsibility during a global environment crisis is paramount, especially when the US is responsible for 14.36%3 of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the second largest emitter in the world, whilst only holding 4.4% of the world’s population (Johannes Friedrich, 2017).
He is also undermining previous presidents’ contributions to try and mitigate global warming, including former President Obama’s and other world leaders’ allegiance to the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015 (Somanader, 2015). Trump’s announcement to pull out of the Paris Accord (joining the only 2 other nations who haven’t signed the accord: Nicaragua and Syria (Anon., 2017)) seemed to be the final straw for world leaders such as France’s president Macron, who proceeded to exclude Trump at the subsequent Paris Climate talks. Trump pinned the reason to be that the accord was a bad deal for America (Baker, 2017). Possibly, his aim may have been to erase Obama-era actions that were taken: Obama had pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels, and commit almost $3 billion in aid to poorer countries (Shear, 2017). However, Trump cannot leave the Paris accord that easily and without consequence. Not only did he lose any remaining support by powerful business chairpersons such as Tesla’s Elon Musk, Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric as well as Lloyd Blankfein of Golden Sachs, he also cannot legally cut ties with the accord until November 5th, 2020, ironically the day after the next American presidential election (Leber, 2017).
It cannot be denied that climate change is real, unless it is possible for the majority of scientists around the world to reach a phony consensus. However, it is true that the globe goes through natural temperature cycles over long periods of time due to naturally occurring greenhouse gases such as water vapour – and yes – carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is naturally added into the atmosphere through the processes of decomposition, respiration, natural forest fires and ocean release, and artificially added through burning fossil fuels, agriculture, deforestation (not enough trees to absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) and cement production. Greenhouse gases are gases that cause heat to be trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere – which is important to the maintain a balance in the world’s temperatures. However, too much of it causes the average global temperatures to rise beyond standard levels, consequently contributing to global warming and thus climate change. There have been around 7 glacial advances and retreat cycles in the last 650,000 years, i.e. a rise and fall in global average temperatures. However, it has been observed that the post-industrial revolution carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased exponentially, and presently is much higher than it has been at any point in history. This is the biggest indicator that currently the issues of global warming and climate change are entirely human-driven. The past 115 years have been scientifically proven to be the warmest years in the history of modern civilization, and the average global temperatures are predicted to rise by 4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, which although seems like a small change, will definitely have dramatic impacts on the world and everything living in it (Tollefson, 2017). In fact, even though many nations have ratified the Paris Accord, the aim of stopping this kind of temperature rise by 2 degrees still cannot be met, but there is optimistic views that nations will become better at protecting the environment over time – potentially being able to stick to this number by the deadline (Figueres, 2016). This is not at all surprising since we passed the ‘tipping point’ in the last week of September of 2016. According to the IPCC, the tipping point is a point of no return, where the damage done due to carbon emissions will not be reversible anymore. (Ritchie, 2017) However, it is still important to mitigate climate change so as not to face the drastic consequences, already beginning to materialize presently.
Rising temperatures create numerous other complications. Droughts, hurricanes and higher precipitation (rain) and thunderstorms are bound to occur more frequently. Melting ice caps, permafrost and glaciers will contribute to rising sea levels, flooding low-lying coastal nations such as Maldives; as this freshwater is added into the oceans, it will also cause the salt water to be diluted in the immediate vicinities, adversely affecting ocean-life that are not acclimatized to freshwater, and also derailing the ocean’s conveyor belt (thermohaline circulation), which Is large underwater currents driven by water salinity and temperature that are in large attributive to seasonal ocean life migration and most importantly the relatively mild winters countries such as Britain currently enjoy than they would if this belt is interrupted. Furthermore, warmer oceans will cause coral bleaching. Overall, the biggest issues that we WILL face in the future if Business as Usual continues and nothing is done to mitigate global warming is food, water, land and health insecurities as well as a deterioration in the world’s biodiversity. This will impact the economy of nations, and also create more conflicts such as war, famine, more refugee crises and so on.
