According to the Onion, a National Science Foundation Symposium concluded that Science is Hard. It really isn’t any harder than governing or public speaking or performing arts. Each has their own vocabulary and courses of study. But somehow, the general public thinks it is hard.
This has been borne out for years by our Congress, where only two members have degrees in any sort of science. So it is not surprising that the Congress makes poorly informed decisions or assertions, like Senator Imhofe, who brandished a snowball in winter to assert that global warming is not real. Even worse, he cited biblical references to support his view, a book in which many people find comfort, but which was written by bronze age goatherds and unlikely to cover climate change.
So it is not surprising that incoming President Trump has dubbed climate change a “Chinese hoax.” To the contrary, Beijing is actively participating in policies to reduce carbon emissions, as are most countries.
You cannot expect a President to be an expert in all fields of endeavor, but you can expect him to appoint advisors who are experts in these fields, and it is here that the 28 appointments Mr Trump has made (out of about 660 that require Congressional approval) fail to support or understand science. As we noted earlier, science is not a branch of politics, where many views may seem to be correct. Science is the result of rigorous experimentation, study and peer-review, and far less debatable than politics is. Or, to quote NGT, “Science is true, whether or not you believe in it.”
In this context, it is deeply disappointing that Scott Pruitt, the nominee to head the EPA told Congress that “the extent of [human] impact [on climate change] is subject to continuing debate.” In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2013 that more than half of the climate warming from 1951 to 2010 was due to human activity. And it was just reported that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year. This is no longer subject to debate, and government administrators cannot put off vigorous action if we expect our children and grandchildren to survive.
Likewise, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson has expressed reservations on climate change and does not view it as an imminent national security threat.
The most horrifying recent hearing was for billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. DeVos has been a forceful advocate for charter schools, even though studies have shown that they are not particularly effective, especially in Michigan where DeVos has spent millions promoting them. From a science point of view, it is equally disturbing that Ms DeVos believes that the Earth is only 6000 years old. Her hearings have also shown that she knows nothing about education, either.
Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor, has just been nominated as Secretary of Agriculture. He once led a prayer ceremony in front of the Capitol, asking God to be forgive Georgians for being wasteful with water. According to the barely credible Environmental Working Group, as a former fertilizer salesman, Perdue seems less than likely to understand the water pollution problems uncontrolled fertilizer runoff can cause. The Agriculture Department has been involved in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and while we do not know Perdue’s positions, his boss has expressed significant skepticism on this issue. Perhaps more comforting is that as governor, Perdue established a seed capital fund, focused on the life sciences industry, and allocated $30 to$40 million towards strengthening biotech research at the state’s universities.
And, of course, Rick Perry, who is slated to take over the Energy Department, is famous for wanting to close it, once he remembered it’s name. Joking aside, though, in Congressional hearings, he was completely unwilling to admit that climate change poses a global crisis.
Every incoming President provides a mixture of hope and skepticism to the public, and our skepticism on his approach to science is substantial.