By Andrew Steinberg — Roxbury Latin
In late March, the Trump Administration announced sweeping new policies on carbon emissions, promoting this abrupt shift as “good for business” by eliminating the “burdensome” regulations that have slowed down growth (Popovich, 2017). While every new administration enacts changes to support its views, these rollbacks incited massive national protests. In fact, a few weeks later, thousands across the country participated in the “March for Science” to oppose unprecedented degradation of environmental protections (Smith-Spark, 2017). This backlash confronted also what has been perceived as an assault on science itself. What does this mean for the future of science in the United States?
Retreating from the significant progress we have made in combatting anthropogenic climate change has very real implications with potentially catastrophic consequences, leaving scientists and citizens alike wondering what the president may do. President Trump could alter environmental policy to be more business friendly by creating more aggressive market-centric incentives for controlling emissions and creating green jobs. He could loosen expectations for how and when companies were required to comply with emissions regulations. These actions would satisfy his political goal of being business friendly while also creating the illusion of being responsible for the United States’ role in combatting climate change.
However, evidence suggests that the true rationale underlying the president’s policy change is that he does not believe in the science of climate change. However, science is not opinion or preference. It is not religion or morals. Science is the discovery of empirical truths. As such, denying science is denying reality. Even a small rise in the global temperature is projected to cause severe weather (drought, hurricanes, heat waves), disease (poor air quality), rising sea levels (flooding, animal extinction), and disruption in the production of food/agriculture production (National Climate Assessment, 2014). The effects of anthropogenic climate change will have very real impacts for Americans of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Whether in a red or blue state, this issue puts all American futures in jeopardy.
The American government continues to resist data, studies, and facts related to climate change, some calling it “undecided” and “non-conclusive.” The President has tweeted that the science of climate change is a hoax conceived by the Chinese to gain manufacturing leverage over the United States. This false statement unfortunately manifests itself into actual policy. The head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is a climate change denier who sued the EPA 14 times when he was the Attorney General of Oklahoma (New York Times, 2017). President Trump additionally has prohibited the EPA from publishing studies or data before one of his political appointees can review it. He has even instructed the agency website to remove any mention of “climate change.” The White House's own climate webpage has been removed (Mooney, 2017).
The science of man-made global warming is not in question; it is conclusive. In fact, 97% of scientists agree that climate change is both real and a result of human activity (NASA, 2017). Scientists have long reported that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities (National Climate Assessment, 2014).
Our governmental leadership is an outlier in its entrenched denial of climate change. A 2015 study of nine conservative political parties in countries such as Canada, Germany, and Spain concluded that “the US Republican Party is an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change” (Båtstrand, 2015). As Professor Lee McIntyre writes in his book Respecting Truth, “Such blatant disrespect for the methods of science reveals a deep hostility to the concept of truth and a willingness to put political ideology (and profits) before facts.” He adds, “Ignorance is the lack of true knowledge. Willful ignorance is something more. It is ignorance coupled with the decision to remain ignorant” (McIntyre, 2015).
So what can we do to combat this willful ignorance in America and its potentially devastating effect on our planet? Make your voice heard. Call your congressmen and senators. It doesn’t matter if you are not of voting age yet — they want to hear from you. Don’t let people perpetuate the “hoax” myth — confront it and cite the facts.
Now is not that time to re-question global warming. The scientific community reached an overwhelming consensus long ago. This is not a qualm with taking a more “market-centric” approach. It’s about ignoring scientific evidence for short term political and financial gain. And it will cost us dearly if we remain silent. As scientist Louis Pasteur once said, “Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world” (National Geographic). We must stand up to this assault on science and protect the world that future generations will inherit. Stand with truth because ignorance is not a partisan issue.
Båtstrand, Sondre. "More than Markets: A Comparative Study of Nine Conservative Parties on Climate Change." Wiley Online Library. Politics & Policy, 12 Aug. 2015. Web.
Johnston, Ian. "China Tells Donald Trump There Is an 'international Responsibility' to Act over Climate Change." The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 01 June 2017. Web.
Louis Pasteur Quotation. Digital image. National Geographic. Web.
McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth: Willful Ignorance in the Internet Age.Taylor and Francis, 2015. Print.
Mooney, Chris, and Juliet Eilperin. "EPA Website Removes Climate Science Site from Public View after Two Decades." The Washington Post. WP Company, 29 Apr. 2017. Web.
"National Climate Assessment." National Climate Assessment. 2014 National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program. Web.
Popovich, Nadja, and Livia Albeck-Ripka. "52 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump." The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 Oct. 2017. Web.
"Pruitt v. EPA: 14 Challenges of EPA Rules by the Oklahoma Attorney General." The New York Times, 14 Jan. 2017. Web.
"Scientific Consensus: Earth's Climate Is Warming." NASA, 18 Oct. 2017. Web.
Smith-Spark, Laura, and Jason Hanna. "March for Science: Worldwide Protests Begin." CNN. Cable News Network, 22 Apr. 2017. Web.