The moment Donald Trump took office on Friday, the official White House website was purged of all references to global warming and climate change science.
In its place is an energy plan to increase development of fossil fuels, get rid of regulations, open up public lands and parks to drilling and mining, free us from dependence on foreign oil and lower the cost of energy.
This is weird: Energy in America is the cheapest it’s ever been in our history, and it’s unlikely to get much cheaper without hurting our own oil and gas companies. There is a price below which you can’t make money.
The United States is producing more oil and gas than ever before, and we are not really dependent on foreign oil anymore. We import less oil than at anytime since 1970, and most of what we import is from Canada, not Saudi Arabia.
But the purge of the White House website is troubling for another reason. We scientists all over the country are worried, anticipating a massive scientific data purge by the new administration. Since the election, many scientists have been frantically copying data off of government sites, and from government databases, to prevent much of our public taxpayer-funded research from being lost or destroyed.
This purge of science is being accompanied by anticipated massive budget cuts to our scientific and research programs by the incoming Trump Administration, especially targeting the Department of Energy, theNational Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Geological Survey.
It’s not like the new administration is going to start burning books or flushing files down the toilet, but website access will disappear, reports will be put in deep storage, and datasets will become more difficult to access, or will degrade in quality, as funding is cut from the agencies maintaining them.
Trillions of dollars have been spent since WWII to create America’s scientific and engineering communities. It won the Cold War. It’s given us the most powerful military in history. It’s why other scientists want to come to America. It made us the greatest nation on Earth.
But a strong and independent scientific community is necessary to remain the greatest nation on Earth.
Unfortunately, America has a growing movement against science, and against experts in any field, that is threatening the foundation of America’s power, both military and economic. It may be annoying to have reality burst one’s bubble, but wholesale ignorance of the real world will sink the United States as decidedly as a nuclear war. Our rivals, like China and Russia, are not being so irresponsible.
This is not just an academic fight. Severe weather over the last few years has shown weaknesses in America’s aging electrical infrastructure during events like a Polar Vortex. Climate science not only addresses global warming but has made ordinary weather prediction much more accurate, and has prepared us to better to handle extreme weather events, to better use of our water resources, even to increase crop yields.
Perhaps the most important supporter of climate science is the U.S. military. Our military feels climate change research is crucial, not only to determine its effects on our military bases, but because it acts as a force multiplier, making global conflicts worse and lessening our ability to deal with them effectively.
After the election in November, a bipartisan group of defense experts and former military leaders urged the President-Elect, through the Trump Transition Team, to consider climate change as a grave threat to our national security.
In 2014, the Military Advisory Board came out with a report, calledNational Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change, that discusses what the military sees as the threats of climate change and the actions to be taken to mitigate them:
“The potential security ramifications of global climate change should be serving as catalysts for cooperation and change. Instead, climate change impacts are already accelerating instability in vulnerable areas of the world and are serving as catalysts for conflict.”
Besides ideology, political expediency, or theocratic demands, I’m not sure what this type of science purge will accomplish for the new Administration or its associates. Renewables won’t be much affected since red states are profiting more than anyone from wind energy, especially up through Tornado Alley from Texas to the Dakotas. So Congress is not likely to cut their tax credits and subsidies.
It won’t bring coal back since cheap natural gas is the main reason coal has been declining. Drilling for oil and gas has dropped off, not because of regulations, but because we have a glut from fracking and other new technologies that have allowed us to drill and produce oil and gas like never before. As with most critical commodities, deadly market forces determine oil price, supply and demand, not energy plans.
Individual states are determining their energy mix based on their citizens input, and will continue to do so without the Clean Power Plan. I mean, who ever thought Texas was ever going to be non-fossil fuel or California would ever embrace nuclear?
So what would a purging of science mean?
It means that we, as a nation, would be sliding further into the abyss where truth and lies have equal weight and science is just another ideology to ignore when it’s inconvenient. Unfortunately, the natural world doesn’t care whether you understand it or not. The wise saying is still true:
“Stupidity will kill you more surely than your opponent’s blade.”
I hope we are not so stupid as to destroy the greatest scientific community in history.
Climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time (i.e., decades to millions of years). Climate change may refer to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather around longer-term average conditions (i.e., more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change is caused by factors such as biotic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics, and volcanic eruptions. Certain human activities have also been identified as significant causes of recent climate change, often referred to as global warming.
Scientists actively work to understand past and future climate by using observations and theoretical models. A climate record—extending deep into the Earth’s past—has been assembled, and continues to be built up, based on geological evidence from borehole temperature profiles, cores removed from deep accumulations of ice, floral and faunal records, glacial and periglacial processes, stable-isotope and other analyses of sediment layers, and records of past sea levels. More recent data are provided by the instrumental record. General circulation models, based on the physical sciences, are often used in theoretical approaches to match past climate data, make future projections, and link causes and effects in climate change.