Standing Strong for Science and Democracy

November 9, 2016
Photo: Matthew Platt/CC BY-SA (Flickr)
Ken Kimmell
Former contributor

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.