President Donald Trump didn’t mention climate change or global warming in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
This is, on one hand, the most predictable thing in the world. Throughout his political career, Trump has rarely seemed interested in understanding the science of Earth’s climate. Last week, he misspoke about the climate again, claiming “it was getting too cold all over the place.” He has canceled policies that prepare national parks for climate change and adapt U.S. naval bases to rising sea levels. Repealing President Barack Obama’s extensive climate legacy has unified the Trump administration like little else.
So why would he mention climate change in his speech? Because—on the other hand—the United States just survived a year of disasters that were shaped and intensified by climate change. Three hurricanes whipped the United States, several of them bearing the fingerprints of climate change. A third of Puerto Rico is still without power. Record-breaking wildfires raged across the West. It was the most expensive year for natural disasters in U.S. history. NASA and NOAA declared 2017 one of the hottest years ever measured; more than a dozen federal science agencies published a lengthy report affirming the reality of global warming.
Does it make sense to harangue the president for the omission? I ask myself: If Trump hailed from a Republican party that had not largely disavowed the scientific fact of climate change, would he have mentioned the phenomenon?
I think he would. Indeed, the president came about as close as possible to mentioning climate change—without saying the magic words. “We have endured floods, and fires, and storms,” he said early in his speech. “We saw the volunteers of the Cajun Navy racing with their fishing boats to save people from the aftermath of a totally devastating hurricane.” Later, he praised Americans’ ability to “push the bounds of science and discovery.”
Those passages would have been sharper, more accurate, and more befitting the scale of the problem if the president recognized the single issue uniting them. But saying the name of that problem is now verboten—a sacrifice to a particularly Republican form of political correctness. And so the country winds into another year, with a federal government that can utter the name of any number of threats to Americans—except the one that is already inundating its shores, scorching its homes, and shaping the lives of its children.