The fake news discourse, although detrimental in many ways, showcases the current political climate of the Trump administration, allowing us to witness or comprehend their motives and goals. Based on the rest of his tweets on fake news, it can be gauged that Trump prefers to use this phrase to point out anything that he does not like. However, he complicates matters further in the sense that he himself states falsehoods to the media, which without a doubt makes national news! In fact, since 2015, there are over 329 statements that are judged to be fictions (Coll, 2017). Thus, indirectly he himself is an architect of fake news. On the other hand, one of the most obvious motivations to claim climate change is fake news is Trump may have an irrational fear of being ridiculed by international leaders for falling for such a ruse. He announced, “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? … We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be.” (Trump, 2017) At this point, we are forced to look at the reality of a post-truth world, where politicians rely on appealing to emotions rather than dealing with facts, repeatedly stating assertions to have a stronger impact on human emotion rather than educating with factual information. (Peters, 2017) Pulling out of the Paris accord was the disappointing result of all this: not only had he already ceased working on projects such as the Clean Power Plan put in place by the Obama administration, Trump had expressed a strong interest in aggressively expanding Fossil Fuel use after his inauguration (Gardiner, 2017).
Trump also does not like the fact that Obama pledged $300 billion dollars in public and private financing – something other wealthy nations who ratified the accord did as well – for the Paris accord itself, the money intended on helping poor nations improve on their renewable energy, invest in environment-friendly infrastructures, battle droughts, floods and other extreme weather created due to climate change as well as to cope with rising sea levels (Plumer, 2015). It seems as if Trump’s priorities with what to do with state funds are elsewhere, evident in the speech he gave to explain why he is pulling out of the Paris Accord, where at the outset of his speech he promptly mentions that he just redistributed $350 billion for military and economic development for the United States, that apparently is likely to create more jobs (Trump, 2017). In his speech he goes on to claim that the Obama administration, but investing in climate change policies and so on, have thus sacrificed 2.7 million jobs (Trump, 2017). According to Obama’s action plan in 2015, USA had thrived to become the global leader for mitigating climate change, and their investments in renewable energy such as wind and solar power had undoubtedly created a “steady stream of middle class jobs… sceptics said this would kill jobs. Instead we’ve seen the longest sector of private sector job creation in our history.” (Obama, 2015). We must also not forget that Trump is a businessman, it is likely that he understands how profits can be hurt for companies if they are to invest in completely new green infrastructures and technologies. For many large companies, such as oil and gas companies, investing in clean energy etc. would mean that they are bound to lose out on potential profits – and it is highly likely that the CEOs of such companies have some sort of pressure on Trump on making in drastic changes to policies that will hurt their chances of maximum revenue. It comes with no surprise that Trump has also surrounded himself with a cabinet full of climate-change skeptics and deniers, including appointing one to the leadership of the US Environmental Protection Agency (Gardiner, 2017), and thus his statements about Climate change being fake news could be echoing the mindsets of that cabinet.
Additionally, Trump may only be concerned with the short term losses and gains: how much the private sector will lose in the short term, and how much money he is to gain ($300bn to be exact) by pulling out of the Paris Accord. He has expressed his desire for America to be energy independent. Recently, technological innovations have allowed U.S. drillers to profitably extract oil and gas from shale rock formations which America has discovered that they have plenty of, leading to a boom in fossil fuel production and consequently, exports. Energy Secretary Rick Perry of the Trump administration stated “An energy dominant America will export to markets around the world, increasing our global leadership and our influence.” So, if America has to reduce their non-renewable energy consumption along with the rest of the world, their profits are in big trouble! However, Trump does not take into account the thundering costs that climate change will rack up in the future, where extreme weather will increase the risk of more hurricanes, tornadoes and forest fires, all of which are beginning to affect America more often than not, increasing costs to rebuild towns and cities. And once food, water, and health securities are compromised, these costs are only going to increase exponentially. In fact, the past 10 years has seen extreme weather cases that have cost the US economy at least $240 billion – not considering the cost of damage that 76 forest fires and 3 hurricanes caused in 2017. This is enough money to send 13.5 million students to public colleges for 4 years for free! (Leahy, 2017) And in the future, Climate Change is estimated to cost the US economy a whopping $360 billion annually, enough to cripple the US economy for good4. In terms of the whole world, if action is taken, then it is predicted to only cost the world GDP $21 trillion by 2050. If the business as usual approach continues, $33 trillion will be lost. The difference in these two figures represents 10% of global average economic growth. (Johnston, 2016) However, investing in low-carbon cities, for instance, offers a $17 trillion opportunity for the entire world by 2050, based on energy savings alone! (Calderón, 2017)
Another possible motive for Trump to state that climate change is fake news is most likely to position America in relation to the rest of the world. In other words, he wants America to stand out, and be different, creating a Self/Other relationship. By creating a sense of exclusivity, Trump just might be able to secure a second term in 2020 by strengthening, if not expanding, his voter base. By tapping into moral panics?
