Another letter to Mr. Trump
It’s me again. I wrote you last week to say why you should make science a cornerstone of your administration. Don’t feel bad that with all the hubbub of starting up your new job, you haven’t had a chance to get back to me yet. But as I’ve read about some of your likely choices for cabinet posts and advisers, I want to write to you again before it’s too late.
The American people will soon rely on you to sustain our natural ecosystems—clean water, breathable air, unspoiled public lands and all the species, including us, that depend on these resources. I urge you to appoint people with substantial expertise to your cabinet, regardless of their political philosophy. Experienced administrators with the long-term interests of the entire nation at heart are likely to make decisions that both you and I—and more importantly, our children and grandchildren—can live with. For example, William Ruckelshaus was appointed as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency by Richard Nixon, and then a second time 10 years later by Ronald Reagan; in 2015 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
But when I see that contenders for your key environmental positions include those who have served as lobbyists or executives for industries—like oil and gas—that they will regulate, I struggle to find the correct term for this phenomenon. Recalling your campaign promises, I am sure you have no desire to inspire the new slogan: refilling the swamp. It will be near impossible for individuals whose loyalties are one-sided to be effective stewards of the environment.
By contrast, fair-minded environmentally-aware appointments seem far more likely to promote the sorts of policies that will stimulate new industries and generate new jobs. Renewable energy can provide long-term jobs, whereas the future of coal is limited. You need only look at the air right now in India to see what awaits those who fail to pursue clean energy.
It is particularly disconcerting to us scientists that you are considering as EPA administrator someone who leads a group that is “focused on dispelling the myths of global warming.” In the focused intensity needed right now to put together an administration, perhaps you have not had sufficient time to review the scientific evidence for climate change. If you can find a few minutes for this, my fellow scientists will provide you with digestible data to examine; a large fraction of the more than 300 million residents of the US and 7 billion on the planet will think your time considering findings and recommendations from climatologists well spent.
It’s worth remembering that ignoring scientific evidence and professional competence by appealing only to your most science-skeptical and regulation-averse supporters can exact a steep price.
James Watt, a Secretary of the Interior in the 1980s, said back then that, “We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber”*, as he advocated reduced regulations on oil and mining and sought to open up wilderness areas to oil and gas exploration. Watt resigned fewer than three years into the job after a highly controversial tenure. He did, however, make Time magazine’s list of modern history’s top 10 worst cabinet members.
Anne Gorsuch, an EPA administrator also in the 1980s, cut the EPA budget and personnel, relaxed air quality standards, and encouraged the use of pesticides. It may be relevant to today’s politics that she, too, hired staff who came from the very industries that they were being hired to regulate. But Gorsuch refused to provide Congress with documents related to charges of mishandling funds for toxic waste clean-up and was cited for contempt of Congress. She resigned after less than two years on the job.
And perhaps you recall Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who presided over the 2005 response to Hurricane Katrina as it devastated Louisiana. That presidential administration took a severe hit to its stature from Brown’s actions.
During the recent campaign, there was hardly any discussion of the environment. Thus, while those who voted for you may be persuaded of your vision to bring back jobs and eliminate trade agreements, they cannot be said to have endorsed the view that climate change is a hoax. Many of them understand that it is real and that it is a danger. A Pew survey found that, “More than three-quarters of Democrats and most Republicans…say climate scientists should have a major role in policy decisions related to the climate.”
Nothing from the recent election suggests that the majority of the American people support a desire to pollute the planet more drastically or to promote an increased use of fossil fuels that will lead to devastating droughts and floods.
Mr. Trump, you have the rare chance to be acclaimed by the world’s citizenry as the man who saved the planet when many expected that you might destroy it. Seize the opportunity.
Those of you who have similar concerns should write your own letters to the new administration, and encourage your colleagues to do so as well.
*widely quoted in mediatransparency.org but site no longer exists