Tom Ribe: The Trump administration actively promotes ignorance
June 8, 2017
Right after Donald Trump took office as president, climate researcher Victoria Herrmann discovered that public archives of climate-research papers were being removed from the internet by the new administration. Research reports from decades of work funded by the American people went missing online. Her discovery opened the shades on efforts by the Trump administration not only to deny global warming but also to thwart and suppress climate research by the U.S. government.
Trump's attack on climate science has deep roots in a decades-old disinformation campaign carried out by a cluster of lobbying institutions funded by Exxon Mobil, the Koch brothers and coal companies. Using a playbook developed by the tobacco industry to fight smoking restrictions in the 1970s, the carbon industry has been sowing doubt about climate science in public schools, the media and throughout government with a wide-ranging and sophisticated propaganda effort.
But in the Trump administration, we see climate change denial move beyond just spreading misinformation. Under Trump, political appointees are bent on silencing the scientific institutions and instruments that gather the basic information on global warming used by most of the world's policy and scientific community.
While the propaganda promoted by industry organizations like the Heartland Institute or the American Enterprise Institute is highly suspect, given the credentials of the "scientists" they employ, the quality of research from public universities and federal scientific organizations meets high standards of peer-reviewed science. The carbon industry's claim that credible scientists disagree about the reality of global warming is a fabrication that has long withered under scrutiny.
Even as Trump's environmental policy leaders and agency heads — largely drawn from the oil industry — actively erase climate information, Trump's budget proposal for 2018 would start dismantling the nation's ability to monitor and research weather, climate change and related field sciences.
Trump promises to step up budget cuts every year the administration remains in office. Agencies focused on climate change would be especially targeted.
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Trump also proposes a 40 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Research and Development, which employs 1,700 scientists working on climate, pollution and related topics to inform government policy. The EPA's $50 million grant program for university scientists would be eliminated, shutting off thousands of research projects and discouraging a new generation of scientists.
Colorado's National Center for Atmospheric Research is funded by the National Science Foundation, which receives no funding at all under the Trump 2018 budget.
The U.S. Geological Survey, which conducts field research for the National Park Service and other public-land agencies, would endure a 15 percent budget cut, which could end research projects related to wildland fire and climate change, among other things.
On top of these science cuts, the Trump team proposes deep cuts to renewable energy programs such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which gives grants to researchers studying new energy technologies. Not only would Trump stop the government from understanding and sharing climate change knowledge, his budget cuts would thwart efforts to help solve the problem.
Do the Koch brothers and the Heritage Foundation people directing this institutional bloodbath really believe their own narrative that climate change is a hoax? Is their cynicism so great that they would risk the future of the human race with their complete disregard for the precautionary principal? Do they imagine that their wealth will shield them and their offspring from the ravages of a hot world and dead oceans?
James Hoggan, author of "Climate Cover Up," said it well: "If they are doing this because their eagerness to help the oil industry post short-term profits overwhelms their judgment or their interest in the public good, then they should be subject to the full dose of public wrath."
Tom Ribe is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes on public lands and policy from the mountains near Santa Fe, New Mexico.