Among multiple shortcomings, the Trump Administration’s approach to climate policy deserves particular scrutiny. Though many Americans are aware of President Trump’s withdrawal from the United Nations Paris Climate Accord, many are left unaware of the facts about changes in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Environmental activists have made feverish and agitated commentary on the issue, and their frustration is entirely warranted.
The EPA has a Strategic Plan which ensures that Americans are “protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.” But how can the EPA ensure this protection when the agency is not allowed to recognize global climate change as anthropogenic? The EPA website is currently being updated “to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.” In an April 28 update to the website, Associate Administrator for Public Affairs, J.P. Freire, claimed, “‘We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first…’” Another update is set to debut on Jan. 19, 2018.
The elimination of “climate change” from the EPA website is extremely problematic. Climate change has been scientifically proven as anthropogenic, or caused by humans. While some disagree with the existence of human-caused climate change, the vast majority of scientific evidence endorses the reality of human-caused climate change. NASA, for example, oversees Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances that provide data, collected over many years, which demonstrates the shift of climate on a global scale. NASA reveals that 2016 was the warmest year on record, and that eight of the 12 months of that year marked “the warmest on record for those respective months.” The oceans are also absorbing much of the increased heat, while glaciers are retreating in Alaska, the Himalayas, the Andes, and even Africa. Extreme weather events, such as the hurricanes that struck the Caribbean and the southern United States earlier in the year, have also increased. All this is compounded by ocean acidification, erosion, sea level rise, decreased snow cover, and more.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an international body which reports annually on science related to climate change, relating to negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. IPCC assessments are written by hundreds of scientists who volunteer their time and undergo multiple rounds of drafting and review to ensure that a large range of scientific views are expressed within the community.
Last week, despite resounding evidence, the EPA pulled a group of its scientists from speaking at a conference focused on the protection of the Narragansett Bay Estuary in Rhode Island that was set to take place on October 23rd. As made clear by the lack of climate change language on the EPA website, climate science is not accepted by the current Trump administration, and in fact has been denied. New EPA leaders such as Scott Pruitt and Mike Flynn have been quick to censor their own scientists, and the administration defends their actions of censorship by claiming these conferences are not sponsored by the EPA.
Since the United States is a leader in the global economy and technology, censoring science for political convenience and self-interest binds the United States to an immorality that does not resonate well with other states. The EPA’s censorship of scientists’ discussion of Narragansett Bay is entirely ironic, as the Bay is one of Rhode Island’s most important economic assets, according to the Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI). A collaboration between local leaders and the EPA seems essential for the future of this asset. While the EPA continues to be the sole funder of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, annually granting $600,000, it seems odd that the EPA would not explain why they censored the scientists. Could it be because the scientists would contradict the position of the administration, arguing that climate change is in fact human-caused?
Scott Pruitt claims that his redirection of the EPA is meant to advocate for an EPA that is not centered around activist discussion. The fact of the matter is that the EPA’s agenda is no longer dictated by science, but is now being used as a political tool.
I find it particularly frightening that the EPA claims one of its main goals is to “teach people about the environment,” and to further “publish information.” The information produced by the EPA simply cannot be complete or fully accurate without the voices of climate scientists. The implications are immense for denying scientists the ability to study and speak out about not only the wellbeing of our environment, but the effect of issues such as pollution, rising temperatures, and poor water quality on humans. Beyond that, what does this censorship by our administration show about our legitimacy as a country based on reason and science? Will this encourage or discourage other countries from undergoing international relations with our country? How do we respond?