Ahead Of Marches This Month, Scientists Are Speaking Up Against Trump And GOP’s Attacks On Science

Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

President Donald Trump and the Republican Party have demonstrated an alarming disregard for science and evidence-based policy and decision-making, prompting scientists to voice their concerns.

Since the election, multiple media outlets have accused the Trump administration and the Republican Party of waging a “war on science.” And with good reason: The Trump administration has appointed a climate denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), proposed budget cuts that would eliminate billions of dollars for scientific research programs, called climate-related government programs “a waste of money,” and banned the use of the term “climate change” at the Department of Energy. As for the rest of the GOP, House Republicans have passed bills that would “stifle science at the EPA,” and the Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has endorsed climate science denial and bogus accusations of data manipulation promulgated by propaganda outlet Breitbart.com. The committee has also held a hearing aimed at disputing the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

These alarming trends have prompted scientists, educators, and other citizens to organize and participate in the March for Science and the People’s Climate March at end of April. But in the months leading up to the marches, scientists have been voicing their concerns in the media. Here are a few recent examples of scientists speaking out against the Trump administration and GOP’s anti-science policies, science denial, and ignorance.

Ben Santer Rebutted Trump’s “Ignorance” On Climate Science

On the February 23 edition of Late Night with Seth Meyers, climate scientist Ben Santer appeared on the show as a private citizen, explaining, “It seems kind of important to talk about the science that we do, but I'm not sure how the folks who fund my research will feel about that. So it just seems kind of safer to do it this way.” When Meyers mentioned that Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” Santer answered that it “feels tough” to have his life’s work dismissed as a conspiracy and a hoax, but added, “You have a choice. What do you do with that? You can either retreat to your office, close the door, and be silent. Or you can choose to push back against ignorance and say, ‘Hey, this is not our understanding. We know something about the causes of climate change.’” Santer concluded by stating, “I want to tell people, this is our understanding. These are the likely outcomes if we do nothing about the problem of human-caused climate change. And let's have a respectful, honest debate on what to do about it. But let's not dismiss this incorrectly as a hoax or a conspiracy. We all lose if we embrace ignorance with open arms.”

Santer also appeared on CBS Evening News the day after Trump took his biggest step yet toward fulfilling his campaign promise to dial back former President Barack Obama's climate policies. In an interview with correspondent John Blackstone, Santer discussed Trump’s anti-science views and policies, a letter he wrote to Trump urging him not to listen to “ignorant voices” denying climate change, and the “new climate of intimidation” that the Trump administration has created for scientists.

Michael Mann Called Out Lamar Smith And Scott Pruitt For Their Climate Denial

On the April 7 edition of NPR’s Science Friday, Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann discussed his appearance as the sole witness voicing the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change in a House science committee hearing that The Washington Post described as “an act of gamesmanship from a body intent on manufacturing doubt on scientific issues which have long been settled.” Mann described House science committee Chairman Lamar Smith as a “climate change denier” who has “spent much of his time as the chair of the House science committee going on the attack against climate scientists” and “taken on an adversarial position when it comes to the science of climate change.” Mann added that he thought the hearing was “intended to try to convey [Smith’s] doubts and his critiques of the science.”

When asked by host Ira Flatow why Mann decided to appear before the committee knowing that he would face opposition, Mann replied:

My good friend Bill Nye the Science Guy has really demonstrated, I think, that you do sometimes have to take the science straight to the critics. You really do have to take on science denial because if it goes unopposed then some of it becomes sort of accepted. The doubts, the confusion becomes part of the discourse and it clouds the public understanding of science. And so we do need to do our best to inject science into those fora, and so that’s what I saw my role as being, to really communicate why it is that there is such a widespread consensus about human-caused climate change.

And during the committee hearing in question, after Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) brought up the roles of climate deniers Myron Ebell and Scott Pruitt in Trump’s EPA, Mann lamented that the EPA is now headed by a climate denier for the first time ever, stating that “to have an EPA administrator who has a position that’s so at odds with the scientific evidence -- there is no precedent, even in past Republican administrations, under Nixon, under Reagan, under George H.W. Bush. They each had EPA administrators that embraced science.”

