Climate Change News

Scientists Ponder the Way Forward Under Incoming Administration

Eos asked several attendees of the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting for reactions to the U.S. national election. Here are their thoughts.

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The recent U.S. presidential election loomed large last week at the world’s largest annual gathering of Earth and space scientists, the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco, Calif. When Eos asked some of the more than 20,000 scientists at the meeting what they thought the election’s outcome means for the Earth and space sciences, we heard a wide range of responses, from dismissal of the election’s importance to deep concern.

Nearly all respondents seemed to agree that scientists need to move forward with whatever they were doing before the election with confidence that those scientific endeavors are valued and will continue to be supported by our society.

Here we highlight 9 scientists and their thoughts.

Find Opportunities Through Sound Science

Jon White, president and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington, D. C.
Jon White, president and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington, D. C. Credit: Randy Showstack

The election “doesn’t matter because the oceans are nonpartisan,” said Jon White, president and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington, D. C. “The way forward is the same way it has been, because we deal with good ocean science. Any policies, any regulations, any decision need to be based on sound science.” Depending on what a new administration does, “there are different opportunities, whether it’s focusing more nationally on homeland security perhaps or things like climate change,” he said.

Change can be difficult, he added, “but people need to get beyond the paranoia about that change and understand what the opportunities are.” Opportunity, White said, involves discovering “How can we do things better given what’s changing.”

 

Find an Activist Voice

Jane Zelikova, research scientist at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
Jane Zelikova, research scientist at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Credit: Randy Showstack

“We as scientists have to find our compassion, find our emotional strengths, and reach out to people at an emotional and human level,” said Jane Zelikova, a research scientist at the University of Wyoming in Laramie who studies the impacts of climate change on carbon cycling. She is a cofounder of 500 Women Scientists, a group supporting women and science. “If we want to make progress as a society, we have to build back the trust in science and in facts and in data, which is currently just not winning the day.”

“The way forward for us as a community of Earth scientists is to find our activist voice and to find the bravery that we need to speak out when we see injustice, both in terms of human injustice and people of different opinions or backgrounds being under attack,” added Zelikova, currently a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science who is working on climate change policy and the decarbonization of fossil fuels at the U.S. Department of Energy.

 

Evaluate Rhetoric

John Farrell, executive director of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission in Arlington, Va.
John Farrell, executive director of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission in Arlington, Va. Credit: Randy Showstack

“There is concern when some of these nominated people have expressly put out positions that are counter to the scientific understanding,” said John Farrell, executive director of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, an independent federal agency in Arlington, Va. “What I don’t know is how much of that is rhetoric, how much will turn into practice, [and] how much counterpressure there will be.”

“Panic is not called for,” he added. “People need to take a breath and understand that we have a responsibility to do the kind of work that we do, and we have to continue on in that work, and there is support for that kind of work.”

 

Ensure Open Access of Data

Denise Hills, program director for energy investigations at the Geological Survey of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.
Denise Hills, program director for energy investigations at the Geological Survey of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. Credit: Randy Showstack

“Sometimes new administrations want to control the message and control the data, but I think we do need to push back on that a little bit,” said Denise Hills, president-elect of AGU’s Earth and Space Science Informatics focus group. She said there is a “wait and see attitude” about whether the incoming administration will continue efforts toward open access of information while clearly acknowledging the origin of the data.

“Openness and accessibility need to continue,” added Hills, program director for energy investigations at the Geological Survey of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

 

Be Careful of Transferring Disappointment

Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University in New York City.
Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University in New York City. Credit: Randy Showstack

“One has to be careful not to transfer one’s anger or disappointments or frustrations about the political system beyond what makes sense,” cautioned Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University in New York City. The incoming administration may make some changes, but “the great majority of what’s going on in science and technology will continue,” he said.

“I think we need to be careful not to mix up this ‘I’m angry because my team lost’ with thinking that these other people are incapable of understanding the value of science and technology, medicine, and research and development.”

 

Counterbalance Climate Denial

Kathy Dervin, public health professional and board member of the U.S. Climate and Health Alliance.
Kathy Dervin, public health professional and board member of the U.S. Climate and Health Alliance. Credit: Randy Showstack

“Anything that pulls [climate agreements] back from implementation is, in fact, damaging,” said Kathy Dervin, a public health professional and board member of the U.S. Climate and Health Alliance. The “climate science is decided, and there is no turning back on that.”

“If the public doesn’t hear the truth, the real side of the story, then now more than ever, given that many people in the new federal administration are avowed climate deniers, there has to be a [counter]balance to that,” she said.

 

Force Trump to Think About Climate Change

Ramesh Singh, professor of Earth system science and remote sensing at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.
Ramesh Singh, professor of Earth system science and remote sensing at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. Credit: Randy Showstack

“The scientific community must show the evidence [about climate change] so that they can force [Trump] to think about it,” said Ramesh Singh, professor of Earth system science and remote sensing at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. “Earth and space science scientists must go to the press and use social media,” said Singh, president-elect of the AGU Natural Hazards focus group.

