The Trump administration has been remorselessly hostile to scientific evidence, attacking institutional that dispute his claims, cutting funding for health and environmental bodies, promoted anti-vaccine nonsense, and repudiating public health experts. He has removed environmental regulations, opened up new areas for corporate plunder, and hampered efforts to protect endangered species.
Trump is no strange to climate change denial, denouncing it as a ‘socialist conspiracy’ to reduce American ‘freedom’. Reversing environment protections, he has consistently attacked the scientific consensus on human-induced global warming. His commitment to remove public impediments to untrammelled corporate expansion is unwavering.
There is no question that Trump is hostile to scientific evidence, but today describe his efforts as a ‘war on science’ obscure the political and ideological reasons why he has thrown evidence and rationality under the bus.
Science is not overtly political, and no ideology can restrain scientific research for its own purposes. However, scientists cannot remain indifferent to the political and economic decisions that impact the wider society in which they operate. Ideology should not narrowly dictate what research scientists can and cannot do; but scientific research has political repercussions and ideological underpinnings.
Trump’s dismissal of science that does not meet his conservative ideological requirements has produced a compound crisis, especially in the aftermath of his poor handling of the current pandemic. However, Trump is only the latest politician in a long line of far right ideologues who have undermined public confidence in science.
Since coming to office, Trump has repealed – and is actively reversing – 100 pieces of environmental regulations and laws. From removing obstacles to the drilling and extraction of oil and natural gas, to the reduction of air pollution and emissions restrictions, the Trump administration is fast-tracking the opening up of the environment to exploitation by large corporations, ignoring the scientific evidence that increased dependence on fossil fuels will exacerbate global warming.
Trump, in line with his ultrarightist libertarian views, cynically portrays any kind of government regulation as ‘tyranny’, against which his fight is one of promoting ‘freedom’. Those government regulations – the ones that uphold public health and environmental safety – are the targets of corporate hostility. Exploiting noble sentiments for ‘freedom’, the Republican Party and conservative commentators ignore, dismiss and attack the scientific evidence that underpins these kinds of laws.
The current administration is overhauling the laws governing the definition of a critical habitat designation. Currently, the Endangered Species Act provides for the protection of endangered species by designating a habitat’s status critical. Under Trump’s proposed changes, corporate plunderers would have a veto over any decision to declare critical habitats, thus further imperilling rare species.
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is the nation’s foremost environmental watchdog, yet its powers have been weakened by the Trump administration. Scott Pruitt, the current EPA chief, has installed industry representatives to replace scientific advisers. Pruitt advised Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, and roll back the Obama-era rules for creating clean power plants.
While Trump made the laughable claim that his administration’s handling of the pandemic is ‘phenomenal’, the death toll from the COVID-19 virus reaches 200,000. It is no secret that even politically conservative commentators have denounced the incompetence and wilful neglect exhibited by Trump and his colleagues. Melvin Goodman, former CIA analyst and currently professor of government at John Hopkins university, wrote that:
Trump’s ignorance and indifference toward the novel coronavirus, which is causing tens of thousands of additional deaths, is ironic, given his attacks on Barack Obama for the Ebola outbreak in 2014. Trump proclaimed that “President Obama has a personal responsibility to visit & embrace all people in the US who contract Ebola.”
Trump’s disdain for the science of COVID-19 has its origins and parallels in the decades of climate change denialism. The energy and fossil fuel conglomerates, having spent billions of dollars in promoting misinformation and obfuscation regarding human-induced climate change, prepared a template which today’s Covid deniers follow. The echo chamber of denial has been a long time in the making.
Denouncing scientists as part of a vast ‘socialist conspiracy’ (and China is thrown in for good measure to increase racial paranoia), the fake climate skeptic groups, astroturf citizen organisations and their billionaire backers have undermined public confidence in science. This pattern is being implemented by right-wing politicians in current pandemic began, downplaying and denying its impact and condemning quarantine measures as a conspiracy by duplicitous socialists and big-government tyrants.
Am I suggesting that scientists are our infallible lords and masters? No, I am not. Am I suggesting that every politician needs to be a scientist prior to holding public office? No. Public policies need to be informed by, and based upon, scientific evidence. Trump’s attacks on science have created a compound crisis – in health care, the environment and adverse economic impacts. Lives have been lost because of official neglect.
We need a new climate policy, based on the scientific consensus. The United States has a long history of basing government initiatives on science – the development of computers, space exploration, medical innovations, and modern conveniences to improve our quality of life. A Green New Deal is neither naively utopian nor radically unrealistic, but a practical blueprint to achieve a socially just, ecological and equitable society.