FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Anti-Science Trumps Climate Change

True to form, President Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris accord on climate change, joining Syria and Nicaragua as the only non-participating states.  He got an earful from the Europeans at the just-concluded G-7 meeting in Italy, but the US stood aside as the other six countries committed to fully carrying out the Paris agreement. Trump and most of his colleagues seem oblivious to the environmental and political costs their decision entails.  The planet will suffer for their ignorance, as will initiatives in the US to move rapidly ahead on renewal energy-based technologies and accompanying employment.

The bad news on the environment continues to mount up.  There is the coral reef die-off in the Great Barrier Reef, disintegration in the West Antarctic ice flow, sea-level rise, and resumption of major deforestation in the Amazon basin. 2016 was the hottest year on record, and extreme weather events that we are seeing everywhere are mainly the consequence of carbon buildup in the atmosphere, especially its impact on Arctic melting.

Another warning sign comes from the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, which is home to the Global Seed Vault.  The vault, sunk in deep permafrost, holds about a million food crop seeds. Because of climate change, flooding threatened the vault, which previously had been considered impregnable.  Fortunately, the vault itself did not yield; but we may not be so lucky the next time.  I couldn’t help thinking of an apocalyptic scenario in which Earth’s survivors are reduced to foraging for seeds to stave off mass starvation.

Blame for Trump’s decision should mostly fall on the climate skeptics he has appointed.  Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is an oil-and-gas man who has a long history of disparaging scientific findings on climate change and initiating law suits against the EPA.  He also has a hard time with facts—saying, for instance, that China and India have no obligations under the Paris Accord until 2030, and that they are “polluting far more than we are.” If Pruitt’s wildest dream comes true, the EPA will be eliminated by December 31, 2018 under H.R. 861. William Happer, the leading candidate for science adviser to the president, considers climate scientists (he’s a physicist) “like a cult. It’s like Hare Krishna or something like that. They’re glassy-eyed and they chant.” (On other occasions he has likened climate science to Nazism and ISIS.) And of course there’s the secretary of energy, Rick Perry. No explanation needed there. What these three have in common besides being climate-change deniers is their belief that government scientists need to be muzzled—their public talks, conference papers, and media appearances should be closely monitored and limited.

These appointments are prelude to a proposed 31 percent cut in the EPA budget that will gut US science research and the environmental protection bureaucracy.  Even though such an extraordinary cut is unlikely to get Congressional approval, some significant budget reduction is inevitable, and will have a more immediate effect on climate change than withdrawal from the Paris Accord.  A quarter of EPA’s employees and 56 programs are to be eliminated.

The most lasting ill effects of having an anti-science administration may be on the science education of children at the state level.  Two states, and possibly a third (Florida), have laws on the books that enable parents to challenge teachers on how they teach evolution and climate change.  Parents who believe in creationism and deny climate change may not be able to force local school boards and teachers to dispose of standard science texts, but they may compel teachers to introduce creationism and “alternative” explanations of climate change in order to “balance” the curriculum.

Standing against the three blind mice are virtually the entire climate science community and, most recently, three former administrators of the EPA.  (Within the administration, only Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, reportedly has argued in favor of the Paris accord as well as against supporting the coal industry.) The former administrators served over three decades, and wrote an op-ed piecethe other day to express concern over Trump’s decision on the Paris Accord.  Saying that Trump “has chosen ignorance over knowledge,” the three took particular aim at Trump’s proposed budget cuts relevant to global warming—not just the EPA, but also “programs in the departments of Energy, State, Interior and Homeland Security, and at the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA . . . The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program is zeroed out; air and energy research are cut by 66 percent.” The op-ed concludes: “With no seeming clue as to what’s going on, the president seems to have cast our lot with a small coterie of climate skeptics and their industry allies rather than trying to better understand the impact of increased greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere.”  Indeed.

Thus does the US descend into global irresponsibility and surrender of opportunities to lead in the human interest. The US withdrawal from Paris will not take full effect until 2020, but by then most of the world will have passed us by. And while our backs are turned, the EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, announced: “The EU and China are joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris agreement and accelerate the global transition to clean energy.”

If there is a silver lining here, it is the planned formation of climate-change alliances. One is led by California and joined by progressive leaders in Oregon, Washington, New York, Massachusetts, and perhaps some other states.  Former New York mayor Michael Bloombergis leading another emission-reduction effort involving coordination among cities, businesses, and universities. These initiatives are saying “no” to Washington’s failure of leadership and substituting for it with legislation that may go beyond the requirements of the Paris Accord.  So we must now turn to our state and local governments for scientific advances, economic innovation, and political courage if we are to help save the planet.

More articles by:

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail