‘It’s nonsensical’: how Trump is making climate the latest culture war – The Guardian US

The ex-president is ranting about low water pressure and attacking mundane rules and technologies – and Republicans in Congress are now following his lead
When Donald Trump embarked upon a lengthy complaint at a recent rally about how long it takes to wash his “beautiful luxuriant hair” due to his shower’s low water pressure, he highlighted the expanding assault he and Republicans are launching against even the most obscure environmental policies – a push that’s starting to influence voters.
In his bid to return to the White House, Trump has branded Joe Biden’s attempt to advance electric cars in the US “lunacy”, claiming such vehicles do not work in the cold and that their supporters should “rot in hell”. He’s called offshore wind turbines “horrible”, falsely linking them to the death of whales, while promising to scrap incentives for both wind and electric cars.
But the former US president and convicted felon, who has openly solicited donations from oil and gas executives in order to follow industry-friendly priorities if re-elected, has also spearheaded a much broader attack on a range of mundane rules and technologies that enable water and energy efficiency.
At a June rally in Philadelphia, Trump claimed Americans are suffering from “no water in your faucets” when attempting to wash their hands or hair. “You turn on the water and it goes drip, drip,” he said. “You can’t get [the soap] off your hand. So you keep it running for about 10 times longer.” Trump complained it takes 45 minutes to wash his “beautiful luxuriant hair” and that dishwashers don’t work because “they don’t want you to have any water”.
Trump’s niche fixation is not new – while in office he complained about having to flush a toilet 10 times and that newer, energy-efficient lightbulbs made him look “orange”. His administration subsequently rolled back efficiency standards for toilets, showers and lightbulbs, rules that Biden subsequently restored.
But Republicans in Congress are now following Trump’s lead, introducing a flurry of recent bills in the House of Representatives targeting energy efficiency standards for home appliances. The bills – with names such as the “Liberty in Laundry Act”, “Refrigerator Freedom Act” and the ‘Clothes Dryers Reliability Act’ – follow a conservative furore over a confected, baseless claim the Biden administration was banning gas stoves, which prompted further GOP legislation.
“No government bureaucrat should ever scheme to take away Americans’ appliances in the name of a radical environmental agenda, yet that is exactly what we have seen under the Biden administration,” said Debbie Lasko, a Republican Congressman and sponsor of the ‘Hands Off Our Home Appliances Act’, which restricts new efficiency rules on appliances and passed the House in May. These bills have no chance of agreement in the Democratic-held senate.
“We are seeing a lot of these advances, like clean cars and more efficient appliances, being swept up into the culture wars,” said Ed Maibach, an expert in public health and climate communication at George Mason University.
“Most Americans’ instincts are that these are good things to have, but it’s clear that Donald Trump and others think there’s political gain in persuading people this isn’t the case. These voters are being fed a story by people they shouldn’t really trust.”
There has been a sharp political divide over the climate crisis for several years in the US, with Trump calling global heating a “hoax” and dismissing its mounting devastation. “It basically means you’ll have a little more beachfront property,” the former president said of the impact of sea level rise last month.
During last week’s presidential debate, Trump boasted, baselessly, he achieved the “best environmental numbers ever” when president and called the Paris climate accords a “ripoff” and a “disaster”. Biden rebuked his rival, saying he didn’t do a “damn thing” about the climate crisis.
Despite this split, there has long been strong bipartisan support across all voters for renewables such as solar and wind, with most of the clean energy jobs and investment unleashed by Biden’s major climate bill flowing to rural, Republican districts. But this is beginning to weaken in the wake of Trump’s attacks, research by Maibach and colleagues has found.
A new poll, released by the Pew Research Center on Thursday, underscored this trend – support for new solar farms has slumped to 78% across all Americans, down from 90% just four years ago. Backing for expanding wind power has dropped by a similar amount, while interest in buying an electric vehicle is significantly lower than a year ago, with just 29% of people saying they would consider an EV, down from 38% in 2023.
This change is being driven by a drop in support among Republican voters, Maibach said, with clean energy and cars on track to become as contentious as global heating is now to many conservatives. “That support for clean energy has been there across Republicans and Democrats for a long time but it is starting to erode,” he said.
“It’s a trend that has been developing for at least the past five years. There is a tug of war going on between what people’s instincts are telling them, and what voices in their trusted community are telling them.”
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The wide-ranging blitz on anything seemingly green has been taken up by Republican-led state governments, too, most notably in Ron DeSantis’ Florida, which has erased references to climate change in state law, curbed offshore wind projects and banned lab-grown meat, which has been touted as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional meat.
Meanwhile, rightwing media outlets have echoed Trump’s criticism of electric cars, with commentators on Fox News calling them a “religion” and even claiming, misleadingly, they are fatal in hot weather. “I think this proves that Joe Biden is trying to kill us all by trapping us in these electric vehicles,” Katie Pavlich, a Fox News host, said on The Five show last week.
These attacks may be new but they follow a lengthy Republican tradition of distrusting experts – who in this case are clear that clean energy and electric cars are far healthier for people and the planet than their fossil fueled counterparts – according to Robert Brulle, an environmental sociologist at Brown University.
“There is a long history in the conservative movement of making fun of bureaucrats and experts making us do these nanny state things, like putting handrails on mountain paths or airbags in cars,” Brulle said.
“The message is ‘all these pointy-headed bureaucrats are screwing up our lives’ and Trump is in a way tapping into an old, Reaganist tradition. He’s trying to breed a resentment, which speaks to people’s sense of powerlessness, about how elites are running our lives, making us drive these crappy cars and stopping us from buying an incandescent lightbulb.”
Such a message resonates with Trump’s base but is likely a turn-off among undecided voters, Brulle said. Polling has found a clear majority of American voters want a presidential candidate who will do something about the climate crisis, although there is a clear partisan divide on the issue and global heating is considered by the public a low-ranked priority compared to other concerns, such as inflation and immigration.
“I don’t think this stuff gets Trump much support among independents because it’s nonsensical what he’s saying,” Brulle said. “This is more about trying to mobilize his supporters. The common ground on climate change is already very small, and this just shrinks it further.”