Guest opinion: Let scientists do their work on climate change

Farmington Daily Times
Guest Editorial


Although big data is increasingly used in campaigning, when it comes to governance, there is science and there is politics, and not that often do the twain meet.

While in politics you certainly have to be able to count — the number of popular or electoral votes you’ll need to be elected, how many colleagues you need to convince in order to get legislation passed — political science is an emotional one, playing to people’s feelings as well as hard facts. Logic is only tangentially involved.

Science, on the other hand, is about real proofs. To the extent that emotions or wishes for an outcome in research are involved, the scientific method is put into effect: Studies are run double blind, must be able to be duplicated in another lab and are peer reviewed by other scientists with no personal interest in one result or another.

So this creates a conundrum when government and science do become intertwined. In this country and in every other industrialized one, big science relies on big government for funding for its research. And government agencies whose work involves the application of scientific research can find themselves at the mercy of politicians who hold the purse strings when it comes to funding what they do.

This is the situation the scientists and researchers who work at the Environmental Protection Agency find themselves in vis a vis the proven science of man-made involvement in climate change and global warming and the election of a president and administration — politicians, by nature — who say they don’t believe in that science.

The EPA was created in 1970 by an executive order of President Richard Nixon at a time when there wasn’t any question that our environment was being desecrated in unhealthy ways by dirty air and water caused by industrial dumping and the pollution created by vehicles. It writes and enforces regulations based on laws passed by the Congress, and has played a significant role in cleaning up our environment and reducing health risks.

But smog was there for all to see and breathe. Its great reduction in recent decades is obvious to anyone who steps outside and sniffs the air. Climate change is a far vaster and more complex issue, the solutions to which will likely have even greater economic consequences than reducing daily pollution. Given the high stakes, scientists are needed to study it and propose solutions.

As of last year, the EPA had 15,376 full-time employees, more than half of them engineers, scientists and environmental protection specialists. The Trump administration has proposed a 31 percent cut to its budget and the elimination of 25 percent of its jobs.

That’s politics. But those scientists who are still there must be allowed to do their fact-based work. That’s why it was so disheartening when the EPA recently canceled without giving a reason the speaking appearances of three of its own scientists who were scheduled to discuss climate change at a conference in Rhode Island. Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator, unlike the vast majority of scientists, says he does not believe human-caused emissions are responsible for the warming of the planet. The EPA has removed dozens of references to climate change on its website. Kathleen Hartnett White, who is not a scientist, and who calls belief in global warming “a kind of paganism,” has been named head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Yet earlier this month, 13 federal agencies released a scientific report showing human activity is the main cause of the global temperature rise creating the warmest period in human history. This is a fact. Politicians should stop denying reality and stick to arguing about what to do about it.

— Orange County Register, Nov. 16