President-Elect Trump Is An Existential Threat To America's Scientific Legacy

President-Elect Donald Trump campaigning in New Hampshire back in August 2015. Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

President-elect Trump. That will take some getting used to. A gut-wrenching event for an incredible range of unsettling reasons, it has to be highlighted that his election is also an existential threat to America’s scientific legacy.

We at IFLScience have frequently reported on this man’s constantly warped and primarily anti-scientific viewpoints. Although it’s not known at present how much of his agenda he actually believes in or even wishes to pass through the Republican-controlled Congress, we can combine his past statements with his closest advisors – and potential cabinet members – to get an idea.

Let’s take a tour through the possible future of a Trump administration, one that has willfully embraced a tide of anti-intellectualism. America, brace yourself – you are about to swap a president who remarked that the White House Science Fair was “the most fun event of the year” to one who said, “I believe there’s weather.”

Climate Change

Trump’s attitude towards climate change has been one of utter indignation at best and a barrage of conspiratorial nonsense at worst. As is exceedingly well known, Trump claimed that climate change is a Chinese hoax designed to make American manufacturing non-competitive – very peculiar, considering that China’s ratification of the Paris agreement was one of the key steps towards enshrining it in law.

Trump has surrounded himself with climate change deniers, which includes plenty of Republicans and members of the alt-right media world.

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It’s unlikely that many of them genuinely believe that the science behind climate change is the result of a mafia of evil climatologists – especially Trump, who has built a wall around one of his private golf courses in Ireland to stop sea level rise from consuming it. Still, that won’t stop them acting like they do.

He has already outlined his plans for his first 100 days in office, which include restarting the Keystone pipeline, lift funding and mining restrictions on coal, oil and natural gas, and not investing in renewables.

As one study highlighted, this would unleash several billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is despite Trump’s insistence that nuclear power, an efficient low-carbon energy source, is vital for America to secure its energy independence.

Harold Hamm, the conservative CEO of a fossil fuel exploration company and a man Trump once dubbed the “king of energy”, said that all the restrictions on fossil fuels should be lifted, which comes as no surprise to anyone. There’s a good chance that Trump will hope to do just that.

Trump would also scrap much of Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), something which is designed to clean the air, protect the natural world, and invest in low-carbon energy technology. Prominent supporters of his self-destructive urges have previously called the CPP “illegal.”

And then, there’s the Paris agreement, the greatest cooperative framework of the 21st century. Taking around 20 years to plan for and prepare, it officially came into force on November 4. Thanks in no small part to the teamwork between the American and Chinese governments, this pact was rushed through faster than almost any other deal of its kind partly in fear of a Trump presidency.

It’s almost certain that Trump and his prodigal Republican sons and daughters in Congress will do all they can to pull out of this so-called “unconstitutional” pact. To do so would likely doom the world to several degrees of warming, the nightmarish effects of which have been clearly underscored by hundreds of thousands of scientists.

However, there is a genuine hope that Trump’s election has come too late to stop a clean energy revolution. It takes four years to leave the Paris agreement once enshrined in law, and in two years’ time, the midterm elections could result in a Democratic-controlled Senate or House of Representatives.

These climate change-fighting lawmakers could filibuster any attempt Trump makes to leave the agreement, and it’s certain they would keep doing so until he was kicked out of office.

Plenty of delegates at the UN climate summit in Morocco, although downbeat, are defiant that Trump will not hamper their efforts. Although the US could briefly become an active impediment to climate change mitigation, the fact is that renewable energy is getting rapidly cheaper and more accessible.

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Its implementation will continue to grow and expand throughout the US as companies increasingly recognize it will bring economic benefits. By 2040, without any government guidance, nearly a quarter of the US will be powered by renewable sources.

Individual states like New York and California are moving forward with their own low-carbon legislation. Other states that enact a carbon tax will make nuclear power more cost competitive with fossil fuels. For all his sound and fury, there is nothing Trump can do to stop this.

Environmentalism

She might be in charge of conservation soon. Seriously. Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock

All of the above will be a scourge on the environment as well as our own species, of course. Trump has previously said that he wants to stop paying money to the UN as part of the Paris agreement’s plan to help developing nations adjust to low-carbon power sources over time. Instead, he wishes to use it to provide clean air and water to American towns.

This strikes us as curious. If he is going to invest in both the very real regular coal and the almost entirely fictional “clean coal”, where is he going to trap all that air pollution to stop it killing millions of Americans every single year? We’re sure he’ll bury it in his huge chamber of secrets, the very same hiding his tax returns.

A handful of reports claim that he is to put a prominent and fairly aggressive promoter of climate denialism, Myron Ebell, at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team. Once referring to the EPA as the DEP, which apparently stands for the “Department of Environmental,” he audaciously vowed to shut the whole thing down.

