Trump’s position on Brexit — bring it on — may be divisive, but his denialist and pro-coal view on global heating and the climate crisis is even more extreme and makes him particularly unwelcome at this moment in Britain.
The British parliament declared a ‘climate emergency’ in May, while a day later the government’s chief advisory committee on climate change recommended that the UK should aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
During the previous month, protesters from Extinction Rebellion took over strategic points in central London for several days to demand even tougher action to combat the climate crisis. A simultaneous visit by the teenage Swedish climate school striker Greta Thunberg saw politicians from across the political spectrum vying to declare their support.
As part of the global climate school strike movement, the UK has now seen several day-long protests by tens of thousands of schoolchildren, who argue convincingly that their futures are imperiled by the world’s dithering in the face of the climate emergency.
“Embarrassing for almost everyone”
Donald Trump, on the other hand, mocks renewable energy, brags about the US once again being the world’s largest producer of oil, and tries to resuscitate America’s ailing coal industry.
His decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accords left America embarrassingly isolated. Even the last hold-out — war-torn Syria — decided to sign the agreement in November 2017, leaving Trump’s America in a minority of one.
For this and numerous reasons, Trump’s visit to the UK is embarrassing for almost everyone. While the US is politically divided on climate change, with Democrats overwhelmingly supporting climate action and some Republicans turning climate denialism into an article of faith the UK is very different.
Here the 2008 Climate Change Act was passed with cross-party support, with only five of the more than 600 members of the House of Commons voting against. The Conservative environment minister Michael Gove has met Extinction Rebellion protesters and praised Greta Thunberg after her speech in Parliament, saying her “voice has been heard” and admitting a “sense of responsibility and guilt” over inadequate climate action so far.
Gove — who has declared himself a candidate to replace the outgoing Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party and therefore Prime Minister — has no interest in cozying up to Donald Trump. Theresa May can be seen with Trump without facing consequences, but only because her political career is already over.
Nor will anyone on the opposition Labour Party side want to stand too close to the American leader during any official business. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has already declined an invitation to the state banquet with Trump, and has argued that it is wrong to “roll out the red carpet” for a president who uses “racist and misogynist rhetoric”.
Corbyn was also the original proponent of the climate emergency declaration, stating that “by becoming the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency we could set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the world”. Needless to say, any “wave of action” on climate change would have no impact on Washington DC so long as Donald Trump remains president.
A climate denialist
While the Queen will no doubt remain dutifully tight-lipped there can be little doubt that Prince Charles and his sons will all be dreading the time they must spend with Trump. Charles has long been an avowed environmentalist, while Prince William joined broadcaster David Attenborough on stage at Davos in January to discuss the urgency of the climate crisis.
Last time Trump visited the UK he was met by tens of thousands of protestors, many of them motivated by concerns about global heating and furious at Trump’s climate denialist position.
Whether as many turn up for his state visit on 3 June remains to be seen. Perhaps a more muted response would be a good thing — for if we know one thing about Trump, it is that above all else he hates to be ignored.
But the fact remains that no other country, despite initial wobbles from both Brazil and Australia, has joined the US in withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. With the rapid developments in clean energy, batteries, and electric cars, Trump is looking not just out of fashion but out of date.