You Can't Delete Climate Change

January 25, 2017 | 4:08 pm
Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director

And so it continues… today brought news that the Trump administration had directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its climate change web page and clamped down on any public communication from agency staff.

As of now, key EPA sites are still online and there is news that there is, at least temporarily, a ‘stand down’ of the order to scrub the web page. Is this a sign that scientists calling attention to this quickly caused a change of mind? (Meanwhile, another related update: a news story (paywall) and a google search of the Department of State’s website indicate that much of the climate-related information seems to have been removed.)

I am stunned that we Americans should even have to be concerned about these types of edicts: Are we in the Middle Ages again?

Why are President Trump and his administration afraid of science?

There’s no getting around the facts of climate change

Despite these Orwellian attempts to remove climate change from agency websites, prevent staff from speaking up, and generally slow or stop federal climate action, there’s no getting around the facts. Climate change is real, our carbon emissions are causing it, it’s already having a costly and harmful effect on our lives, and those risks will grow if we fail to act.

That’s why everyone from the US Department of Defense to the World Economic Forum is taking the risks of climate change seriously.

The president has previously called climate change a “hoax.” His cabinet nominees (including Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, and Rick Perry) used talking points at their recent hearings that basically amount to a dangerous new type of climate denial. They acknowledged that climate change is real but continued to sow doubt about its human causes, setting up yet another reason to avoid taking serious action now to curtail our carbon emissions.

Lest there be any doubt, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is happening AND that the primary cause is carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. America’s premier scientists at the National Academy of Sciences agree, and this is the near-universal consensus of scientists around the world.

We also know that if we make deep cuts in our carbon emissions, we can slow the pace of climate change and limit its harmful impacts. But we have to act quickly.

There’s only one reason for this dangerous censorship of science: Pandering to fossil fuel interests, and putting their profits ahead of the health and well-being of all Americans. And then there’s that padding of the cabinet with appointees with strong links to the industry.

Science is stubborn

As my colleague Alden Meyer put it:
“President Trump and his team are pursuing what I call a ‘control-alt-delete’ strategy: control the scientists in the federal agencies, alter science-based policies to fit their narrow ideological agenda, and delete scientific information from government websites.”

But science and facts have a way of coming out on top despite the best attempts of politicians to duck inconvenient truths and distort reality. As President John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Meanwhile these insidious attempts to undermine climate science are causing us to lose precious time in our response to it, slowing down our transition to a clean energy economy and impeding our efforts to protect communities from climate impacts.

The EPA and climate science 

So what’s at stake at the EPA? Along with other federal agencies like NOAA (part of the Department of Commerce), the EPA is on the front lines of our nation’s response to climate change. Some of the crucial work the EPA does includes, among other things:

Widespread support for tackling climate change

There is widespread support from businesses, labor, faith groups, health professionals, environmental justice groups, environmental groups, and scientists on the urgent need to tackle climate change.

Poll data repeatedly points to strong bipartisan support for renewable energy, including wind and solar power. Yet, ironically the new administration’s America First Energy Plan simply perpetuates our dependence on fossil fuels and completely avoids any mention of renewable energy. Hopefully, the administration’s big infrastructure package will include investments in grid modernization and renewable energy.

With the costs of wind and solar dropping dramatically, now is the time to double down on these clean, homegrown forms of affordable energy. Else we will cede leadership to China and other nations that are stepping up to act on climate.

Yes, we also have to ensure that our transition to a clean energy economy includes policies to help coal mining communities and other communities that depend on fossil fuels for their livelihoods. And clean energy and clean energy jobs should also be available in low-income communities and communities of color.

But we can’t avoid dealing with climate change.

Part of a larger trend of anti-science rhetoric from the Trump administration

The anti-science rhetoric from the new administration is dangerous and without precedent.

Scientists are alarmed. They are working together to preserve critical datasets and research that are at risk of censorship from the Trump administration. They’ve held protest rallies at scientific meetings and sent letters to the administration.

They are also concerned about budget and staffing cuts at key agencies charged with providing data critical for our economy (including weather and tide forecasts), and crucial for our understanding of how our climate is changing.

Amidst it all, Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross has emerged as a beacon of hope, asserting in his hearing and in a letter to Senator Bill Nelson that he would support the work of NOAA scientists.

The letter says:

I believe science should be left to scientists. If confirmed, I intend to see that the Department provides the public with as much factual and accurate data as we have available. It is public tax dollars that support the Department’s scientific research, and barring some national security concern, I see no valid reason to keep peer reviewed research from the public. To be clear, by peer review I mean scientific review and not a political filter.

President Trump and the other agency heads he appoints should take a similar approach. What’s at stake are core values—including freedom of speech, scientific integrity, and the importance of basing our policies on sound science. These are not partisan issues, and neither is climate change.

What’s your plan for climate change, President Trump?

The new administration should take the climate threat seriously and propose solutions, not pretend that the problem doesn’t exist. These solutions could look different from those of the Obama administration but simply overturning all our existing climate policies and undermining climate science at federal agencies is not a plan.

President Trump, what is your plan to protect us and our children and grandchildren from climate change?