Trump Attacks Climate Science to Defend Interests of U.S. Capital
The revolt of Canadian scientists against former prime minister Stephen Harper can serve as a model for U.S. scientists facing Trump’s attacks on climate research, says professor Chris Williams
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
All mention of climate change was scrubbed from the White House website within minutes of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President. And during his first week in office there were leaks about the gag orders at government agencies with a particular focus on the censoring of climate science. Now, according to Climate Central, even before Scott Pruitt is approved by the Senate as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, there have been extensive revisions made to the EPA’s website, including removal of language about carbon pollution and the link between climate change and human activity.
And with us to discuss this new era of U.S. climate change and scientific censorship is Chris Williams. He’s joining us today from Amherst, Massachusetts. Chris is an educator, author and activist. He is also the author of “Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to a Capitalist Ecological Crisis,” and the forthcoming book titled, “Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation.” Chris, we appreciate you joining us today.
CHRIS WILLIAMS: Thanks very much for having me on, Kim.
KIM BROWN: So, Chris, let’s unpack what we are seeing unfold in Washington. So, Scott Pruitt is poised to take over the EPA which is an agency, as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, he sued over a dozen times. And now there’s talk that he might do a veritable dismantling of the agency. And also the clamp-down of scientific information has begun. So talk about the muzzling of government climate scientists and what the danger is here.
CHRIS WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, it’s startling that one of the most important things that Trump thought to do in his first hours in office was to delete scientific information from government websites — a very scary thought, along with all of the other things that he’s been doing, too, that directly and negatively impact hundreds of thousands, millions of people.
The chilling effect through the scientific community, the uncertainty, it’s already been reported that many scientists working in the United States have been placed under severe stress by insecurity around their job, whether they’re going to have a job in the future. Science is an international, cooperative endeavor. Can scientists freely travel back and forth into the United States? We know since Trump’s immigration ban, that’s no longer true. So, that has an impact on science, including for students — undergrad and grad students who come to the U.S. from around the world to study.
And ultimately, it’s saying that ideology is more important than understanding the way the world works. And where the way the world works contradicts with that ideology, we shouldn’t know about it and nobody should know about it. And so, what it’s doing is, yeah, it’s direct censorship of scientific knowledge and research, which will lead to loss of jobs, which will lead to all kinds of negative impacts on society.
KIM BROWN: So, Chris, the question that everybody wants to know is — how did we get here? And is this part of a larger trend to distrust to science-based data? So, how did science get so politicized?
CHRIS WILLIAMS: I mean, I think on the one hand, everything is political. So, the idea that — I mean, this is put forward by scientists, too — that science should not be politicized. Well, science is itself a cultural product of society and it’s subject to the same, in some ways more intense, contradictions than other aspects of culture, such as art, music, fashion, etcetera. When you live in a class-stratified society where different classes have different interests, then those contradictions are going to appear within the products of that society.
So, science on the one hand, is in search of how does the universe work? How do we understand our place within it? How can we manipulate things to our advantage so that we can live better lives without destroying the planet on which we live? We need to have answers to those things. And, obviously, we have learned a lot through that investigation. And society depends on science. Capitalism depends on science. But at the same time, there are aspects of it which contradict the ruling ideologies. So, we’ve seen for a long time in schools, for example, can you teach evolution or not? Should you be teaching other things than scientifically valid theories about how humans got to be human?
We’ve had other debates around abortion, for example. They are obviously ongoing and threats against women’s reproductive health care. And, for a long time, threats against climate science, against how do we understand what we’re doing to the environment that goes back to Reagan, before that.
This does have a long history. James Hanson was famously gagged by George W. Bush under the Bush administration from talking about climate science. But this is a step change in the assault on our more objective understanding of, in particular, what we’re doing to the planet and, therefore, comes with implications for what we should do differently, which would contradict the interests of U.S. capital, of which Donald Trump is a personification.
KIM BROWN: So, what are some of the strategies of resistance that scientists have been using, as many saw this coming before inauguration?
CHRIS WILLIAMS: Yeah, well I mean, that’s interesting. There’s already been a march called by scientists that should happen in March, as it happens, next month, in D.C. I think this is a great thing. There’s already been letters written by hundreds, in fact, thousands of scientists, sent directly to Donald Trump. Letters have appeared previously in national newspapers and other publications coming from scientists, saying that we need to not only know this information, but we actually should be thinking about what we’re going to do about it.
