In the nearly 30 months since President Donald Trump took office and assembled the most wobbly cabinet that could possibly be put together by even those with toxically ill feelings about America’s future, it has become clear that he and his administration don’t merely harbor dismissive feelings toward science, they are actively and belligerently anti-science.
Trump has not merely crippled the Environmental Protection Agency, he has eviscerated it.
He has weakened the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and he’s compromised the once-dependable United States Geological Survey by installing James Reilly as its director.
Despite claiming that he would keep science safe from politics, Reilly, according to a disturbing New York Times article published on May 27, “has ordered that scientific assessments produced by (the USGS) use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously.”
The quadrennial National Climate Assessment, produced by an interagency team of scientists, is the chief target of Reilly’s order, because it could omit from the next assessment, set for release in 2021 or 2022, the more dire and alarming effects of climate change that are forecast to occur through 2100.
The Trump administration’s tireless and wanton attacks on science are unsettling to many climate scientists, if not most of them.
“Trump is totally backward in terms of of accepting scientific facts in terms of global warming,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist who retired last year after three decades with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “He wants to take us back to the 1950s, not just in terms of climate change, but in civil rights and women’s rights.
“In my career I fought for the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and I’m incredulous that he could be in such a state of denial,” he said. “Climate change is an existential threat not just to Long Beach, but the nation and the world, and for Trump to ignore it is excessively irresponsible.”
Patzert, now that he’s retired, is concerned most about the 2020 election.
“As a scientist, I think I’ve convinced as many people as I can about the science. Now, in my dotage, I’m focusing most of my energy on the 2020 election. You could say I’m out of my ivory tower and into the voting booth. The critical thing is we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels in the long run, and we have to wean ourselves off Trump in the short term. The things he’s doing are troubling, threatening and in a larger sense, immoral.”
Gary Griggs, a science professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has authored several reports on sea level rise, was even more blunt in his criticism of Trump.
“I think we’re dealing with a demented man. He’s appealing to his industrial base who are still mining coal and getting as much oil out of the ground as they can,” he said. “And he’s consistent in that he’s surrounded himself with people who are equally ignorant. I can’t believe what he’s willing to pass on, in terms of the health of the planet, to his children and grandchildren. He’s putting us on a totally irresponsible path to destruction.”
Jerry Schubel, the CEO of the Aquarium of the Pacific, said, “I think it’s a terrible situation when you have one of the leading countries in the world and the person leading it doesn’t have any appreciation for science. He has surrounded himself with people who don’t have any scientific expertise and it’s an echo chamber. He doesn’t even have a science adviser.”
Trump and his administration reminds Schubel of a quotation by Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist: “You don’t improve the quality of a technical decision by asking a lot of uninformed people.”
“The National Climate Assessment requires us to project trends to 25 to 100 years,” said Kristina Dahl, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Going to just 2040 is a direct violation of what we’re supposed to do.”
The assessment, said Dahl, includes research that’s agreed upon by hundreds of scientists and involves thousands of hours of hard work, and efforts to undercut it, she says, “really devalues the report. It’s a good time now to have a congressional oversight committee step in to preserve the integrity of the assessment.”
Dahl added, “It’s very disturbing what’s going on and I think countries around the world that look to us to battle climate change are growing discouraged.”
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