One of the biggest stories of the newly christened Trump administration was that mere hours after being sworn in, President Donald Trump’s team purged the White House web page of all references to healthcare, civil rights, and climate change (along with references to healthcare and civil rights).
While the Obama White House climate change page is archived, government data elsewhere is not so secure.
Fortunately, some forward-looking scientists were able to minimize the damage to the scientific community and save important data.
It wasn’t hard to predict what would happen after Trump took office. The last Republican president, George W. Bush, also denied that climate change was a serious threat, and engaged in censorship and destruction of public data on climate change. Wisconsin’s Republican Governor, Scott Walker, did likewise after his reelection last year.
According to a 2007 report by the Government Accountability Project, the publicly-funded scientific community – including agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Department of Agriculture (DOA), and the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) – widely reported “inappropriate political interference” in their work.
“There is a clear trend toward increasingly restrictive policies and practices unsupported by any official justification from the agencies and programs. … The evidence suggests that incidents of interference are often top-down reactions to science that has negative policy or public relations implications for the administration.”
Preparing For The Worst
Trump himself tapped notorious climate deniers to lead the EPA, Department of Energy (DOE), and State Department (DOS). Alarmed, scientists organized shortly after Trump won the November 2016 election to preserve whatever data and reports they could.
The Toronto Technoscience Research Unit at the University of Toronto recently hosted a “Guerilla Archiving” event designed to preserve environmental data under risk of deletion. According to the event page:
“[The event] focused on preserving information and data from the Environmental Protection Agency, which has programs and data at high risk of being removed from online public access or even deleted. This includes climate change, water, air, [and] toxics programs.”
Similar efforts were underway at Carnegie Melon and Trump’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.
Robert Paterson, co-director of the Urban Information Lab at the University of Texas’s School of Architecture, said:
“My expectation and fear is we are going to see round two of Bush. The appointments are hostile to climate change, so I think it’s prudent for folks to download the science that’s easily available now, because you may have to file a [Freedom of Information request] later to get it.”
Unfortunately, while it’s easy to download reports and web code, Trump can easily cripple future scientific progress by defunding databases and long-term research projects that aid in our understanding the ongoing effects of climate change.
Political Science Redefined
But scientists are doing more than just saving all the data they can get their hands on. Last month, over 800 earth scientists and energy experts published an open letter calling on Trump to protect America’s security, economy, and public health by taking climate change seriously. And a new initiative called 314 Action – a reference to Pi, a mathematical constant – aims to get more scientists elected to public office.
According to their website:
“314 Action champions electing more leaders to the U.S. Senate, House, State Executive and Legislative offices who come from STEM backgrounds. We need new leaders who understand that climate change is real and are motivated to find a solution.”
Climate change is the biggest crisis facing the world today, and the organization rightly makes climate change a primary issue in its platform.
But a more scientifically literate government could also encourage the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to research gun violence, something it currently cannot do due to a decades-old gag order passed at the insistence of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
And politicians passionate about STEM could communicate the efficacy of vaccines and counter right-wing myths about reproductive health.
Just imagine – what would a Bill Nye or a Neil deGrasse Tyson presidency look like?
Featured image via YouTube video.