Trump told Scientific American that “agencies filled with unelected officials” are catering “to special interests” in response to being asked about how he plans to protect the natural world and preserve biodiversity. As the editorial board noted, “a healthy ecosystem – crucial to the survival of humans and other species – is not a ‘special interest.’”

It’s considerably unlikely that he will live up to Obama’s legacy of protecting more American waters and land than any other president in US history. There’s a good chance much of it could be sold off during business deals to companies that want to either build on it or dig for fossil fuels.

In fact, BuzzFeed reports that Sarah Palin is being considered to head the Department of the Interior, the government organ responsible for the conservation of federal land and natural resources. Just let that sink in for a moment and try not to slam your head into a wall.

Space

Trump has said very little on space, whether that be on NASA’s funding or the role of private space companies. He has previously indicated that he thinks the money spent on space science should be spent on “fixing potholes,” but as we’ve previously reported here, NASA is spectacularly underfunded as it is, and there’s plenty of money to go around.

NASA invests a lot in Earth Science, but Republicans tend to hate this because this involves climate change research, and they are violently allergic to facts that prove them wrong. This will likely be severely defunded, with the money probably being diverted to human space exploration instead – something most Republicans think should be the main focus of space agencies.

Medical Research, Education and Healthcare

Clinton had a robust plan for expanding healthcare coverage, investing in disease prevention research, giving billions to scientists investigating neurodegenerative diseases, supporting mental health and sexually-transmitted infection (STI) mitigation, ad boosting the promotion and investment in STEM education, particularly for women and minorities.

Trump has barely mentioned any of this at all. He has claimed that “there are a host of STEM programs already in existence” and indicated that he dislikes and distrusts the Department of Education. His past comments hint that he wants to see increased “market influences,” perhaps privatization, of educational systems.

The next Secretary of Education? Albert H. Teich/Shutterstock

Terrifyingly, BuzzFeed is also reporting that Ben “the pyramids were built to store grain” Carson – yes, that guy – is top pick for the Secretary of Education. The appointment of this profoundly anti-scientific creationist would really represent the lunatics taking over the asylum.

Trump has offered no specifics on mental health other than the confirmation that it does exist. It afflicts 40 million adults and 17 million children in the US alone, so spotting that this is a problem doesn’t get you any points, we’re afraid.

The only thing he is determined to do is repeal or severely cut down Obamacare, which could rob over 22 million people of health insurance coverage. When it comes to public health and disease prevention, he told Scientific American that “in a time of limited resources,” this may not provide “the greatest bang for the buck.”

Don’t expect funding for disease prevention, including STIs, to shoot up anytime soon. Funding for birth control and sexual health-providing groups like Planned Parenthood – who have recently been given a legal lifeline by President Obama – will be threatened.

With the like of Mike Pence and the Republican establishment in power, it’s very likely that woman’s reproductive rights will be at risk, and even rolled back if a particularly right-wing appointment is made to the Supreme Court.

Clinton considered the growing opioid problem in the US as a health problem, something many drug experts and officials agree with. Trump barely mentions this, but seems to consider it primarily a crime issue. If you want to see how effective that viewpoint is, look at the catastrophic history of the War on Drugs.

Oh, and lest we forget, he isn’t sold on vaccines. In fact, he specifically links them to autism, something that is demonstrably untrue. Expect anti-vaxxers to become emboldened by his viewpoints, and for eliminated diseases like measles to begin making a comeback.

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“I Have A Very Good Brain”

Trump claims to be smart fairly often, something that strikes us as suspiciously defensive. Then again, he “knows words, [he] has the best words,” so fair play to him. Most people don’t know words. If you can read this sentence, then you must be, at the very least, as smart as the future President.

For someone so cognitively advanced, however, he does appear to mention very little about so much science that impacts so many people. Where are all the policy positions on the state of the oceans, or on volcanic or earthquake hazard preparation? What about funding for the National Institutes of Health, investing in technological entrepreneurs, or looking into artificial intelligence or self-driving cars?

Speaking at the UN climate conference in Morocco this week, the Sierra Club’s head Michael Brune told reporters that “Trump must choose whether he will be a President remembered for putting America and the world on a path to climate disaster, or for listening to the American public and keeping us on a path to climate progress.”

He defiantly added that “Trump better choose wisely. Otherwise, we can guarantee him the hardest fight of his life every step of the way.” Although he specifically referred to climate change here, he could be talking for a plethora of scientific fields.

Trump is a uniquely, unprecedentedly, ignorant President-elect with no urge to begin to understand or appreciate the scientific method and its remarkable achievements. The office of President is not as powerful as he might imagine, though, and the arc of progress will still continue towards a scientifically enlightened future whether he likes it or not.

It does, however, require those who are scientists and engineers – or just those who recognize how important science is – to stand up and fight for their profession and their goals. So please, by all means, do give Trump the hardest fight of his life.

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