So, I think that we are evolving towards a situation — and Michael Mann, one of the leading climate scientists who’s famously been attacked over and over again for his research on climate, has called for a rebellion. We should be rebelling against the Trump administration. Something I, obviously, wholeheartedly agree with.
And I think that we’re getting to a very hopeful situation as we’re seeing with other social movements, around women’s rights, around LGBT issues, around demonstrations in support of immigration, open immigration.
I think we’re getting back to a situation akin to when Barry Commoner, the environmentalist and socialist, was arguing in the ’60s and ’70s for people to be citizen scientists — for scientists to go out into the community and propagate their views, demonstrate their understanding of nature, and talk to people about why that was important and why we should know more about it — and enlist ordinary people on the side of objectivity and truth. Because it’s not just important to know the truth but, as Bertolt Brecht argued, we want to direct the truth toward action. What are we going to do once we know the actual truth? And how are we going to change things to align better with what we know about how the world works and the universe works?
So, I think that all of these signs are really hopeful and U.S. scientists are taking a page from the playbook of Canadian scientists. They all were threatened under the Harper government for 10 years.
KIM BROWN: And I wanted to stress that point exactly, because Canada did go through something pretty similar with the clamping down on government scientists with gag orders and not to speak to the press and to cut back on research funding for nine years under the Conservative administration of Stephen Harper. So, I mean, he was pro-fossil fuel. His leadership was in that direction. So, what are the lessons to be learned from that example? How did Canadian scientists resist?
CHRIS WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, you know, there was an op-ed in the Times from a scientist who had actually had his work belittled in North Carolina when he was talking about sea level rise and how it would impact the coastline, and was attacked by essentially the real estate industry and the politicians that support that. But he published an op-ed in the Times saying, well, we shouldn’t march because that would politicize science.
Actually, the lesson from Canada is the exact opposite. Because, as a result of hundreds of scientists turning up in Ottawa for a demonstration in their lab coats and so on, showed to Canadian society that they could no longer ignore the Harper government and allow things to go on. And it actually was part of the political sea change that fed into the victory of Justin Trudeau and the end of the Harper administration.
So, I would say that this is an extremely important and positive development and, with all the other marches that are going on, I think we should embrace the scientists who want to speak out and we should be putting forward scientific ideas about how the world works, particularly with regard to what we should do with environmental questions.
So, we’ve got a lot to learn from Canadian scientists here before it gets as bad as it was in Canada. And they’re very clear about helping us, actually. They’ve already been advising the scientists who are organizing the march in D.C. So, this is great news and it will show Trump and his allies that, actually, the 99%, the vast majority of people in this country, are against this anti-rational, anti-scientific assault on science really in the public good — because that’s what we’re actually talking about.
What Trump wants to eradicate is science for the people, science in the public interest. He’s not talking about defunding corporations and their investigation of science. He’s talking about defunding the government and their scientific research. And so, that actually links with… dovetails with his assault on education, on health care, and it’s really an assault on the facts, on truth. And that is the broader battle that we’re engaged in.
KIM BROWN: I mean Chris, is Trump really shooting himself in the foot in the sense that science and technology, this type of innovation drives the economy. So, if he were to stunt all of this research funding, publications of government findings, is he moving the country backwards, not only in a scientific way but also in an economical way, as well?
CHRIS WILLIAMS: Yeah, I mean, I think in many ways that is true because, I mean, to make America great again, when are we exactly talking about being great, when you think about the history, the awful history of the ruling elite in the United States? And so, one of those ways is actually to drive science back into the darkness, as it were, and is that contradictory? I think on some levels it certainly is because actually when you investigate who makes the discoveries and where does new technology evolve from? The vast majority of that comes from the Internet famously, right, was developed by the military but GPS, NASA developed all kinds of new types of food and clothing through its research. And so a lot of it comes from the state and then you know private enterprise takes the profit from that.
So, if you cut state funding for scientific research, then you’re going to move that society backwards. And so, yes, like many other policies of the Trump administration, it is contradictory and that’s why it’s raising questions, even amongst the ruling elite about how crazy, how unhinged in some ways, and how non-thought-out and unplanned is a presidency wrapped around getting rid of the politicians, essentially, and just stocking it with business people, so that we have the most untrammeled, unfettered version of capitalism possible.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. We’ve been discussing the attack on government science, government scientists, government scientific agencies and research in just two weeks into the Trump administration. We’ve been speaking with Chris Williams. Chris is an educator, author and activist. He’s been joining us today from Amherst, Massachusetts. Chris, we appreciate your time, thank you.
CHRIS WILLIAMS: Thank you very much.
KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.