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Protest: the reaction to changes in US science policy

ByEmily Hall

Feb 10, 2017

Climate policy was one of the Obama Administration’s top priorities and, despite a consistent focus, top scientists have warned that too little is being done, and too late, to prevent climate change. In order to protect the environment, more regulatory action than ever will be required.

However, during his two short weeks in office, Donald Trump, as the new leader of the world’s second biggest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, has prevented his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from speaking with the press or to the public. He has also signed two executive orders explicitly prioritising business interests over the environment, and has started to alter the EPA website to reflect its newly appointed leader Scott Pruit’s climate change denialism.

Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus about widespread anthropogenic climate change, the Trump Administration seems determined to proceed as though it does not exist. The EPA is an enormous organisation with broad and essential functions in aspects of climate change that affect the everyday lives of Americans. It monitors pollution, regulates emissions, performs research and is responsible for the preservation of safe drinking water. When Trump took office, the staff were directed to stop giving grants meant to fund research, to cease air quality monitoring and halt education initiatives. Shortly thereafter, executive orders were signed advancing the development of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and mandating that for each regulation that passes, two must be discarded, ensuring the blind and uninformed negation of regulations, many of which are essential to public health.

Not only is Trump reducing the EPA’s ability to act whilst creating new environmental hazards, but he has prevented their officials from speaking out publicly. This kind of censorship and misinformation campaign has been a quickly developing characteristic of the Trump Administration that could be particularly harmful in the instance of climate change, where urgent and expansive public action is needed.

Scientists in Canada, emerging from former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s restrictive views on climate change, feel a sense of familiarity and have not been waiting to reach out to their counterparts on the other side of the border.

Without the public support they needed Canadian scientists became activists, organising broad public resistance such as the iconic funeral for the evidentiary body on Parliament Hill to ensure a more supportive successor for Harper. Now, many scientists in the US are picking up the activist mantle. With the help of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada they have been speaking out and organising, with efforts culminating in a march planned for Earth day on 22 April.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Trump Administration may be acting faster. Just last Friday, Trump had begun to remove mentions of climate change from the EPA website and each day the ascension of Pruit grows closer. In response to the censorship, another environmental advocate in the government, the National Park Service, began tweeting facts about climate change from an unofficial, ‘rogue’ account. With resistance proclaimed that Trump could take their official twitter account, but he couldn’t take their free time. There are more important things he could take, however. The EPA relies on more than eight billion dollars of annual funding.

At press time, a hearing held by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee was scheduled for Tuesday, 7 February entitled ‘Making the Environmental Protection Agency Great Again.’ In Canada, after an almost decade long, ‘assault on science’, scientists and agencies were able to successfully regain influence.

Will scientists in the US be able to do the same, or will the categorical denial of increasingly ‘alternative’ truths and points of view be all but eliminated under the new administration?

Image: Gage Skidmore

By Emily Hall

As a writer, Emily contributes to news, features, comment, science & technology, lifestyle, tv & radio, culture and sport. This native Seattlite is a cake pop enthusiast who can regularly be found trying to make eye-contact with stranger’s dogs on the streets of Edinburgh.

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