It’s crucial to be proactive for the climate

In November I wrote quite an upbeat post urging people that ‘Political changes do not have to end the fight against climate change’.

The post came, of course, in the days after the election of Donald Trump as president of the US and it was an attempt to share the strong feeling I had that people all around the world needed to carry on championing the cause of addressing climate change and that we could — and should — continue to influence things positively even without the backing of powerful governments.

I am very much on the ‘glass half full’ side of the optimism/pessimism spectrum. However, even my optimism has been shaken and surprised by the speed and scale of Trump’s anti-environment and anti-science actions of the past few days.

This article in the New York Times gives a clear but depressing picture of what happened to US environmental progress just yesterday. The speed with which the new administration in the US is working to unpick work to combat climate change is frightening.

The news that White House web pages on climate change had been taken down following Trump’s inauguration was to be expected; a new administration would inevitably have their own web content. The more worrying thing is that a search for ‘climate’ on the replacement pages now only brings up three results (as of 25th January): two that refer to a articles about former first ladies and one worrying page called An America First Energy Plan that says:

“ For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.”

Science more generally seems to be taking a frightening hit from the new administration too. For many years, US politicians have debated and wrangled over various bills calling for open access to federally-funded research (see, for example, this news from 2010 and this update from 2015). The debates have been prolonged and complicated and I confess that I am not up-to-date with the current status on these efforts. However, none of the previous history of the public access discussions in the US has been anything like the stories that began to emerge from federally funded research bodies yesterday.

Buzzfeed reported that:

“ The US Department of Agriculture has banned scientists and other employees in its main research division from publicly sharing everything from the summaries of scientific papers to USDA-branded tweets …”

Later in the day, an article in the Huffington Post reported that:

“ Multiple federal agencies have told their employees to cease communications with members of Congress and the press...”

And between me drafting this article over breakfast (UK time) and posting it at lunchtime, a friend shared another frightening article with me: Donald Trump orders Environmental Protection Agency to delete all climate change information from its website. Before the inauguration, my friend noted, the EPA was putting out about four to six press releases a day. According to this latest article:

“ Now scientists are scrambling to save some of the most important parts of the EPA’s website before they are deleted off the internet entirely.”

The enormous efforts of climate researchers, computer scientists and librarians to backup climate data earlier this month seem to have been wise and far-sighted.

So where does this leave the message I shared in November? I am going to have to concede that addressing climate change in the Trump era will be an even tougher challenge than I’d anticipated and one that will require people being proactive about being informed and making choices. It will not be enough to assume that good information will be available in or from the US. Since Friday’s inauguration we have already been introduced to the notion of ‘alternative facts’. It will not be enough to assume that lobbying the US government will be have any impact.

However, I think the suggestions in my last piece still hold true, especially the different ways to lobby and use purchasing power to influence companies, organizations and governments.

The fact remains that money is a powerful driving force and that businesses need sales. Trump may be working to strip away energy efficiency requirements from automotive manufacturers but customers can still insist on and choose to buy more energy-efficient cars — or, indeed, look at alternative forms of transport. And the same argument can be applied to many other things. We may have to work hard to avoid the easy choices. And we have to tell people what we are doing so that addressing climate change action never returns to the political shadows.

If the information to make these choices and to lobby for the environment is hard to find in the US, then there is plenty of information still available from the rest of the world. The European Union has done and supported lots of great work on environmental legislation and research. There is also plenty of climate-change research being done in the world’s poorer countries, which are often on the frontline of seeing the effects of climate change. The organization that I work for does a lot to support high-quality Southern research and its use in policy making. I write this blog in a personal capacity but please get in touch if you’d like more information and links.

Individuals outside of the US will be happy to share experience and advise too. Whatever the moves towards national isolation made last year, science is a global endeavour — and actions that affect this planet go far beyond national borders. Let’s keep dialogue open on social media and other platforms for global information sharing.

The issue of climate change is bigger than one country — and it is vital. Let’s not give up. Good luck everyone!

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