Science Trumped?

During President Donald Trump’s first week of office, he launched an all-out blitz on former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy.

Any mention of climate change was struck from White House webpages. In their place appears the “America First Energy Plan” — a promise of deregulating fossil fuels and not subsidizing renewable energies. In conjunction, Trump signed an executive order expediting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline and resurrecting the buried Keystone XL pipeline.

His appointed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has sued the EPA 13 times and previously received campaign funding from oil-and-gas magnates. During his senate hearing, Pruitt suggested he would hand off the responsibility of environmental regulation back to individual states — unless, of course, that state is California and their waiver on stricter vehicle emission standards forces car manufacturers to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Next, all EPA employees received a gag order, mandated to stop any press releases and social media posts. This might have been due to a concurrent directive to freeze all EPA grants and contracts, which was eventually lifted by the end of the week.

Last, but certainly not least, is a leaked memo written by Thomas Pyle, former Koch Industries lobbyist and the current transition leader for the Department of Energy. In the memo, he indicates plans for the price of the “social cost of carbon” to be lowered or zeroed. An obscure metric that economists have called “the most important number you’ve never heard of,” the social cost of carbon undergirds over 70 U.S. environmental policies. Everything from truck tailpipes to power plants smokestacks to home refrigerators would be at risk of pollution deregulation.  

That’s one week down, 207 more to go.

As someone who has focused their four years of college education on environmental studies, policy, technology, and the like — last week was rough. A friend of mine, who studies sustainable planning, deactivated his Facebook account as a measure to shield himself from the barrage of disheartening news alerts mixed with friends’ pained reactions. I used to roll my eyes at this act of virtual subversion, but, for once I felt sincere empathy.

Whether you took a high school class in environmental science, enrolled in one on accident for your GE elective or followed any issue in the news pertaining to climate change, you might feel a discord between the knowledge you learned and the “knowledge” our new government uses to guide their environmental actions; on the one hand, your professor with a Ph.D. in climate dynamics from Columbia University lectures how climate change is human-caused and requires immediate intervention. On the other hand, you have the Leader of the Free World tweeting out:

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Not only does this lunacy contradict the stance of scientific experts, but also the stance of the president we were accustomed to for the past eight years. Obama protected more public lands than any other president. His Clean Power Plan would have been the most progressive climate policy in American history. He even found time to guest write an article about clean energy for Science magazine a week before relinquishing the presidency.

He was on our team. Team Environment. But his number is now retired and the player who replaced him switched teams.

That’s why I stand in solidarity with the “not my president” movement. Not as an aimless rejection of the already decided political process, but as an acknowledgement of my opposing values to Trump. I value logic, reason, statistical data, fact-based arguments and scientific conclusions. It is hard to pinpoint what Trump values, but he has certainly promoted the boggling era of post-truths and alternative facts.

And, if his first week actions are any accurate barometer, he has also ushered in an era of devalued science and a degraded environment.