Denying Climate Change and Attacking Science
by Lyle Harris Sr.
Climate change is a bunch of nonsense. At least according to Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, he supports eliminating the EPA, commenting: “I think people across the country look at the EPA the way they look at the IRS.” And to move that idea along, he has a number of climate-change deniers on his staff. It makes sense. As a former Oklahoma attorney general he spent much of his time suing the EPA. It further makes sense that Doug Ericksen is now with the Agency. Ericksen, a state-house senator from Lynden, supports an organization that claims “global warming is the biggest fraud in science history.”
The New York Times, reporting that Trump will cut millions and millions of dollars from various science programs, said the cuts for research in many areas show his “… lack of understanding of science’s role in national and domestic security, in protecting air and water and other resources and in preventing disease and lowering the cost of health care, which consumes one-quarter of the $3.7 trillion federal budget.”
Of course, Trump says those agencies don’t need full funding. He understands money and money must go for more important things like bombs and missiles — just as he assured us last month that our Navy ships were heading to North Korea. Unfortunately, they were 3,500 miles away going toward Australia. But what’s wrong with incompetence?
Trump has ordered Pruitt to kill regulations that give the federal government authority to further prevent water pollution in rivers, streams and wetlands, and Pruitt additionally is working to end data collection on methane emissions from oil and gas wells. His rebuttal when challenged: “The human ability to measure with precision the extent of that impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue, as well they should be.”
I’ll remember that should I be asked why we get wet when it rains.
Climate: A Loaded Term
Slate magazine explored the term “climate change,” and found many local governments try to avoid it because it’s loaded with meanings. When Rebecca Romsdahl, a researcher at the University of North Dakota, asked more than 200 local governments across 10 Great Plains states about climate change, she found that more than half of them had developed projects to confront the problem. These included biking and hiking trails, requiring developers to plant trees, “green” fleets for municipal vehicles and zoning ordinances to lower or buffer development problems.
Planners, she said, talked about saving money, preserving clean water or protecting natural resources. People want clean air, outdoor recreation and public health improvements. “It’s much easier for planners to frame it that way and slide climate change in on the side,” Romsdahl explained. “In many cases, it’s quite intentional that they’re going to frame the policy or the problem so that they can work with the audience in question. If they know climate change is a term they can’t even discuss with their audience, they’re going to avoid discussing it.”
Nixon, Trump, Press
Forty-five years ago Robert Redford made “All The President’s Men,” a film about the scandal in President Richard Nixon’s administration that resulted in Nixon’s resignation. Redford, writing in the Washington Post, was asked about similarities between the Nixon White House in 1972 and Trump’s now. His response was insightful. Nixon referred to the media coverage as shoddy and shabby journalism. Trump calls the press “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and says they are the “enemy” of the American people.
“Sound and accurate journalism defends our democracy,” Redford said. “It’s one of the most effective weapons we have to restrain the power-hungry. I always said that ‘All the President’s Men’ was a violent movie. No shots were fired, but words were used as weapons.” The Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Watergate Committee did their job together to protect the Constitution. People all over the country were glued to their radios and TV sets as the committee held public hearings. I remember working outdoors with the radio at top volume in the last months of the hearings — I didn’t want to miss one word.
Redford’s conclusion about today: “Nixon resigned from office because the Senate Watergate Committee — its Democratic and Republican members — did its job. It’s easy now to think of Watergate as a single event. It wasn’t. It was a story that unfolded over 26 months and demanded many acts of bravery and honesty by Americans across the political spectrum.”
The system then worked. What’s the difference today? “Much. Our country is divided, and we have a tenuous grasp on truth.” Will truth emerge today? “I’m concerned about its chances these days,” Redford said.
Some Trumpists Support Science
Interestingly, Peter Thiel, a billionaire biomedical research investor in Silicon Valley who supports Trump, parted ways on this issue. He says the government should support scientific research.
“Voters are tired of hearing conservative politicians say that government never works. They know the government wasn’t always this broken. The Manhattan Project, the Interstate Highway System, and the Apollo program — whatever you think of these ventures, you cannot doubt the competence of the government that got them done. But we have fallen very far from that standard, and we cannot let free market ideology serve as an excuse for decline,” Thiel said.
How, then, do citizens fight Trump and his supporters? Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the Times, asked that question of experts. The “furious opposition” to Trump’s election was not very effective, he said, but credited the untold thousands of phone calls to congressional offices that stopped his plan to kill the Affordable Care Act. Beyond that, Kristof turned to leaders in the resistance field.
He asked Gene Sharp, whose works — now in 45 languages and online — have had tremendous success in opposing authoritarians around the world. Sharp and his collaborator, Jamila Raquib, argue that street protests are symbolic but have little success for change. What is needed, they teach, is “meticulous research, networking and preparation.” They emphasize grass-roots organizing, searching out weak spots in an administration — and patience before turning to his list of “198 nonviolent methods,” from strikes to consumer boycotts to mock awards.
Other specialists argue for much the same — be exceptionally well informed on a topic and then meet with legislative members of several levels from your area. Work toward an aggressive response, not defensive, to best get your argument across. Other suggestions: skip the lofty rhetoric and emphasize issues of pocketbooks and corruptions. Join with those who only partially agree with you but share common values. Use ridicule. It really deflates authoritarians.
Kristof sums up well: “In recruiting for the Trump resistance, Stephen Colbert may be more successful than a handful of angry Democratic senators. Trump can survive denunciations, but I’m less sure that in the long run he can withstand mockery.”
Here are Excellent Sources for Further Reading:
• The New York Times Magazine Climate Issue, April 19, 2017: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/magazine/our-climate-future-is-actually-our-climate-present.html?emc=eta1
• Slate, A Threat by Any Other Name, March 6, 2017: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/metropolis/2017/03/cities_are_throwing_out_climate_change_in_favor_of_resilience.html
• Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change, The New York Times, Nov. 28, 2015: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/28/science/what-is-climate-change.html
• The Weekly Standard’s Arsenal to Fight Falsehoods: ‘Facts, Logic and Reason,’ The New York Times, March 26, 2017: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/26/business/weekly-standard-falsehoods-stephen-hayes-mediator.html
• How to Stand Up to Trump and Win,” Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, April 13, 2017: https://www.nytimes.cm/2017/04/13-opinion/how-to-stand-up-to-Trump-and-Win.html
• Politifact – One of a few reliable sources to check facts in stories: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/feb/28/fact-checking-donald-trumps-address-congress/
Lyle Harris, a former reporter in Washington, D.C., is Journalism Professor Emeritus, Western Washington University