Anew report that assimilates research on climate change — and represents the work of scores of scientists around the country — is slated for release by the federal government.
Or maybe not.
The forthcoming National Climate Assessment, a collaboration of 13 federal agencies, is in “inherent conflict” with the President’s statements on climate change. One of its lead authors, who requested anonymity, said “the big question in my mind is will the Trump Administration sign it and allow us to release it?”
“If they won’t, then what are our options?” he continued, adding that climate scientists in federal agencies “feel like there is a big target on their backs.’’
He is not alone in his worry. These are troubling times for scientists, who have been under assault from the Trump Administration, which finds science — especially climate science — at odds with its ideology. The coming climate report may well be another test on how willing Trump and his advisors are to accept evidence that climate change is already wreaking havoc in the United States.
“This report isn’t talking about what might happen in 2050 but what is happening now,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who is familiar with the draft report. “I really don’t know if this administration will carry through as it should. This is a critical report that will be useful not only to the administration, but on the Hill, to states, cities and the public. This isn’t a report that involves a money issue. The only reason to not release the report is because you don’t want the public to know.’’
The signs thus far have not been encouraging. Just days after his inauguration, the new president issued gag orders on scientific information from federal agencies, deleted the climate change page from the White House web site, and put forth sweeping immigration restrictions with potentially serious consequences for scientists from targeted countries who conduct research in the United States.
Trump also fired his acting attorney general after she refused to enforce his immigration ban, and told a group of State Department career employees — who filed their grievances through an established formal mechanism for dissent without penalty or reprisal — that if they didn’t like what he was doing, they could quit.
“Censorship is a major worry,” said Kevin E. Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist in the climate analysis section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who called the elimination of the White House climate page “shameful.” He added, “Climate change should not be a political football. Scientists are in the business of increasing understanding about what is happening and why, and what it means for the future.”
Many scientists rely on federal dollars to fund their work and fear they may lose critical financial support. Up and coming researchers feel discouraged by the hiring freeze because it limits opportunities to conduct government research. Ultimately, this puts public health and safety at risk.
“Look at the impact of this on the public,” Rosenberg said. “You’ve got thousands of scientists across the government, most of whom are not in Washington. They work in federal labs all over the country. And the Trump administration just told young scientists: ‘We don’t want you in the federal government. We don’t want your work.’”
Trenberth agreed. “I’ve already heard talk about good students reconsidering options about what field to go into,’’ he said. “The rhetoric is already influencing those decisions. The result is a gap in the flow of good young scientists into the field.”
At the same time, however, scientists (among others) have started to fight back, inspiring a movement with remarkable grassroots power. It was first evident with the overwhelming turnout for the Women’s March on January 21, and shortly after with spontaneous demonstrations that erupted all over the country in response to the administration’s immigration orders.
For their part, government scientists retrieved valuable data from federal web sites — climate studies, in particular — and safely stored the information in outside archives to protect it from the administration. Rogue Twitter accounts from defiant federal employees, starting with those at the National Park Service, have begun to flourish. NPR’s All Tech Considered counted more than 80 rogue accounts.
More major demonstrations are in the planning stages, including a march for science in Washington scheduled for April 22, and a people’s climate march, also in Washington, scheduled for April 29, the 100th day of the Trump administration.
The People’s Climate Movement aims to bring hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to Washington on April 29 to “march for jobs, justice and the climate,” optimistic it will eclipse the 400,000 who turned out for a similar protest in New York City in 2014.
“This is no silent sit-and-wait for the ‘control-alt-delete’ strategy of the new administration when it comes to science, particularly climate science,” said Astrid Caldas, a climate researcher with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “I am feeling a great energy. People are speaking out.”
Organizers are planning for a full week of action leading up to the march, including speaking to lawmakers, educational and cultural activities, and demonstrations around the country.
“We are at a moment in this country where we can’t take ‘no’ for an answer,’’ said Aura Vasquez, director of climate justice for the Center for Popular Democracy, a national network grassroots organizations in 30 states that works to promote progressive policies. “My biggest worry right now is that his supporters are happy about what he is doing. If they can get another four years after this, the damage will be lasting and harder to reverse. That’s why we have to really get out there and change minds and hearts.’’
Jon Barton, deputy director of the Service Employees International Union, who coordinates the union’s environmental justice work and is helping organize the march, believes that the climate movement will push back hard against administration measures.
“I think there is a growing culture of opposition right now,” he said. “Our members are often low income and people of color who live in communities disproportionately affected by climate change. When there are climate catastrophes, our members and their families often get hit hard.”
For this reason, its organizers want the climate march to become “a vehicle to build a wider movement,” Barton said. “While we have climate at the core, we also are focused on immigrants’ rights, civil rights, and women’s rights, among others, because they are all under attack. A wider movement can derail an extreme right-wing agenda. If we sit alone, we are going to lose.”
Maura Cowley, director of the Sierra Club’s international climate and energy campaign, agreed, adding, “The climate movement is stronger than ever. Across the country, we continue to close out coal plants. Cities are switching to renewable energy. People are still fighting climate change, regardless of what is or isn’t on the White House home page. They will continue to resist the Trump agenda at the national level. That gives me hope during these dark days.”
Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.