US President Donald Trump downplayed the role of climate change in the deadly fires raging in California, saying “I don’t think science knows,” as he visited the state on Monday.
Trump responded: “It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch”
The official said: “I wish science agreed with you,” to which Trump replied: “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
Trump has downplayed the role of man-made climate change and in general has questioned whether the phenomenon is real. He has also derided environmental activists as alarmists.
California Governor Gavin Newsom also told Trump during during the briefing that climate change was worsening the fires.
“Something’s happened to the plumbing of the world,” Newsom, a Democrat, told the Republican president.
“Climate change is real and that is exacerbating this,” he said of the wildfires. Trump did not directly contradict Newsom.
Earlier, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden slammed Trump as a “climate arsonist” in a speech from his home state of Delaware.
“We need a president who respects science, who understands that the damage from climate change is already here, and, unless we take urgent action, it will soon be more catastrophic,” Biden said.
The former vice president pledged to rejoin the Paris climate accord if he is elected in November and to focus on moving the country to sustainable sources of energy, which will create new jobs.
West Coast cities are seeing ash-filled skies with terrible air quality, at times casting an ominous orange colour across the horizon.
At least 35 people have been killed by the fires, which have forced thousands to evacuate their homes in California, Oregon and Washington.
Trump has blamed poor forest management – creating denser forests and bigger blazes – and accused local elected officials of neglecting to clear land appropriately.
Newsom went out of his way to thank Trump for federal assistance in combating the fires and conceded there was more work to be done on forest management.
But the governor noted that the federal government owns nearly 58 per cent of California’s forested land, while the state owns 3 per cent.
Scientists warn that more far-reaching efforts to deal with climate change, which has created severe drought conditions and volatile weather, is needed in the long term to prevent more devastating fires.
“Talk to a firefighter, if you think that climate change isn’t real,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, said on Sunday.
As wildfires rage on the West Coast, southern states are preparing for another hurricane and flooding.