Science Policy & Funding News

Trump’s State of the Union Address Ignores Climate Change

President is faulted for failing to mention climate change and the impacts of the government shutdown on science.

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Although President Donald Trump gave several nods to science and U.S. energy dominance in his State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday evening, he never addressed climate change. Nor did he talk about the impact of the recent government shutdown—and the possibility of another one next week—on U.S. federal science agencies and on science research.

The president mentioned “our giant leaps of science and discovery,” recognized American accomplishments in space, and hailed the “revolution in American energy” that has made the country “the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.”

However, several people who attended the SOTU as guests of members of Congress told Eos that they were disappointed that the president did not address climate change.

A Speech That Was “Beyond Disappointing”

“The Trump administration has been silencing science for 2 years now and pretending that climate change doesn’t exist, despite the excellent work of [its] own scientists. Trump’s SOTU was more of the same,” Joel Clement, senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Eos.

“While it was exciting to be at the SOTU event and meet so many strong voices for climate action and social justice, the speech itself was beyond disappointing,” said Clement, a former executive at the U.S. Department of the Interior who was a whistleblower about the Trump administration’s climate and science policies. Clement attended the SOTU as a guest of Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine). Clement said that “not only did [Trump] ignore the great challenge of climate change, as expected” in his address, but that the president also “took the opportunity to brag about our nation’s economic dependence upon fossil fuel production, a dependence that is holding our economy hostage to an outdated energy supply and creating new risks for Americans on the front lines of climate change impacts.”

Clement added that the speech included “nothing about embracing a transition to renewable energy, nothing about reducing risk, nothing about the need to prepare our cities and towns for the dramatic changes ahead, nothing about investing in the science we need to inform bold new energy and climate solutions.”

A “Deafening” Silence About Climate

Leon W. Russell, chair of the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told Eos that he was very disappointed by the lack of real substance in the president’s speech regarding climate change.

“His silence on the climate crisis is deafening,” said Russell, who attended the SOTU as a guest of Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.). “Climate justice for the NAACP means recognizing that communities of color and low-income communities are heavily impacted by global warming and policies which increase pollution in our communities; yet we are often overlooked regarding access to resources to combat the climate crisis and rarely invited to the decision-making table.”

Lisa Graumlich, dean of the College of the Environment at the University of Washington and a member of AGU’s Board of Directors, attended the SOTU as a guest of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). Graumlich, a paleoclimatologist and Earth scientist, told Eos that “the intelligence, energy, and dedication of young congressional staffers, coupled with the energy and vision of some of the newly elected members of Congress, give me hope like I haven’t had in years about having science-based policies that will address climate change.”

Democrats Castigate Trump over Climate Change

Democrats on three congressional committees that have scheduled hearings about climate change took Trump to task for not addressing climate change in his speech. “Not once did the President mention perhaps the biggest challenge of our time: climate,” Democrats on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology tweeted during the speech. The science committee will hold a hearing on the state of climate science on 12 February.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), new chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, tweeted, “Trump and his cronies have spent the last 2 years leaving our environmental future in the hands of the fossil fuel industry, denying #ClimateChange, and imperiling the public health of our communities.” That committee holds a hearing today on climate change impacts and the need for action.

Also, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.‏ (D-N.J.), new chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, tweeted, “We heard a lot of talk from @realDonaldTrump tonight on manufactured crises, but we heard nothing on one of the most important challenges of our time: #ClimateChange.” The committee holds a hearing today on addressing the environmental and economic effects of climate change.

Fear of a Second Government Shutdown

Trump also drew criticism for not mentioning the recent 35-day government shutdown and its impact on science.

“There are thousands of scientists, researchers, and students across America—like those mentioned in the president’s State of the Union—who are making giant leaps in science and discovery backed by federal investment. Sadly, more than $1.3 billion in fundamental scientific research and its promise of innovation was put on hold during the last government shutdown, leaving America’s research universities scrambling to keep projects solvent and threatening our nation’s global leadership in science and technology,” Heather Bené, president of the Science Coalition, told Eos. The group is a nonprofit organization of more than 50 leading U.S. public and private research universities.

“Only 10 days separate us from another shutdown of these critical federal research agencies, putting American scientific research and innovation in the crosshairs again,” Bené said, referring to a temporary federal budget agreement that expires on 15 February and could trigger another shutdown if the agreement is not extended. “We urge the president and Congress to agree on a long-term spending measure that prioritizes federal research investment without delay.”

Trump Touts Space Accomplishments

Space was one area of science that Trump highlighted. With Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin seated in the balcony near First Lady Melania Trump, the president noted that 2019 is the fiftieth anniversary of that historic mission when NASA astronauts “flew a quarter of a million miles through space to plant the American flag on the face of the Moon.” Trump added, “This year, American astronauts will go back to space on American rockets.”

“It is no accident that the president used NASA’s greatest achievement in human spaceflight as an example of our nation united,” Casey Dreier, senior space policy adviser at the Planetary Society, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit group, told Eos. “Space exploration does unite us: Its repeated achievements remind us that working together, we can solve literally some of the hardest problems in the universe. Space brings out the best in us, and I’m pleased to see that the president feels the same way.”

“I hope that the White House will use the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo to build widespread support for an expansive, exciting space science and exploration program,” Dreier said. “Launching American astronauts on American rockets is just the beginning. All the president has to do is to prioritize NASA in his budgets and policies. Congress has already demonstrated a willingness to support a vibrant space program. The best is yet ahead if we choose to pursue it.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: Read AGU CEO and executive director Chris McEntee’s response to the State of the Union.

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Trump’s State of the Union address ignores climate change, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO115629. Published on 06 February 2019.
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