Gavin Schmidt: House Science Committee Hearing Aimed To “Obfuscate Well Characterized, Oft Reproduced, Inconvenient Science”

On the day of the House science committee hearing, NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt criticized Republicans’ attacks on climate science, tweeting that the committee’s hearing was “being held to obfuscate well characterized, oft reproduced, inconvenient science”:

Katharine Hayhoe: Appointing Pruitt Head Of EPA Is “Like Putting One Of The World’s Leading Atheists In Charge Of The Church Of England”

On the April 3 episode of Crooked Media’s Pod Save America podcast, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told hosts Tommy Vietor and Jon Lovett that the selection of Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator was “like putting one of the world’s leading atheists in charge of the Church of England. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would you do that?” When asked what worried Hayhoe the most about Trump’s executive order rolling back Obama’s climate legacy, she answered, “The most concerning thing to me is that these regulations are going to be rolling the United States back from an international perspective, from a technological perspective -- back into even possibly a second-world country.”

TOMMY VIETOR (CO-HOST): It’s hard to overstate what a radical pick Scott Pruitt was to run the EPA. He’s sued the agency 14 times, he doesn’t believe that CO2 is a primary driver of climate change, which is stunning. Even ExxonMobil has said that. Can you talk about his selection -- what it means for U.S. climate policy. Is there anything states, cities, or citizens can do to weigh in and push back?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Yeah, I agree, I mean putting somebody who doesn’t believe in something in charge of that very institution is like putting one of the world’s leading atheists in charge of the Church of England. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would you do that?

[...]

JON LOVETT (CO-HOST): So, one thing that Trump did, speaking of these standards, is an executive order called the Energy Independence Order, or something like that? But really it’s about rolling back the clean climate plan -- uh, the Clean Power Plan. It was sort of a catch-all, there was a lot in there. What is the most worrisome to you?

HAYHOE: Yeah. [Laughs] Well, where should I start? So first of all, though, let’s be clear. The Clean Power Plan was what the president could do with the abilities that he had at the time, but it would not take us all the way to the Paris agreement. So the Paris agreement, signed about a year and half ago almost, says that we should limit warming to at least 2 degrees and possibly 1.5 if we can to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. And the Clean Power Plan was only part of the way there. We needed more. Now of course we’re looking at not even that, we’re looking at a lot less. But we’re also looking at things that just lack common sense, like investing in the coal economy when there’s already twice as many jobs in the solar industry, and coal jobs have been dropping like a rock, not because of the Clean Power Plan, but just because it’s not as economically viable a form of energy anymore. It’s like investing in shoring up horse farms when Henry Ford is already rolling out the Model T on his assembly line.

Honestly, the most concerning thing to me is that these regulations are going to be rolling the United States back from an international perspective, from a technological perspective -- back into possibly even a second-world country. China is already poised to take the leadership, not just in the clean energy economy -- they’re already taken leadership there -- but with the climate plan as well. So the U.S. is losing leadership, and how long will it take to regain, if ever?

Kevin Trenberth and Reto Knutti: Comments By Trump, Pruitt, And Smith Show A“Woeful Ignorance” Of Science And Climate Change

Climate scientists Kevin Trenberth and Reto Knutti co-authored an April 5 op-ed published in The Conversation decrying the Trump administration’s climate science denial: “The kinds of statements made by Smith, the president and Pruitt are misguided. They show a woeful ignorance about science and how it works, and in particular about climate science. Consequently, they ignore sound advice on how to best plan for the future.” They added, “The failure of Lamar Smith and his ilk to recognize that climate scientists ask legitimate scientific questions, and moreover, that they that they provide very useful information for decision-makers, is a major loss for the public.”

From the April 5 op-ed:

Chairman Smith accused climate scientists of straying “outside the principles of the scientific method.” Smith repeated his oft-stated assertion that scientific method hinges on “reproducibility,” which he defined as “a repeated validation of the results.” He also asserted that the demands of scientific verification altogether preclude long-range prediction, saying, “Alarmist predictions amount to nothing more than wild guesses. The ability to predict far into the future is impossible. Anyone stating what the climate will be in 500 years or even at the end of the century is not credible.”

At the same time, President Trump has been dismissive of climate change and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in March that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do…so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

The kinds of statements made by Smith, the president and Pruitt are misguided. They show a woeful ignorance about science and how it works, and in particular about climate science. Consequently, they ignore sound advice on how to best plan for the future.

[…]

Accordingly, we have many facts and physical understanding of the Earth’s climate. The role of scientists is to lay out the facts, their interpretation, and the prospects and consequences as best we can. But the decision about what is done with this information is the responsibility of everyone, including and often led by politicians. The failure of Lamar Smith and his ilk to recognize that climate scientists ask legitimate scientific questions, and moreover, that they that they provide very useful information for decision-makers, is a major loss for the public.

