Future Tense

Trump Says Humans May Have “Some Connectivity” to Climate Change

Donald Trump leaves the New York Times.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Donald Trump might not be quite the hardcore climate change denier he pretended to be during the campaign. Or he might just be a guy who knows his audience.

Speaking with reporters and editors from the New York Times on Tuesday, the president-elect was asked whether he believes human activity is linked to climate change, according to tweets from the Times’ Mike Grynbaum, who was present. “I think there is some connectivity,” Trump replied. “Some, something. It depends on how much.”

For the record, the consensus among scientists who study climate change for a living is that human greenhouse gas emissions are “extremely likely to have been the dominant cause” of the unprecedented rise in global temperatures since the mid-20th century.

What exactly depends on how much connectivity there is, Trump apparently did not specify. Perhaps he meant his willingness to acknowledge humans’ impact on the climate, or to consider doing something about it as president. On that count, he was equally equivocal, indicating that he was worried about “how much [doing something about it] will cost our companies” and the effect on American competitiveness.

Again for the record: If Trump were to reject the need to mitigate climate change as president, he would become the only world leader to do so.

Trump’s remarks appeared to mark a pivot from his stance on climate change during the campaign, when he said he would “cancel” the Paris Agreement if elected. Once more, for the record: Trump doesn’t have the power to “cancel” a multinational agreement. He could decline to honor the United States’ commitments.

On Tuesday, he took a softer line on the treaty, saying only, “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it.”

Trump in the past has referred to climate change as a “hoax” created “by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He later said that was a “joke,” though he has a long record of similar comments, including telling CNN in 2015, “I don’t believe in climate change.”

Does this mean Trump has changed his mind about the climate, as he appears to have done about prosecuting Hillary Clinton? That would be too strong a reading of his vague remarks, in which he was careful not to say anything that he could be held to.

Environmentalists looking for slivers of hope might point to a 2009 letter from business leaders to President Obama, calling for urgent action on climate change. Trump was among the signatories.

Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a leader who seems to hold almost no firm principles on any issues, the safest bet is to look at the records of those he appoints to his administration. Trump’s presumptive Environmental Protection Agency pick, Myron Ebell, has made his name as a climate change naysayer, so any optimism as to Trump’s policies should probably be kept in check.

The best we can say at this point is that the president-elect does not appear devoted to actively denying the existence of climate change, and that it is not yet a foregone conclusion that he’ll abandon the Paris Agreement.

Happy Thanksgiving, environmentalists.