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America's best scientists stood up to the Trump administration

Posted on 25 April 2018 by John Abraham

Anyone who has read this column over the past five years knows that I tend to be unfettered in my criticism of people who lie and distort climate science to further their political ideologies. At the same time, I believe that the majority of climate sceptics are not willfully wishing to damage this precious Earth that we call home. I believe that there are common areas we can all agree on to take meaningful action to protect the Earth’s environment and build a new energy future; even for people who do not understand climate change or climate science.

But with the election of Donald Trump and his ushering in people who are openly hostile to the planet and future generations, my position has been strained (to say the least). We have had more than a year to observe President Trump’s efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations on pollution from coal plants, weaken pollution standards for motor vehicles, become the only country in the world to reject the Paris climate accord, and gut our climate science budget so that we become blind to what is actually happening. 

We have to believe Trump when he says that he thinks climate science is a hoaxand we have to expect he will act according to this belief. Under Trump, the USA has become a pariah nation. It hurts me to say this, because I love the USA and what it stands for. But regarding the environment, we are the worst of the worst.

Some people will claim I am “unpatriotic” or “unAmerican” to criticize my country. My response is, I am honest. A patriot is someone who loves their country and wants their country to meet the ideals that are the foundation of that nation. Patriotic means you want your country to be better; you want your country to make a positive impact. I believe that turning a blind eye to your country’s faults is a most deeply unpatriotic act. I want my country to excel, I want my country to lead, I want my country to be a shining light on a hill. If my country fails or falters in that endeavor, I will work tirelessly to correct our path. That, in my mind is patriotism.

President Trump has installed radical science deniers in his administration to obstruct climate science research, to stop development in clean and renewable energy (the economic growth engine of the future), and to attack scientists for doing their jobs. Among Trump’s most harmful acts was to appoint Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. Scott Pruitt does not understand even basic climate science, and he doesn’t comprehend that climate change will be bad for human society

But it isn’t just Trump and Pruitt that are a problem. Everyone in the Trump administration seems hell-bent on damaging the planet. Recently, climate change denier Jim Bridenstine was confirmed by Senate Republicans to lead Nasa – one of the two most important climate science organizations in the country. Trump has brought with him a swamp filled with anti-science staff whose goal is to handicap the US and permanently remove us from any leadership role in the world.

To be clear, Trump, Pruitt, the entire administration, and those who support him will inherit a terrible legacy that we will not forget. These people will be known for willfully trying to destroy the planet that we rely on for health and prosperity.

Despite the attacks from the Trump/Pruitt Administration, some scientists have begun to speak out. This speaking out takes courage. I have the luxury of being unbridled in my work. My livelihood does not depend on federal research grants; I have no boss in Washington DC that can threaten me; Scott Pruitt cannot attack me; nor can President Trump. For a scientist like me, speaking out is low-risk.

But many of my colleagues are not so fortunate. Many of my colleagues, who have dedicated their lives to understanding the Earth’s environment, are employed by Washington. That is, they are able to carry out research by obtaining federal grants. These grants pay for their instruments (satellites, sea level gauges, weather balloons, supercomputers, etc.), their offices, salaries, and so forth. And when these scientists speak out, it is an act of courage and selflessness.

This week, many of these scientists have spoken out. In an open letter, over 600 scientists from the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (America’s best scientists) wrote the following:

In September 2016, over 375 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) signed an Open Letter calling attention to the dangers of human-induced climate change. The letter warned that U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord would have negative consequences for the world’s climate system and for U.S. leadership and credibility.

In the intervening 15 months, these negative consequences have become more obvious. Human-caused climate disruption is leading to suffering and economic loss. Suffering and loss are not future hypotheticals. They are happening now. Despite these serious negative consequences, the present Administration has fulfilled its threat to initiate U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord. The United States is the only nation in the world that has taken this action. 

The decision to withdraw is symptomatic of a larger problem: The Trump Administration’s denigration of scientific expertise and harassment of scientists. The dismissal of scientific evidence in policy formulation has affected wide areas of the social, biological, environmental and physical sciences. It has been particularly egregious in climate science. A recent instance of this is the intention of the Administration to assemble a “Red Team/Blue Team” to re-litigate all aspects of climate science. Such an exercise seeks to foster the erroneous impression of deep uncertainty concerning the reality and seriousness of anthropogenically driven climate change.

Scientific evidence and research should be an important component of policymaking. We therefore call on the Federal Government to maintain scientific content on publicly accessible websites, to appoint qualified personnel to positions requiring scientific expertise, to cease censorship and intimidation of Government scientists, and to reverse the decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accord.

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Comments 1 to 6:

  1. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Should Scientists Advocate on the Issue of Climate Change? by Ingfei Chen, UnDark, Apr 24, 2018

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  2. Agreed. It's important to respect people with different views, but state the truth plainly.

    However theres another important issue going on behind this, and the key to the whole thing. This is relevant from Vox.

    "Similarly, popular conceptions of the GOP — that it is driven primarily by conservative economic principles like small government, low taxes, and deregulation — are also wrong. It turns out those things were the preoccupations of a thin and unrepresentative conservative elite, primarily in DC. The Tea Party uprising and its culmination in Trump were driven by white resentment and white backlash. (Here’s another new study supporting that thesis.) The ethnonationalist populism Trump represents is the dominant strain of conservatism in America today."


    The point here is America is being divided on race and cultural issues, and the anti climate science rhetoric , and the anti science and deregulation agenda is being deliberately sneaked in the back door while people are all worked up about exaggerated problems about immigrants an so on.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Shortened link

  3. I always enjoy listening to scientists explain issues in the media. I think the public need to connect with scientists in this way and get a lot out of it. Stick to the science if you are not comfortable advocating solutions.

    The people who say don't do this are probably often climate denialists posing as concerned citizens.

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  4. I have seen posters and tee-shirts saying "Science not Silence".

    Speaking out is essential.

    Albert Einstein's Memorial in front of the National Academy of Science in Washington, DC includes the following "The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true."

    And one of the statements on the walls of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”

    Americans (and other humans), particularly the supposed Winners, really need to be reminded of the thoughtful helpful thoughts of those who have come before us, encouraging us to be open to increased awareness and better understanding and the required corrections that may be contrary to developed Private Interests.

    Freedom has to have responsible limits. Those who will not responsibly self-limit their behaviour need to be repeatedly disappointed, until they learn to change their minds.

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  5. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Here's How Scientists Can Become More Politically Engaged, Opinion by William T Adler, Observations, Scientific American, Apr 25, 2018

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  6. Related research : "Does Engagement in Advocacy Hurt the Credibility of Scientists? Results from a Randomized National Survey Experiment. "

    The short answer is it doesn't, unless they start promoting specific types of renewable energy (as opposed to the idea in principle).

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