In debate, Trump raises stakes in race to address climate crisis

Roughly halfway into his White House term, Donald Trump said he was “skeptical” of his own administration’s National Climate Assessment. Asked why, the Republican president said, “You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean.”

Part of the problem with the answer was that Trump was plainly wrong: Air and water quality in the United States got worse, not better, during his presidency. His frequent boasts on the issue got reality backwards.

But just as notable was the disconnect between the question and the answer: In the then-president’s mind, the key to understanding climate change is focusing on air and water quality, as if they’re all the same thing. They’re not.

Years later, Trump still doesn’t understand this.

During last night’s presidential debate, CNN’s Dana Bash asked the presumptive GOP nominee a question he doesn’t often hear: “Will you take any action as president to slow the climate crisis?” Trump initially ignored the question, before eventually replying:

“So, I want absolutely immaculate clean water and I want absolutely clean air, and we had it. We had H2O. We had the best numbers ever.”

Right off the bat, it appears that Trump remains convinced that addressing pollution is the same thing as addressing the climate emergency. As anyone with even a passing familiarity with the issue knows, that doesn’t make any sense — and that the Republican has peddled this line repeatedly for several years makes matters worse.

What’s more, the idea that air and water quality improved during his presidency is still demonstrably wrong.

As for the argument that the United States “had H2O” during Trump’s term, I will gladly concede the point, though this was an odd thing to brag about during a debate.

Stepping back, the exchange served as a timely reminder about the stakes in the 2024 race. The former president remains an unrepentant climate-denier — he described the crisis as a “con job“ late last year — who is running on an anti-climate platform, all while touting what he sees as the benefits of an intensifying planetary catastrophe.

What’s more, Politico reported earlier this year that Trump’s second term would be even more regressive on the issue than his first: “Former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, staffed his environmental agencies with fossil fuel lobbyists and claimed — against all scientific evidence — that the Earth’s rising temperatures will ‘start getting cooler.’ Expect a second Trump presidency to show less restraint.”