Brenda Ekwurzel’s Message To Scott Pruitt: “Listen To The Scientists”

During a March 9 report about Pruitt’s comment that he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming, CBS Evening News correspondent Chip Reid asked senior climate scientist and director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists Brenda Ekwurzel, “If you were talking to Mr. Pruitt right now, what would you tell him?” Ekwurzel replied, “Listen to the scientists. Ninety-seven percent of scientists who have studied climate change agree that carbon dioxide is the primary cause of human-driven climate change.”

Victoria Herrmann: “I Am An Arctic Researcher. Donald Trump Is Deleting My Citations”

Victoria Herrmann, managing director of the Arctic Institute, wrote a March 28 op-ed in The Guardian about “politically motivated data deletions” of her work by the Trump administration. Though Herrmann was able to find archived materials to replace defunct links to her work, she wrote that having to do so evoked “a bit of anger at the state of the country.” She continued, “The consequences of vanishing citations, however, pose a far more serious consequence than website updates. Each defunct page is an effort by the Trump administration to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence.” Herrmann concluded, “While working in one of the most physically demanding environments on the planet, we don’t have time to fill new data gaps created by political malice. So please, President Trump, stop deleting my citations.”

From the op-ed:

At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.

[...]

All in all, emails about defunct links of sites that weren’t saved are annoying, but harmless. Finding archived materials to replace them add maybe 20 minutes of internet searches to my day – and a bit of anger at the state of the country.

The consequences of vanishing citations, however, pose a far more serious consequence than website updates. Each defunct page is an effort by the Trump administration to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence.

[…]

These back-to-back data deletions come at a time when the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. Just this week, it was reported that the Arctic’s winter sea ice dropped to its lowest level in recorded history. The impacts of a warming, ice-free Arctic are already clear: a decline in habitat for polar bears and other Arctic animals; increases in coastal erosion that force Alaskans to abandon their homes; and the opening up of shipping routes with unpredictable conditions and hazardous icebergs.

In a remote region where data is already scarce, we need publicly available government guidance and records now more than ever before. It is hard enough for modern Arctic researchers to perform experiments and collect data to fill the gaps left by historic scientific expeditions. While working in one of the most physically demanding environments on the planet, we don’t have time to fill new data gaps created by political malice.

So please, President Trump, stop deleting my citations.

Ploy Achakulwisut and Geoffrey Supran: “We Became Scientists To Help The World. Now We Need To Take To The Streets.”

Scientists Ploy Achakulwisut and Geoffrey Supran co-authored an April 11 op-ed published in Mashable explaining that “the Trump administration's unrelenting attacks on climate science and our generation's future” had motivated them to participate in the People’s Climate March on April 29. They urged readers to do the same, adding, “Their attacks on climate science are an affront to all the scientists working to understand and solve this singular crisis of our time. … Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrate that the majority of the public understands the realities of climate science and demands clean air, clean water, and clean energy.”

From the op-ed:

As scientists and as a couple in our twenties, it's been excruciating to watch the Trump administration's unrelenting attacks on climate science and our generation's future. Knowing that policy decisions made over the next four years could impact the lives of hundreds of generations to come, we're more determined than ever to do not only our best work as scientists, but our best activism as citizens.

On April 29, we'll stand up for climate science, justice, and democracy in the People's Climate March. If you're appalled at the Trump administration's anti-climate agenda, we hope you'll join us.

[...]

Then Donald Trump was elected, and our battles to stand up for science became a war. President Trump, EPA head Scott Pruitt, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Chairman of the House Science Committee Lamar Smith are just some of the many politicians abusing their positions of power to advance their ideological agendas. Their attacks on climate science are an affront to all the scientists working to understand and solve this singular crisis of our time. What's more, people's lives are at stake. "The War on Science is more than a skirmish over funding, censorship, and 'alternative facts,'" says scientist Jon Foley. "It's a battle for the future, basic decency, and the people we love."

Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrate that the majority of the public understands the realities of climate science and demands clean air, clean water, and clean energy. That we won’t allow our democracy to be hijacked by Big Oil and billionaire ideologues. We've already seen how concerted opposition by activists, lawyers, and journalists can stop the Trump administration in its tracks on immigration and health care. We are not powerless to change the course of history.

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