Photo: Mars P. / Flickr
With all that has been going on with the Trump administration, it is with great difficulty that I keep the focus of my writings related to the environment, e.g., energy, conservation, the EPA, etc.
It is tempting to cast a wider net, go where others, such as John Stuart, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher have and continue to go.
It is increasingly distressing that important decisions from the seat of government are now related to the general public in the form of a Tweet, rarely with the caveat of more details to follow. It is a time for deep and educated political thought and commentary, something that cannot be related in a 140 characters or less.
I dedicate the following piece to those environmentalists who voted their conscience and voted for Jill Stein of the Green Party rather than compromise themselves and vote for Hillary Clinton. May you next time remember you live in the real world and politics is hardball. And yes, it does matter who becomes an elected official.
Wait — These May Not Be the Facts We Want
One of the most alarming and distressing directives to come down from the executive branch is that relating to the “temporary” media blackout and cessation of the dissemination of certain scientific-based information from the various governmental agencies. Though there seems to be conflicting reports as to how wide ranging and encompassing this directive has been and exactly from whom within the Trump administration it emanates, the question it raises is whether or not it portends things to come.
Upon taking office, the Trump transition team instructed EPA officials to remove the EPA website’s climate change page, which contained links to global warming research, as well as detailed data on emissions. The White House’s webpage on climate change was also taken down. Gag orders were issued by the Trump White House instructing various agencies, including the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Health and Human Services, and the EPA, to cease issuing any written communications to the press and general public.
When White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked at a press conference if there had been an Executive branch directive essentially gagging the EPA from disseminating any information to the public, he responded, “I don’t know… we’re looking into it… I don’t think it’s a surprise we’re going to review the policies, but I don’t have any info at this time.”
This is the person who is supposed to be the disseminator of White House information to the public.
Science and the EPA
Putting a place marker in while the new administration makes its assessments and develops new policies is to be expected, but curtailing the publication of peer-reviewed scientific papers, data, and freezing grants, contracts, and other functionalities of such an important agency is without precedent, contrary to what Myron Ebell, who ran the EPA transition team for the incoming administration, related to the press. Mr. Ebell is a director of energy and global-warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an industry-aligned “think tank” critical of the EPA.
It appears that Scott Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, will be the new head of the EPA, a man who has established his environmental credentials through suing the EPA more than 14 times, mostly over questioning its power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. He questions whether mercury is toxic to health and contends that climate science is “far from settled” and that “scientists continue to disagree.” In reality, 3 percent disagree with the other 97 percent of climate scientists who believe human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is contributing to global warming. Mr. Pruitt has well-established and documented opinions, and his lawsuits have proven to be heavily influenced, if not drafted by the industries the EPA seeks to regulate.
Science and Religion
Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Ben Carson, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, are both evangelical Christians, human-influenced climate change deniers, and known creationists.
In a 2014 interview, Pence said he doesn’t know if man-made climate change “is a resolved issue in science today” and later added “we’ll leave the scientific debates for the future.” Whose future?
No less disturbing than Vice President Pence’s assertion that climate change science is an unresolved issue and a debate that should be left to the future, is his position on the teaching of evolution, which was succinctly entered into the Congressional Record on July 11th, 2002:
The truth is [evolution] always was a theory, Mr. Speaker. And now that we have recognized evolution as a theory, I would simply and humbly ask, can we teach it as such and can we also consider teaching other theories of the origin of species? Like the theory that was believed in by every signer of the Declaration of Independence. Every signer of the Declaration of Independence believed that men and women were created and were endowed by that same Creator with certain unalienable rights. The Bible tells us that God created man in his own imagine, male and female. He created them. And I believe that, Mr. Speaker.
I believe that God created the known universe, the Earth and everything in it, including man. And I also believe that someday scientists will come to see that only the theory of intelligent design provides even a remotely rationale explanation for the known universe. But until that day comes, and I have no fear of science, I believe that the more we study the science, the more the truth of faith will become apparent. I would just humbly ask as new theories of evolution find their ways into the newspapers and into the textbooks, let us demand that educators around America teach evolution not as fact, but as theory, and an interesting theory to boot. But let us also bring into the minds of all of our children all of the theories about the unknowable that some bright day in the future through science and perhaps through faith we will find the truth from whence we come.