 

Hang in There

Charles Kennel, professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.
Charles Kennel, professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. Credit: NASA

“There is every reason to be concerned” about the direction of the incoming administration related to science, but scientists should “hang in there,” said Charles Kennel, professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. “I’m not going to give up thinking about climate,” he said. “The problems are there, the issues are there, they’re very important, [and] most of the countries of the world agree they’re important.” The United States is “going to show leadership for the climate no matter what, because you’ve got too many people interested and involved in it.”

 

Use Science to Serve the World

Ghassem Asrar, director of PNNL’s Joint Global Change Research Institute, located at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Ghassem Asrar, director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, located at the University of Maryland, College Park. Credit: Randy Showstack

Earth observations provide societal and economic benefits, for example, for agriculture, fishing, and shipping, said Ghassem Asrar, director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, located at the University of Maryland, College Park. “This is not about climate science per se. It’s [about] how we can take advantage of science and technology to serve us and the rest of the world.”

The scientific community needs to learn how to better tell the story of these broad benefits to Congress and the public, he said. “That story needs to be told time and time again.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Scientists ponder the way forward under incoming administration, Eos, 97, https://doi.org/10.1029/2016EO065287. Published on 20 December 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • davidlaing

    I’m troubled by the absolutist statements of some of the respondents. Science is not an absolutist enterprise, or shouldn’t be, at least, yet there is an unfortunate tendency of many people, including many scientists, to regard some aspects of science as “settled” or beyond dispute. That just isn’t what science is about. It should always remain open to new and alternative ideas as long as those ideas are consistent with demonstrable and replicable data from the real world.

    Especially troubling is that the theory of greenhouse warming, although vigorously upheld by a vocal sector, appears to have no actual support from hard-data studies, and at least two such studies have actually shown it to be invalid (Google “Interesting Climate Sensitivity Analysis” for one of them). The failure of scientists to acknowledge and repair this serious deficiency has led to an unwarranted assumption that this important and influential theory is sound, and therefore not subject to questioning.

    I, myself, was for most of my scientific career, under this impression. Having examined the evidence, however, I am no longer so certain, and I now feel that science generally should return to its former mode of cautious skepticism, in which all hypotheses and theories are routinely subject to reality checking against hard data from the Earth system before they are simply accepted as inviolate.

    • Manuel Fiadeiro

      Your position was reasonable in the 1950’s. It is untenable today!

      • davidlaing

        So what’s changed?

  • Richard Cronin

    When California legislators are threatening dairy farmers over cow farts, you know the looney tunes are running the state. I would heartily recommend a few books: “Environmentalism gone Mad” by Alan Carlin, “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” by Alex Epstein, and “Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalism, Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Anti-Humanitarianism” by Robert Zubrin. The term pseudo-scientist applies specifically to the vast bulk of the AGU.

  • Chuckbladerunner

    Admiral White’s comments are either wishful thinking or simply naive. Even his use of the phrase “sound science” demonstrates that he has bought into the language of the Radical-Right’s War on Science. There was a time when Republicans believed in protecting the environment; after all, Teddy Roosevelt found our National Park System, and the EPA, NOAA, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act all came into being during the Nixon Administration. However, since the 1980s, a small group of right-wing billionaires have gradually corrupted our country’s political system, especially the Republican Party, and used its bought-and-paid-for politicians and lobbyists to promote its so-called free enterprise, anti-environmental agenda. A Trump presidency and Tea Party Congress is the culmination of this reprehensible group’s steady efforts over nearly five decades. It’s all documented in Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.” Hillary Clinton once referred to a “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy”, and everybody thought she was just being paranoid. Well, my fellow Earth scientists, welcome to Trumplandia, where truth doesn’t matter, common decency doesn’t matter, and you can be sure as Hell that science doesn’t matter. It’s up to all of us that believe in truth, common decency, and science to resist the powers unleashed by this corruption of American Democracy. Anybody that sees “opportunities” for the Earth sciences arising from the results of the last election seriously needs to open his or her eyes to the reality of the situation.

  • wd73383

    This is typical media BS, inducing fear, uncertainty, doubt for which it is already well-known. At least now we will get government leaders who know business and have experience keeping their checkbooks balanced. No more “community organizers” whatever the hell they are.

  • Adrian Tuck

    I think some of the respondents are being a little too cowed by the prospects of what the incoming administration can do. I recommend the late Ralph Cicerone’s article in the 15th August 2016 issue of EOS. It’s a fact that the science will work as it always does, and that should be our message: that whatever our opinions and those of the general public are, including the deniers, the facts and the science will prevail in the end. In the meantime, the deniers and ranters (aka “liars”) may do a lot of damage, but science is international and most of the more advanced countries are a long way down the road of replacing fossil fuels. The Bush administrations of 2000-2008 tried to cut off the scientific messenger’s head, but came unstuck with W’s catastrophic performance over Katrina. The correct approach to bullies is to stand up to them rather than trying to accommodate them. Laughter is what bullies can’t stand, and my prediction is there’s going to be plenty of scope for ridicule in the next 4 years.

    • James Butler

      Good points, Adrian. Jerry Brown said as much in his “Jerry Brown” way during his presentation at this year’s fall meeting. Anyone who missed it might want to look it up on AGU-On-Demand. It’s only 20 min, but he makes a good point that the truth is what it is and that the denialists really don’t have a chance against it — not in the long run. He also cited some of the complexities of trying to run the denial game heavy-handedly, in that it simply will not work with the diversity of governments and businesses throughout the country.