Photo: Matthew Platt/CC BY-SA (Flickr)

Standing Strong for Science and Democracy

, former president | November 9, 2016, 6:29 pm EDT
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After one of the most contentious US elections in memory, the results are in. By their votes, Americans expressed deep disgust with politics as usual and issued an urgent call for our leaders to focus on those who have been battered by an economy that does not include them. While this is understandable, there is no sugar coating the fact that Mr. Trump’s statements and conduct brought out the worst in us.  Denigrating vital members of our community is wrong, and we cannot hope to tackle the enormous challenges of our time without a cohesive, respectful, and tolerant society.

Today, science, data, and evidence-based decision making appear to be major casualties of the election. The election results raise the specter of backsliding on the critical progress we’ve made in recent years on climate change and many other vital issues, even though these issues were barely discussed during the campaign. In no sense did the voters grant the new president a mandate to turn back the clock.

On this momentous day after, here are my top-level thoughts on the path forward:

Engage the new administration

As a candidate, Mr. Trump made statements on climate change, government regulation, and other issues that were disturbing. But the candidate’s position on a number of issues evolved over the course of the campaign, and Mr. Trump defended his evolution by pointing out that it is important for leaders to remain open-minded. In that spirit, we will do everything we can to communicate directly with the Trump team about the benefits of science-based decision making and the importance of addressing climate change, our food supply, and nuclear weapons, among many other things.

We believe it is particularly important to appeal to President-elect Trump’s business experience to point out that addressing climate change can bring jobs to those left out of the economic recovery. Mr. Trump’s proposed infrastructure legislation, for example, could fund thousands of good-paying jobs building transmission lines to connect renewable sources to population centers; repairing leaking gas pipelines; and removing the threat of lead pollution from drinking water pipes.

Mr. Trump was also a forceful opponent of wasteful government spending during the campaign. We can show his team that spending $1.1 trillion to update our nuclear weapon system does not make sense and that we cannot afford it. Similarly, we can show the waste and harm of large federal subsidies for commodity crops that subsidize foods that make us unhealthy.

Be the nation’s watchdog for science

With all three branches of government under control of one party, the absence of checks and balances greatly raises the risk of government by special interests. For example, numerous anti-science bills that were previously proposed in congress and vetoed are likely to return. And we can anticipate many attacks on the Obama administration’s regulations that protect our health, safety, and the environment.

UCS must be the leading champion of science-based public policy. We will bring special interest legislation and regulation to light, expose the actors behind it, and mobilize the scientific community against it.

Make progress in states, regions and cities

While we engage with the Trump administration to promote sound policies or fight bad ones, we will find other ways to make progress, too. We’ve done it before. For example, during the presidency of George W. Bush, we helped encourage states to pass laws like California’s Global Warming Solutions Act and to join together in programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

And, during the last eight years of gridlock between congress and the president, UCS helped make significant progress working regionally and within states. This past summer, for example, we helped California and Massachusetts pass clean-energy laws that go far beyond federal policies and position us on the right trend line. The California victory is particularly notable because of the diverse coalition of leaders that brought the bill over the finish line:

Leaders from the African-American, Latino and Asian communities joined Governor Brown in signing one of the most ambitious climate laws in the world.

September 2016 signing ceremony for California climate legislation. Surrounding Governor Brown (seated), are the elected officials who led the charge. Left to right: Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, Senator Fran Pavley (author of SB 32), Senator Ricardo Lara, Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez (person with glasses), Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (author of AB 197), Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

On this issue, we have a major tailwind working in our favor: the economics of clean energy are rapidly improving, making advances possible in all states. The presidential election does not change that. For example, Texas has invested billions of dollars in transmission lines that take advantage of plentiful and inexpensive renewable energy: wind energy is now so inexpensive in some areas that it’s given away at night. Georgia, which until recently had some of the nation’s best incentives in place for electric vehicles, had the second most electric vehicles sold in any state.

No matter what happens in Congress, we will continue to secure state policies that move us forward, such as renewable and energy efficiency standards, long-term contracting requirements, green banks, and others. We will also hold California and eight other states’ feet to the fire on meeting the commitments they made to expand electric vehicle market share, and will call upon them to back up these commitments with stronger incentives and infrastructure investments. With enough effort in the right places, we can secure a critical mass of geographically and politically diverse leadership states.

We will also push for progress at the regional level, where success reaps larger gains. For example, UCS will work to expand the highly successful regional cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions in the Northeast by including other sources of emissions, such as transportation fuels. And UCS will offer its technical expertise in the West Coast, the Midwest, and mid-Atlantic to meet a critical challenge: modernizing our regional electric grids so that as renewable energy expands, it is reliably and seamlessly integrated into the grid.

Cities are also an extremely important arena for progress. While we will focus on securing coordinated national food policies in Washington, we are also working to demonstrate successful approaches by local governments on good food purchasing policies. This idea, which has been highly successful in Los Angeles, creates demand for food that is healthy and locally grown. UCS will help spread this idea to other cities to build the food movement from the bottom up.

