A lot of people consider astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to be the smartest man in the world. His research and theories have explained some of the deepest mysteries of time and space.
So it’s understandable why, on Tuesday, people sort of freaked out when Hawking said there was one thing he could not explain: The popularity of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“I can’t,” Hawking responded, when asked to explain Trump’s rise as part of an exclusive interview with British news station ITV News. “He is a demagogue, who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.”
But here’s the thing: in that same interview, Hawking also said he didn’t believe Trump was the greatest threat facing America, or even the world. The greatest threat, he said, is human-caused climate change.
“A more immediate danger is runaway climate change,” Hawking said. “A rise in ocean temperature would melt the ice-caps, and cause a release of large amounts of carbon dioxide from the ocean floor. Both effects could make our climate like that of Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees.”
Hawking’s comments about Trump made headlines in nearly every major American media outlet. His comments about climate change being the world’s greatest threat, however, did not make the cut.
Here is a sampling of some headlines:
Hawking has been warning about the long-term dangers of climate change for years. In 2007, Hawking spoke of scientists’ duty to “alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change.”
“There’s a realization that we are changing our climate for the worse. That would have catastrophic effects,” Hawking said. “Although the threat is not as dire as that of nuclear weapons right now, in the long term we are looking at a serious threat.”
Since then, Hawking has continued to speak about his concerns about the impacts of climate change, which climate scientists say will include sea-level rise, more extreme weather, food shortages, and increased violent conflicts.
Trump, on the other hand, has said he does not believe climate change exists. Last week, he promised to undo essentially every major climate policy developed in the last decade if elected president.