Inauguration update: Since we first published this piece, two things have happened. One, Donald Trump was duly elected to be the 45th President of the United States of America. Two, both his cabinet and the angry orange one himself have continued to spout some profoundly anti-scientific things.
So we thought this article deserved an update. Try not to facepalm too much as you fear for the future of the world.
Happy inauguration day, everyone. Donald Trump is about to sit in the Oval Office and reign utter chaos down upon America.
Frankly, the idea that this bizarre demagogue is now the most powerful person in the world is a terrifying idea for a cornucopia of reasons, but one particular facet of this ludicrous rage-sputterer that doesn’t get enough attention is his flagrant disregard for science.
Let’s take a look at all the scientific theories and facts that The Donald – and his newly minted and profoundly unqualified cabinet – claims not to believe.
Several decades ago, the Republican Party that he is now the de facto leader of was, believe it or not, fairly pro-science. However, spurred on by its support of the fossil fuel energy industry, it rapidly shifted into a political organization that considers climate change nothing more than lies fabricated by conspiring scientists and environmental zealots.
Of course, this is a ridiculous line to take, but Trump has embraced it wholeheartedly. He considered man-made climate change a conspiracy long before his election campaign began, infamously espousing that it was a hoax conjured up by the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.
This would seem like a rather elaborate joke for the Chinese government to pull, particularly considering that they have signed up to the groundbreaking Paris agreement designed to mitigate man-made climate change.
It appears that a whole host of scientific organizations, including NASA, are also in on the prank – after all, they constantly produce data demonstrating how clear the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change actually is.
Since the election’s grim termination, Trump has taken a somewhat softer tone on climate science, claiming that there is “some connectivity” between climate change and human activity. However, he clearly doesn’t know the first thing about it – just recently, he claimed wind was a “very deceiving thing,” and that wind turbines throw steel into the atmosphere.
They do not.
His cabinet is also now chock full of climate change deniers, almost as if it was a requirement to be considered for the posts in the first place. Many of them are directly funded by fossil fuel conglomerates, including the Murray Energy Corporation, the largest coal group in the States.
Take the incoming head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt. An attorney general with a vendetta, he has spent much of his career suing the EPA for attempting to impose nationwide emissions caps. One analyst compared this appointment to putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department.
And then you’ve got the blundering mess that is Rick Perry. Having failing to win the Republican presidential nomination two times in a row, he is known for failing to remember what he is actually supposed to do in his new job as the head of the Department of Energy (DoE).
He has previously stated that he wished to dismantle the department, despite the fact that, when prompted, he infamously couldn’t even recall the name of it. Being a climate change denier, it’s not clear how he will handle the fact that the DoE handles research into clean energy.
As the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, the US needs to work with China – the more prolific contributor to global warming – to lead the way on climate change mitigation. The Paris agreement is a great framework to work from, but Trump wants to pull out of it. This would doom both the natural world and the global economy.
Trump likely doesn’t believe his own conspiracy theories on the subject – after all, he wants to build a wall around a golf course of his to stop rising sea levels eroding it away. However, he is a known fan of using “clean coal” – not actually a real thing, by the way – to produce energy, simply because it’s currently cheaper to do so in the short-term than to invest in revolutionary clean energy sources.
So really, his climate change denial is likely one motivated by immediate monetary savings, rather than far more significant long-term gains in terms of new jobs, better infrastructure, energy independence, and a better environment for the next generation. Mind you, his comments on climate change are often so incoherent that it’s almost impossible to know what he really thinks about the issue.
“I believe global warming is the single biggest problem in our country, but it’s made of the nuclear variety,” Trump said at a campaign stop in Indiana last May. “That’s the one we have to be careful of.”
Right. No wonder climate scientists are frantically backing up their data in time for the inauguration.
When asked which government departments he would eliminate to save money, he told Fox News: “Oh absolutely. The Department of Environmental, I mean the DEP is killing us… environmentally. It’s just killing our businesses.”
As pointed out by Stephen Colbert, the DEP doesn’t exist, and even if it did, the P in that acronym doesn’t actually stand for anything. Presumably, Trump was referring to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which aims to conserve the natural world, keep water and air quality high, and to protect human health – clearly, things that Trump doesn’t care about.
