Wednesday, January 27, 2021 was an extraordinary day for the role of science in our government and for science advocacy advocates across the country. President Biden issued Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda that will change the course of government from inaction to action. From sidelining science to centering science in policymaking. From trumpeting racism to using the power of government to fight racial injustice. From pretending that the evidence of human-caused climate change is inconclusive to laying out actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and put us on a path to a sustainable future.
When I read the orders and memoranda I was shocked. I knew they were coming. I and my colleagues from all over the country have been working hard to advocate for better policy on all these issues, and fighting as hard as we can the abuses of the previous administration. I was shocked because of how responsive these orders were to our advocacy. Science advocates everywhere, take a bow! These actions weren’t hatched just by the smart people in the Biden transition team and in the new administration (but thank you thank you thank you). The actions were based on years of work by scientists and advocacy organizations across the country to develop, evaluate, and advocate for real action that will make a difference.
Some people have said to me, “But these are just orders from the president and the next president can overturn them.” That’s true, but….let’s remember that the president is instructing the entire government on how to do their work under their legal mandates. The president is saying to the millions of professionals who work in the government: when you work on your mandate to reduce air pollution, or conserve public lands and ocean resources, or implement public health and safety actions, and more, you will base your policy proposals on scientific evidence. You will ensure that your policies are designed to make real progress toward reducing racial injustice and inequity. You will incorporate the evidence on the changing climate and make decisions that mitigate emissions and help communities, particularly the most vulnerable, adapt to climate change impacts. You will let scientists speak without political interference.
So to our members, supporters, our great Science Network, and to all of our organizational partners who have worked so hard to make this happen, THANK YOU.
To be sure—there is more to be done! Don’t fold up the tent! We need to ensure that all of these actions are fully implemented. There will be bumps and mistakes along the way and we need to call them out, fix them and keep moving. There are other actions that are needed. We need clean transportation policies for passenger and freight vehicles, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, not just an electric federal fleet. We need to make sure that the transition from our current fossil fuel-based economy to a green (and blue to include the vital role of the ocean) economy is a just transition. One that creates good jobs and benefits accessible to everyone and every community. We need a rebuilt federal workforce that is valued for its public service and is as diverse as America. And we need to constantly fight the political forces that would drag us backwards.