The date is November 9th, 2016. Donald Trump wins the election by 77 electoral votes. Scientists and environmentalists worldwide shudder at the thought of a climate-change denier as the leader of the free world. Putting character flaws and questionable ethics aside, did the concerns of the scientific community actually materialise after a year of Trump’s presidency?
In relation to climate change, the defining feature of the president’s tumultuous first year and a half at the helm was the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate agreement in June of last year. The decision was met with a profoundly negative response from academics and world leaders alike. Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted: “If I and my advisors had never learned what Science is or how & why it works, then I’d consider pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord too.” At the general assembly of the UN in New York, Theresa May said, “As the global system struggles to adapt, we are confronted by states deliberately flouting – for their own gain – the rules and standards that have secured our collective prosperity and security”, a statement that acted as a diplomatic stab at the United States’ decision. The withdrawal process requires the US to remain a functioning member of the agreement until 2020. This is said to have slowed progress in areas of research such as renewable energies, as consequential efforts in this field, as in many others, take many years to come to fruition. The withdrawal can be seen as a marker of the administration’s intentions to cut climate change research. This has manifested in a $1bn cut to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) budget and a $133 million reduction in spending on climate-related satellite programs.
Another decision, or lack thereof, made by the government was not to appoint a permanent chief of NASA until over a year after Trump’s inauguration. It was the longest time NASA had been without a permanent administrator since the organisation’s foundation. The delay had serious ramifications for NASA’s ability to act due to the inevitable, looming change in leadership, only finally confirmed this April. With plans to visit Mars still remaining purely conceptual, the lack of a permanent leader since January 2017 meant that NASA could not put any weight behind their efforts to reach the red planet by 2030. This stagnated progress is in stark contrast to the recent rise in private space efforts. Companies like SpaceX have stolen the headlines with the most recent launch of the Falcon Heavy.
These are just two examples, but they display a clear trend. Whether its unfounded scepticism in climate change or it failure to assign crucial roles, the current administration fails to embody characteristics that empower the scientific community to change the world.
Image sourced under the creative commons license.