Monday, November 27, 2017

Science Under Trump

One of the great achievements of the space age is the use of satellites to help us forecast weather. A hurricane hit Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900, killing between 6000 and 12,000 people. Compare that to today when this past fall saw three major storms hit the United States with a total death toll between them of 196. The official list of casualties from Puerto Rico is probably way off, but even if the correct number is in the hundreds, we can see the total number of casualties from the three storms combined is a tiny fraction of what happened in Galveston. The difference? Advance warning.

The reason the death toll in Galveston was so high was because no one knew there was a hurricane on the way. Accounts of that day consistently tell of how people went about their normal business with no idea of what was about to happen. In contrast, people ahead of the storms this year were given plenty of advance warning to prepare. A great deal of the advance warning was a result of the data provided by the weather satellites.

I was encouraged when I read of the recent, successful launch of a new next-generation weather satellite. NOAA-20 is the first of four planned JPSS (Joint Polar Satellite System) satellites equipped with the latest instruments and the ability to push forecasts of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, out to as much as seven days. This satellite is a true scientific marvel and will serve the country well.

So, why is Trump trying to cancel it?

The White House budget for further development of the JPSS program is $50 million. The Senate budget has proposed $419 million. Trump has slashed the budget for the first two missions by more than 50%, from $369.3 million to $180 million. Is this really a cut and not a money shuffle? Well, the Senate Committee on Appropriations “strongly” rejected the administration’s proposed PFO budget cut, stating that it and the unspecified postponement of the PFO satellites “would introduce a weather forecasting risk that this Committee is unwilling to accept.”

Yes, it’s a cut.

Again, you have to wonder why Trump would cut such a vital program that benefits so many Americans. The answer is distressingly simple. Donald Trump, and the people he brought with him to the Executive Branch, hate science. They hate everything about science and everything it does for us.

We can begin with the appointments of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA – one of the most corrupt individuals in Washington and a dedicated hater of anything science. You could also start with the attempted appointment of Sam Clovis to be the chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture, even though he did not hold the necessary minimum qualifications for the position and has a long record of hating science. But, we won’t. Those two points have been hashed over enough. Instead, let’s examine Trump’s budget proposal for federal science programs.

One of the most pathetic sights was the way the NASA budget faced a $600 million decrease in funding (3.1%), but the NASA Administrator was then had to state, “We would like to thank President Trump for his support of the agency in signing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017.”

I guess it could’ve been worse. And, it was for many other science programs. Trump’s proposed budget released last spring had cuts of 29% for the EPA budget, 17% for the National Institutes of Health, 11% for the National Science Foundation (NSF), 16% for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 15% for the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the DOE’s Office of Science and Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy would see a cut of 93%.

Keep in mind these agencies were already severely under funded the previous year. Now, Trump wants to reduce that inadequate funding by a significant amount. For example, NSF was able to approve only 21% of grant proposals in 2016 and expected that rate to fall to 19% in 2017. That is not enough to support the country’s scientific infrastructure. And, former NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher was quoted as saying, “NOAA already functions on a budget well below national requirements. This reduction on top would mean the loss of vital programs that support fisheries, agriculture, transportation, ocean and coastal management, and the scientific research and development essential to national prosperity now and in the future.” That is what Trump wants to do to science in this country. (The good news is that Congress has largely rejected Trump’s recommendations.)

The most egregious example of Trump’s hatred of all-things science is climate change. A Yale Program on Climate Change Communication survey shows that 58% of the public accepts that climate change is mostly caused by human activity. A survey by AP-Norc and the Energy Policy Institute at The University of Chicago put that figure at 61%. These polls indicate a majority of American citizens, regardless of party affiliation, believe that climate change is a serious issue demanding urgent political action.

Trump’s response? A dramatic slashing of all funding related to climate change. Oh, remember how the anti-science crowd kept saying the science wasn’t settled and they only wanted a debate? Remember how Pruitt was proposing a red team/blue team debate? We can see the lies now. Just like everything else the anti-science crowd puts out there, there is no truth in what they say. Only support for the fossil fuel industry providing them with PAC money.

And that, unfortunately, is what climate change has become – special interests money versus science. Science is winning and will eventually overcome the special interests. But, the damage done in the meantime will be hard to fix. But, I get the impression that is exactly what Trump and his people want.

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