Mr. Carson seems to have a similar view of the theories of creation versus evolution. In a 2001 lecture, he implied that Darwin’s theory of evolution was the result of “encouragement” by Satan:
He further attempted to explain away any conflict between the age of earth versus God creating the earth in six days. Mr. Carson opines:
“It says in the beginning God created the heaven and Earth. It doesn’t say when he created them, except for in the beginning. So the Earth could have been here for a long time before he started creating things on it. But when he did start doing that, he made it very specifically clear to us the evening and the morning were the next day because he knew that people would come along and try to say that, ‘Oh, it was millions and millions of years.’ And then what else did he say in the very first chapter? That each thing brought forth after its own kind. Because he knew that people would come along and say, you know, this changed into that and this changed into that and this changed into that. So at the very beginning of the Bible, he puts that to rest… People try to disparage the Bible. That these are fanciful tales, yet there is abundant evidence, geological evidence that there was a worldwide flood…”
Mr. Carson has given numerous lectures, talks, and interviews where his view of the world weighs heavily on biblical scriptures and his very literal interpretation of the Bible. Once, when asked about his views on climate change, after flippantly calling the climate debate “irrelevant,” he stated, “Is there climate change? Of course there’s climate change. Any point in time, temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that’s happening. When that stops happening, that’s when we’re in big trouble… There is no reason to make it into a political issue.”
Science, Religion and Education
And then there is Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Education.
Forgetting the fact that she has no real background as an educator, her statements and history of blurring the lines between church and state should send up red flags. She and her husband, Dick DeVos (who was a candidate for governor of Michigan, so his positions have become well documented), both have deep roots in the Christian movement and have long bemoaned what they perceive to be the displacement of the church as the center of the community by the public schools.
They cite school choice as a way to reverse that troubling trend: “The church — which ought to be in our view far more central to the life of the community — has been displaced by the public school as the center for activity, the center for what goes on in the community…”
The couple has been quoted as stating that their Christian faith drives their efforts to reform the American education system, and that school choice leads to “greater Kingdom gain.”
Mr. DeVos’ website, when he ran for governor, stated, “I’ve always believed that our children should be provided with more knowledge, not less. Lots of intelligent people can disagree about the origins of life. In the end, I believe in our system of local control. Local school boards should have the opportunity to offer evolution and intelligent design in their curriculums.”
Dick DeVos was also quoted in an Associated Press interview:
“I would like to see the ideas of intelligent design — that many scientists are now suggesting is a very viable alternative theory — that that theory and others that would be considered credible would expose our students to more ideas, not less. It is certainly our hope that churches would continue, no matter what the environment — whether there’s government funding some day through tax credits, or vouchers, or some other mechanism or whatever it may be — that more and more churches will get more and more active and engaged in education,” he said. “We just can think of no better way to rebuild our families and our communities.”
The DeVoss have donated generously to organizations promoting the teaching of “intelligent design,” which has become “code” for teaching an alternative to the science of evolution. Their “school choice” vouchers agenda is a thinly veiled attempt to have the public pay for religious-based Christian schooling, and undermines the public school system, which by law separates church and state, and must teach a science-based curriculum.
When Did Opinion Become Science?
Scientists through the ages have run afoul of the powers that be by questioning prevailing beliefs, generally those supported and promulgated by the Church. When science collides with religious beliefs and teachings, without the separation of church and state, scientific thought suffers.
President Trump has enlisted a cadre of fundamentalist, religiously conservative, “science skeptics” to define and push his agenda. They are minority voices within the scientific community. They are, for the most part, people hostile to the very institutions they have been entrusted to lead.
Rick Perry, for head of the Energy Department, an agency he campaigned on dismantling; Scott Pruitt, to head the EPA, an agency he has vowed to eviscerate and weaken by severely limiting its regulatory powers; Andrew Puzder, in his position as Secretary of Labor, might not directly influence the environment, but his stated views regarding a living wage and the benign health effects of fast food defies scientific data and statistics. Trump has solicited Robert Kennedy, Jr. to chair a vaccination safety panel, an individual who has vocally promoted the scientifically disproved link between autism and vaccines.
In the Trump administration, science will no doubt take a back seat on the bus, deferring to his and his minions’ vision of political correctness and unscientific theories.
The United States political system is designed to protect the views of minorities and free speech, but it also has a long and deep tradition with freedom from theological and political interference with science and education. We have produced more Nobel laureates than any other country, 363 versus the UK’s 124, Russia’s 27, and Germany’s 106. Mr. Trump’s cabinet and choices to run agencies responsible for education, science, and the environment may prove to be a very sad chapter in our history of pursuing objective science and education.
The environment will no doubt suffer as the Trump administration pursues an energy policy based on fossil fuels, and the EPA is left without enforcement teeth. The mining and burning of coal is neither healthy for the planet nor for the miners who mine it, regardless of what President Trump says.