Trump Defunding Science a Threat to Civilization
Climate Scientist, Dr. Michael E. Mann on why Scientists’ voices must be heard
PROTESTORS: … Science! How do we want it?… Peer Review! What do we want?… Science! How do we want it?… Peer review!…
MICHAEL MANN: My name is Michael Mann. I am a climate scientist. I direct the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State University, and I’m here at this event to speak out in defense of science, including the science of climate change, at a time when science is very much under threat. I feel it’s important for scientists’ voices to be heard, and that’s what today is about — hearing from scientists, about the importance of science, the importance of continued support for science.
KATHLEEN MAITLAND-CARTER: You… as it were, had to go into the belly of the beast in this recent Congressional Hearing, where basically, it seemed like science was on trial.
LEMAR SMITH: Much of climate science today appears to be based more on exaggerations, personal agendas, and questionable predictions, than on the scientific method. Those who engage in such actions do a disservice to the American people, and to their own profession. Only when scientists follow the scientific method, can policy-makers be confident that they are making the right decisions. Until then, the debate should continue.
MICHAEL MANN: Because when you consider that, you know, somewhere between 97 and 99% of the scientific community recognizes that climate change is real, and human-caused. And yet, at this hearing I was really the only scientist of the four witnesses representing the scientific consensus, and the other three individuals have contrarian views about the science. About either the basic science of climate change, or deny the impacts that climate change is having.
So, I felt it was important, despite the fact the deck was obviously stacked against me, with three contrarian witnesses. I felt it was important to make sure that there was a voice for science, at that hearing. And I feel pretty well about the way things went. I mean, in the end the other side doesn’t have the science on their side. And they don’t have an honest case to make, because the science indicates that this problem is real.
So, that was really the main message and again, I felt like the voice of science did actually get heard at that hearing.
KATHLEEN MAITLAND-CARTER: I guess the other side has the fossil fuel industry on their side. Is it as simple as that, really, that it’s just the fossil fuel industry’s interests who now are, sort of dominating Congress, and this administration?
MICHAEL MANN: Well, you have to look at, you know, their actions and their deeds, the current Administration. Donald Trump is a climate change denier. He’s appointed to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, who is a climate change denier, who actually actively worked as Attorney General of Oklahoma, to try to prevent the EPA from controlling carbon emissions.
His Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, the largest fossil fuel corporation in the world. So, there’s no mystery here, about what’s going on. The science of climate change has inconvenient implications, for those who would like to see an agenda of on-going reliance on fossil fuels for energy.
Individuals, corporations, front groups, who have advocated for the fossil fuel industry, now have a very prominent voice in our government. They’re represented in the administration of Donald Trump, and through Congressional Republicans like Lemar Smith, who held that hearing a few weeks ago, attempting to call into question the overwhelming scientific consensus, behind human-caused climate change.
KATHLEEN MAITLAND-CARTER: So, if we could do maybe some stock-taking, where are we at in terms of cutbacks, or proposed cutbacks, to scientific research, I guess mostly related to climate change, but I understand they’re talking about even cutting like, the satellite, NASA satellites?
MICHAEL MANN: That’s right, I mean, it’s crazy really, when you think about it. We rely on satellite technology, to provide us the information that we need about the atmosphere and the ocean. It informs our ability to forecast the tracks of hurricanes, and to improve the science of determining the intensification of tropical storms and hurricanes.
There are so many basic lines of evidence, and data streams that we rely upon, for public policy, and to mitigate risk and hazard. And so, to try to, you know, defund these satellite missions, simply because of the inconvenient data that they’re gathering about the reality of climate change, is just so wrong-headed, it’s hard to even describe.
It’s fundamentally a threat to all of civilization. It’s sort of like knowing that your child has a fever of 103 degrees, and then deciding to stop measuring the temperature anymore because you don’t like the information that you’re getting. That’s effectively what the Trump Administration is trying to do here. It’s a threat to all of us.
So, I hope that those budget cuts, those defundings will not be implemented. Of course, we don’t yet have a budget, and until we have a formal budget that passes Congress, nothing is locked in yet. So, there are threats of making cuts to major scientific programs: to NASA, to the National Institute of Health, remarkable — 20% cut, in the National Institute of Health.
It’s just, to me, it’s remarkable that we would want to cut back on basic research, helping us cure cancer, and other diseases and ailments. It’s just so wrong-headed that I have to think that it will not pass congress, even though there’s a threat now.
KATHLEEN MAITLAND-CARTER: Also, with the EPA cuts, they’re also talking about cutting research money, RPE, the research wing that works on renewable energy innovation. What could be the impact of cutting those research funds from the EPA for scientists?
MICHAEL MANN: There’s a treat to scientists whose work, you know, is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the EPA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA. So, you know the scientific community relies on support from all of these government agencies, to do the critical cutting-edge scientific research that ultimately has made us, you know, has given us the international competitiveness that we have as a nation.
The progress that we have made, and the leadership that we have had over the years, when it comes to science and technology, is a result of the basic funding that our government has always recognized needs to be provided to the scientific community. And so, to cut back on that funding is to basically unilaterally disarm, in the global economic challenge of the next century.
KATHLEEN MAITLAND-CARTER: And you’ve done a recent study on the link to extreme weather events and the Arctic, and it seems we’re every week, seeing another study on more glacial melts, and more extreme weather. Is it kind of like, the evidence just ramping up?
MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, well part of the problem here, it’s the veritable tip of the iceberg, right? Once you see… when the Titanic saw the tip of the iceberg, it was too late. And for climate change it’s similar. Once you start to really see the impacts on extreme weather that we’re seeing now, what that means is, below the surface, there’s a lot of additional climate change that’s now locked in.
And even if we dramatically reduce our carbon emissions in the years ahead, there’s a certain amount of climate change, additional warming, and additional climate change impacts, that we will suffer no matter what we do. There is a huge procrastination penalty, when it comes to the issue of climate change. That’s why it’s so urgent to act now, so that we don’t lock in dangerous and irreversible changes in our climate.