Making such a statement does not go without consequences. Yes, the world has shown great backlash at this nonsensical statement, and yet there are only 48% of Americans who believe that Climate Change is man-made. 31% believe that it is due to natural causes, and 20%believe that there is absolutely no evidence that Climate change is real – which means 51% of the population is not seeing the dire predicament of man-made causes are negatively affecting the environment. And considering that Trump won the elections by securing 306 electoral college votes, even while he had made his understanding about climate change known even before the campaigning period, it suggests that Trump’s words might have a bigger impact than initially imagined.
Moreover, it is evident that Trump is using ideological state apparatus to influence the nation and win him over for his own agendas, especially by using saturating media such as Twitter, and making statements that are bound to make headlines on both old and new media forms. The illusory truth affect may come into play in a situation like this. This theory proposes that there is a tendency for people to believe information after enough exposure or repetition of that information because that information is now familiar to them and processing fluency has increased, too (meaning the ease of digesting the information has improved due to repetition) (Liza K. Fazio, 2015). Furthermore, this complements the “Overton Window,” another theory that suggests that there is a “window” of normal, rational and accepted ideas, while everything outside the window is irrational, radical or ridiculous. Overton argues that to move this normal “window” to consider the abnormal and normal, then the best way is to expose people to the extremes: this would undoubtedly make the notions that are less extreme and yet not considered standard to be normal. Trumpian-era media has been flooded with extremely unsettling and abnormal news, so much so that people are beginning or have already become numb to most of these news coverages. (Maza, 2017) What makes it worse is that anything controversial that Trump says or does is highly publicized, adding to media saturation of his irrational antics and statements, creating the very possibility that people are becoming to tune to the idea that climate change is fake news that they just might believe it. Social media do not help much in this case either – new media forms make it easier for unconventional or irrational knowledge to spread like wildfire – making it easier for individuals to be exposed to such information so much so that they become numb to it, shifting the Overton Window to now embrace the previously unthinkable as normal. (University, 2016)
Additionally, humans also tend to avoid cognitive dissonance as a basic instinct. The typical human adult has an already-built-in schema of what is correct, wrong and socially acceptable. So, when we come across foreign information we tend to dismiss it. This too could become an issue because Trump is always …. When Trump says something is fake news, it is likely that that is an emotional response to not being able to accept the reality that is climate change – information that is beyond the schema that he had believed in so far.
Nevertheless, although the fact that climate change is real has been argued and proven several times. We cannot yet gauge Trump’s moves in the future, if he will further compromise this climate with his policies and politics. When pulling out of the Paris accord, Trump misled many by suggesting that the regulations imposed by the accord are foreign-imposed. Rather, each nation had to come up with an action plan suited to their own policies, agendas and internal constraints so as to reach overall goals by 2100 (Gardiner, 2017). However, the fact that the rest of the world is carrying on in their efforts to mitigate climate change is heartening. China – the biggest contributer has also agreed to harvest most of their Energy through renewaebl energy sources by 2030, and the rest of the world are implementing changes that will benefit not only themslevs but the entire world.
1 A list of all the times Trump has tweeted about global warming until June 2017 can be found here https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/6/1/15726472/trump-tweets-global-warming-paris-climate-agreement
2 Video evidence: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2018/01/02/cramer-remix-apples-stock-wont-slow-down-in-2018.html
3 Interactive pie chart: http://www.wri.org/blog/2017/04/interactive-chart-explains-worlds-top-10-emitters-and-how-theyve-changed