Using science to bolster our democracy

The bottom line is this: UCS will continue to work toward practical solutions and, regardless of whether or not our elected leaders choose to come together, we will stand up on behalf of science and democracy as we always have, and as forcefully as we need to. We will call out elected officials and other special interests when they ignore science and undermine safeguards that protect people’s health and safety. We will continue to expose fossil fuel companies when they deceive the public and their shareholders about climate change. We will continue to connect members of our Science Network with local groups working to reduce the pollution that make their children sick. We will provide research to communities on the front lines of climate change—threatened with rising seas, wildfire, floods, and drought.

In short, we will find ways to make progress on the issues that matter and, as always, we will rely heavily on the vital support of our more than 500,000 members and supporters to work for a healthier planet and a safer world.

Photo: Matthew Platt/CC BY-SA (Flickr)

Posted in: Energy, Food and Agriculture, Global Warming, Nuclear Weapons, Science and Democracy, Vehicles Tags:

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  • Jason

    I have to admit that I have become extremely anxious about these problems, specifically global warming, after the results of this election. I’m wondering if groups such as UCS have seen a spike in support following the election? This certainly was a wake-up call to me that I must personally do more.

  • C Copley

    I was pleased to see the tone of this article. There is some chance the new regime will skittle everything that has been achieved, including climate change measures, and a secular approach to education i.e. introduction of creationism. In addition changes to environmental protection measures will be difficult to fight in your upper courts if they stack the federal bunch with conservatives.

    However, distasteful as it may be to negotiate with people with such an agenda, it is important to realise that Trump as a property developer may have had little opportunity to meet with scientists. He may be prepared to do so and discuss issues, and may have the ability to take some things on board. This is not the case for many of the Republicans in power who have closed minds (heads in sand). So even if Trump listens to scientists who are prepared to talk to him to try and save the precious little out of this mess that they can, progress (towards standing still) may yet be blocked in Congress. However as a Property Developer he may have the mindset that all environmentalism is bad and he is not prepared to have a bar of it.

    So here’s to trying to talk, as it provides a little hope. Surely the highest quality in a leader is the ability to listen. But I suspect in his line of work Trump has not had much practice at that. Nevertheless in his new role he may be prepared to.

    Or he may not, in which case he has an Honorary Doctorate in Science none of us knew about, as he knows something we all don’t.

    And the dinosaurs really did exist when humans did when the planet began a few thousand years ago.

  • Thank you all for your comments. Jolanta, we are quite concerned, as you are, with the Paris Agreement. As the Agreement has now gone into effect, the Trump administration cannot pull out of it for four years. However, I understand that his transition team is looking at other mechanisms to separate the US from this critical international effort. In addition, the Trump administration could try to rollback the US policies that formed the basis of our international pledge, such as the Clean Power Plan. This is a grave risk, and we will do everything we can, in partnership with many others to fight that. Edward, there is planning taking place now for a march in Washington in April. Keep tuned for more information on that!

  • Edward Walbridge

    Could UCS organize a “Million Person March” on Washington to demonstrate support for initiatives to combat Global Warming? Especially initiatives that would involve infrastructure development in which non-college-educated white males would be employed; with evidence from home states testifying to the reality of Global Warming: salt water influx in Florida, insects in Western states, etc. Confronted with a million action-seeking protesters on the Washington Mall, I believe President Donald Trump would not be able to resist the enthusiastic cheers that would greet his announcement of needed anti Global Warming initiatives. Prior to the election his reference to Global Warming as a “hoax” was based, not on science nor on his core beliefs, but on the need to garner votes.

  • Phil Johnson

    The ominous signs are there: neocons infesting Foggy Bottom instead of “draining the swamp”, articulated remarks by other neocons to ravage EPA and expand Big Oil, now that they have a mandate; the president-elect’s penchant to shoot from the hip and denigrate anyone who opposes him will be a standard concern in his decisions on climate change issues. The Fourth Estate is complicit in ignoring this elephant in the Oval Office; there simply has not been any intelligent discussion about the pending death of our planet on any political or administrative level for the past 18 months. The fact that there are so few comments so far on this is in itself a Cassandra harbinger.

    I only hope that, like yeast, UCS will permeate the national flour constituting our national ability to get a consensus on this issue. Before it’s too late. And I hope this message will be repeated next Tuesday: get the news out to your reps and senators. If not now, when? if not us, who?

    aures lupi

  • Kris Johnson

    We have to be so careful when we promote ‘science-based’ public policy. Not all science out there is good science. In fact it is often biased science that promotes the interests of one industry or another to the detriment of public health and the environment. This has unfortunately led to the revolving door between business and government, with unfortunate bias of our public institutions, and excessive influence of industry lobbyists on Congress.
    The other problem is the scientific research that doesn’t get done, or doesn’t get done well, because it is difficult research and/or there is little potential for profit – this despite the experience of citizens and professionals indicating that it is worthy of good independent research. I won’t give any examples, but I’m sure each of us can think of some that we are aware of.
    I appreciate that UCS is in there fighting some of these battles.

  • Jolanta Benal

    What about the Paris agreement? Does UCS have any plan to try to keep the US as a participant?

  • Robert W. Seidel

    And the band played on….nearer my god to thee!

  • Joe Mo

    I’m curious: is UCS aware of any attempts in the United States to found a Science Party? There’s one in Australia, and the UK. Now would seem like a good moment to do it.