Trump on the environment

The presidential hopeful on golf, hairspray and the (nonexistent) California drought

About this story:
It originally ran in the Daily Climate, an independent, foundation-funded news service covering energy, the environment and climate change. Find it online at

In early June, two news organizations dug up documented but long-forgotten tidbits on Donald Trump’s on-again, off-again relationship with the environment. And the incompatibility of the findings is emblematic of his long, complicated relationship with reality.

Writing in Grist, Ben Adler and Rebecca Leber unearthed Trump’s support of a call for action on the eve of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit. The full-page New York Times ad warned “if we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.”

Just two months after joining the call to action, Trump cited the unusually snowy 2010 winter in the Northeast as the reason to strip Al Gore of his shared Nobel Peace Prize. “China, Japan and India are laughing at America’s stupidity,” he told the membership of his Trump National Golf Club outside New York City.

Time and again, the fairways of Trump’s far-flung golf empire have been the setting for his assaults on the Greens. Later in 2010 at another Trump National Golf Course (he owns 17 golf resorts worldwide) in Loudon County, Va., Trump ordered a mile-long stretch of Potomac River shoreline deforested so that his golfers could have a better view of the river. More than 400 mature trees disappeared, removing habitat for bald eagles and migratory birds. In their place, tree stumps and an eroding riverbank.

“I have a great environmental record,” said the Donald as his golf course controversies swirled. “I have a record that, in my opinion, everybody would love.” Except, perhaps for employees of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which Trump has vowed to eliminate.

With the exception of the 2009 New York Times ad, Trump has been unusually consistent in his tweets and public pronouncements on climate change, calling it “pseudoscience,” a Chinese-led “hoax,” and on a particularly snowy day, “bullshit.”

In other golfing news, in 2012, Trump built what he has called “the world’s greatest golf course” after obtaining permission to plow through protected dunes on the Scottish coast near Aberdeen. Altering the beloved dunes was tolerable for most locals, though, since Trump promised 6,000 jobs with the opening of his golf links and resort. They even gave Trump a pass when he described the neighboring ancient farm buildings as a “slum” and looked the other way when the stiff Aberdeenshire winds made the Donald’s epic coiffure start breakdancing.

But those same winds created a threat Trump could not accept. A proposal for 23 wind turbines, within sight of the Trump resort, prompted the kinds of Trumpian outbursts that have become routine in this year’s election campaign. Trump, like William Wallace before him, was “fighting for the benefit of Scotland.” First Minister Alex Salmond, who supported the windfarm, would be “known for centuries as the man who destroyed Scotland.”

Trump also branded the wind menace as potentially the worst thing that ever happened to Scotland. (The sacking of Scotland by the Vikings in 790, the Great Plague of 1645, the Famine of the 1840s and the 1988 Lockerbie terrorism disaster be damned.)

Losing a third and final round in the U.K.’s Supreme Court last December, Trump has had little to say about the windfarm since. But Salmond cheerfully tore a phrase from the Trump playbook, calling him a “three-time loser.” Also lost? All but 200 of those promised 6,000 jobs.

About that iconic hair … On several occasions in the last five years, Trump has launched into an extended riff on his understanding of hairspray and the ozone layer. In a campaign speech in May, he repeated the tirade to a Charleston, W.V., audience. Hairspray, he said, “used to be real good. Today, you put the hairspray on, it’s good for 12 minutes.”

Blaming regulations that restricted aerosols known to damage the Earth’s ozone layer, Trump continued: “So, if I take hairspray, and if I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer? I say no way folks, no way.”

In contemporary America, climate denial and anti-regulatory tirades are a dime a dozen. But Trump has taken it to a new level: Speaking to a rally in Fresno in late May, he looked Californians in the eye and told them that their four-year-long drought does not exist. “They don’t understand—nobody understands it. There is no drought. They turn the water out into the ocean,” all to protect “a certain kind of 3-inch fish.”

He was apparently referring to the refusal by state and federal officials to virtually drain some Central Valley streams by diverting water to farmers and ranchers stricken by the nondrought. Federal law prohibits such diversions if they substantially harm wildlife, including the endangered Delta smelt.

California has had the driest four-year period in its history, and while El Niño rains brought some temporary relief, the lack of rainfall is still an unfolding disaster, including in smelt-free parts of the state. Abandoned orchards, parched cattle, vanished snowpack, drained reservoirs and municipal water restrictions aside, 1.1 million Californians pulled Trump’s lever in the June 6 primary.

(Bonus hairspray tidbit: According to the Houston Chronicle, Trump uses CHI Helmet Head Extra Firm Hairspray, developed and sold by Palestinian immigrant Farouk Shami. Mr. Shami halted his company’s sponsorship of Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant after Trump’s anti-Islamic comments late last year, which Trump doubled down on after the Orlando massacre.)