This week, President-elect Donald Trump met with some of the biggest names in climate activism: former vice president Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. His daughter Ivanka, a trusted adviser and business partner, met with both of them as well. Then Trump named an unabashed enemy of the Environmental Protection Agency to head it.
Speculation over how Ivanka’s purported interest in climate change and desire to involve key figures like Gore might influence her father’s extreme views generated significant buzz —a convenient distraction from Trump’s most anti-environmental action to date, the selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA.
Google search trends, though an imperfect measure of public attention, show a much bigger spike for Trump and Gore than Pruitt. Combined interest in Gore and DiCaprio appears to match interest in Pruitt just one day after his selection was reported.
As a candidate, Trump was quite clear about his intentions for the environment. He pledged to end all federal spending on clean energy research and development, plus all other spending on anything to do with climate change. He vowed to “cancel” the landmark Paris climate agreement. He has repeatedly denied the reality of climate change. Nevertheless, the hope that he would soften those extreme positions as president persisted.
Building on anonymously-sourced reports that Ivanka wanted to take on a more substantive role, with climate change as one of her key issues, the announcement that she was meeting with Gore on Tuesday — specifically to discuss climate — generated significant interest. That only increased when it was revealed Gore spent the bulk of his time with the president-elect and found the conversation “very productive.”
On Wednesday, Trump and his daughter met with DiCaprio, and reportedly received a presentation on the economic benefits of renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure. That same day, the president-elect selected Pruitt to run the EPA.
Pruitt has obfuscated the scientific consensus regarding climate change, claiming falsely that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” In his current position, he has been a vocal opponent of the EPA and President Barack Obama’s most significant climate action, the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt also has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry: In 2011, for instance, he sent a letter to the EPA criticizing restrictions on air pollution from natural gas production. The New York Times discovered that an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company had actually written the letter, and then publicly praised Pruitt for sending it.
Pruitt’s selection was widely regarded as the worst-case scenario for environmental groups. Democratic Senators are gearing up to fight his nomination, which several referred to as “dangerous.” While Trump taking a meeting with Gore represented a “glimmer of hope” for some observers, the president-elect is largely following through on his campaign promises: filling his administration with people who deny or dismiss the threat of climate change and setting the stage for a wholesale assault on regulations designed to ensure access to clean air and water.
There will be those like Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough who will likely continue to claim they “just know” Trump “has to believe” in climate science, but such speculation is baseless when examined alongside the president-elect’s actions. He has vowed repeatedly to reverse the previous administration’s climate action, cripple the agencies tasked with protecting the environment, and turn his focus to fossil fuels. We shouldn’t be surprised to see him do just that.