Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
If Your Time is short
President Trump claimed “it’ll start getting cooler” during a conversation about climate change in California.
Climate science shows it’s getting warmer and there’s no evidence of a long-term cooling trend.
Trump also maintained forest management is the key to preventing the state’s wildfires. Experts say it is just one element, while climate change and urban sprawl are also key contributors.
Scientists, and many Californians enduring this summer’s smoky and sweltering heat, wish President Donald Trump’s latest prediction — that "it’ll start getting cooler, just watch" — would come true.
The problem? There’s nothing to back it up.
"We have very clear evidence that California is warming," Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh said Monday in response to Trump’s claim. "There is no scientific evidence that California is on the cusp of a long-term cooling trend."
Trump made this prediction and repeated his push for greater forest management during his visit to Sacramento Monday, where he received an update on the wildfires that have ravaged California, Oregon and Washington for weeks. More than 3 million acres have burned in California, the most ever recorded, and nearly 1 in 8 Oregonians have been under some form of evacuation warning.
Trump made the claim about cooling during a roundtable with federal, state and local officials. Just prior to it, California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot urged the president to fully acknowledge the role of climate change in making the fires worse.
Here’s their full exchange:
Crowfoot: "We’re seeing this warming trend make our summers warmer but also our winters warmer, as well. So, I think one area of mutual agreement and priority is vegetation management. But I think we want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forests and actually work together with that science. That science is going to be key. If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians."
Trump: "Ok, it’ll start getting cooler, you just watch."
Crowfoot: "I wish science agreed with you."
Trump: "I don’t think science knows, actually."
What Does The Science Say?
Diffenbaugh, the Stanford climate scientist, pointed to a report he published in August with researchers from UCLA and UC Merced that found the likelihood of extreme wildfire conditions is growing across California, and shows no sign of slowing down, due to climate change.
The report found the number of fall days with extreme fire conditions — that’s when some of the largest fires in the state have ignited in recent history — has jumped from four to 12 since 1979, CapRadio reported this month.
"Wildfires in California are going to continue or get worse," added Stanford University climate scientist Michael Goss, who co-authored the report. "It could be that we're going to see more seasons where we have multiple large wildfires across the state of California."
Goss told CapRadio he expects the number of extreme fire danger days in the fall to climb in the Sierra Nevada, for example, from eight to 12 or 13 in coming years.
Earlier this week, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported that six of the state’s largest 20 wildfires in state history have occurred this year. At Monday’s roundtable, Gov. Gavin Newsom added that California recorded "the hottest August ever in the history of this state," which is backed up by the National Weather Service.
Trump’s Push For Forest Management
Also on Monday, Trump repeated his call for greater forest management to prevent wildfires in California.
Speaking to reporters upon his arrival at Sacramento’s McClellan Park, a former military base, Trump said the dead trees in California’s forests are "like a matchstick." He added, "When you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground, it just sets it up. It’s really a fuel for a fire."
Trump's comments are similar to those he made in 2018, after the Camp Fire devastated the town of Paradise and other communities in Butte County. At that time Trump threatened to withhold federal emergency funds and claimed California’s deadly wildfires "would never happen" with "proper Forest Management."
PolitiFact California rated that statement False after experts on climate, forestry and firefighting all rejected the idea that forest management alone can prevent the fires, calling it overly simplistic. Experts say it is just one element, while climate change and urban sprawl are also key contributors.
Still, state and federal leaders agree that thinning out forests, setting prescribed burns and clearing brush can help reduce the severity of fires.
In August, California and the federal government agreed to clean up 1 million acres by 2025. That’s an area larger than Yosemite National Park every 12 months, "and roughly double the current rate of thinning, which already is double rates from a few years ago," the Mercury News reported.
CapRadio, Trump Ignores California Officials’ Calls To Address Climate Change, Predicts ‘It’ll Get Cooler’, Sept. 14, 2020
President Donald Trump, roundtable discussion in Sacramento, Sept. 14, 2020
Noah Diffenbaugh, climate scientist, Stanford University, video interview Sept. 14, 2020
CapRadio, Wildfires In California Will ‘Continue To Get Worse,’ Climate Change Experts Explore Why, Sept. 3, 2020
PolitiFact California, Trump repeats overly simplistic, False claim on California’s wildfires, Jan. 9, 2019
CalFire, tweet, Sept. 10, 2020
Mercury-News, California fires: State, feds agree to thin millions of acres of forests, Aug. 23, 2020
National Weather Service, Summer 2020 ranked as one of the hottest on record for U.S., Sept. 9, 2020