Trump would restart construction on the Keystone XL oil pipeline that President Obama effectively shut down, and he’s quite the fan of fracking, a controversial method of getting natural gas. Both are environmentally destructive, but to Trump, this is irrelevant.
Then you’ve got Ryan Zinke, the shiny new head of the Department of the Interior. Long refusing to accept that climate science is settled, he’s been put in charge of protecting federal lands. This is a shame, considering he has spent his career pushing back against any measures to protect the environment, while also being a huge proponent of fossil fuel use.
The Donald also seems to firmly believe that vaccines cause autism. This is a thoroughly debunked idea that gained steam thanks to the unscrupulous Andrew Wakefield, who published a paper in the Lancet falsely linking the condition with the MMR jab, and Trump seems to use his own anecdotal evidence to corroborate this viewpoint.
“People that work for me, just the other day, two years old, beautiful child went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later, got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic,” Trump told a televised Republican debate last September.
The link between vaccines and autism is utter nonsense, of course, but spreading these views means that people who would be about to inoculate their children sometimes don’t “just in case” they get autism from it. As a direct consequence of various politically-motivated – or otherwise brainwashed – organizations spreading these lies, there have been disease outbreaks like measles in the US and abroad.
Since the election, Trump has met with prominent anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr. to discuss setting up an autism committee. Things are not looking good.
Trump has proudly declared multiple times that he doesn’t need much sleep at all. “You know, I’m not a big sleeper,” Trump said in November 2016. “I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what’s going on.”
Research has shown that this little sleep reduces a person’s ability to think rationally, to control their emotions, and to even distinguish between moral and immoral choices. Their long-term memory is severely hampered. One study shows that around 18 hours without sleep impairs your cognitive functioning so much that you might as well be inebriated.
So if Trump genuinely only sleeps for three hours a night, then he’ll essentially be constantly drunk as he makes world-changing decisions in the White House. Drunk Trump, with his finger on the nuclear button – “mortifying” doesn’t even come close.
Remarkably, Trump doesn’t think the Earth is flat, or that the Moon landings didn’t happen. However, he doesn’t seem that keen on NASA’s attempts to conquer the stars, even if he did refer to NASA as “wonderful” in a recent Reddit AMA.
Back in November 2015, a 10-year-old-boy asked Trump what he thought of NASA. “Space is terrific, space is terrific,” he said, impersonating an echo chamber. “Right now, we have bigger problems – you understand that? We've got to fix our potholes. You know, we don't exactly have a lot of money.”
The US is the wealthiest country in the world, with a GDP of $17.9 trillion, nearly twice that of second-place China’s. Since about 2009, its economy has gone from strength to strength, and a part of that is thanks to NASA. The venerable space agency makes $10 for every dollar spent on it.
So funding NASA doesn’t just help us explore the universe – it boosts the economy. Currently, the federal budget for NASA is 0.4 percent of the total. Defense, on the other hand, makes up 12.6 percent of the total, which means that it could pay for 29 NASAs.
There’s clearly enough money to go around to fund NASA. In fact, its funding should clearly be increased.
You might also know that NASA spends billions of dollars each year on earth science research, particularly climate change. So it’s a crying shame that Trump’s administration is set to completely defund the agency’s earth science research division, with the President’s space advisor claiming that it’s all just “politically correct” science.
A Wall of Ignorance
So, Trump has won the ultimate prize. From January 20, we are all in deep trouble. It’s hard to tell how much of these standpoints he actually buys into, and how many he’s been saying just to generate buzz amongst his supporters.
As we wrote back in November, Trump is a unique threat to America’s scientific legacy. He’s set to do plenty of damage, but you are not powerless to stop him.
Whenever you can, vote for lawmakers that actually care about science. Make your voice heard, support researchers in any way you can, and shut down anti-intellectualism whenever it rears its ugly head. We, for one, are with you.
Remember, Trump once wrote that “controversy, in short, sells.” For the love of science, folks – don’t buy into it.