This election campaign has been so disheartening to me as a woman, as a climate scientist, and as a former member of the so-called and much-maligned “political class” that I haven’t even wanted to write about it. I’ve felt personally targeted by Trump’s misogynistic, anti-intellectual rhetoric, in a way that I never have by previous Republican nominees for president, so I can only imagine what ethnic and religious minorities are feeling. This campaign has also all but spoiled the satisfaction I would have otherwise felt at casting my first vote for a woman for President of the United States, by infusing that moment of pride and pleasure with a fog of crippling fear and disgust for the alternative, and that is something I find very difficult to forgive.
That said, I’ve decided to swallow my profound loathing of this campaign to write about something that I haven’t seen in any mainstream outlet thus far: the effect of a Trump presidency on geosciences, specifically atmospheric science, in the United States. I do not exaggerate in the slightest when I say that the impacts would be truly catastrophic to this field.
This is not a long post, because it doesn’t need to be. The facts are out there. I’m just tying them together. And my conclusion is that there is no reason for any atmospheric scientist or even amateur weather nerd to vote for this person. Not even climate-change denier scientists.
Decimating Government Research Jobs and Grants
Trump may or may not be a “drown the government in the bathtub” Republican in his core, but there’s little doubt that he would gladly do the bidding of the Tea Party Republicans in Congress. The Republican Chair of the House Science Committee is a radical named Lamar Smith, who not only is a climate change denier, but who has abused his power to harass climatologists in NOAA—and in the private nonprofit sector!—and accuse them of committing mass research fraud. He’s basically been conducting a McCarthy-esque witch hunt against the atmospheric science community because he doesn’t want to believe that climate change is real.
But he isn’t the only danger in Congress. Every few years since the early 1980s, with the exception of the Clinton years, the far right in Congress has pushed some sort of bill that would privatize the National Weather Service or massively reduce funding for NOAA, NASA, or the National Science Foundation. In addition to employing research scientists in the government sector, these divisions are the primary source of public grant money for academics. The privatization bills have so far always been blocked by a president in opposition or (in the case of former Senator Rick Santorum’s 2005 attempt to cripple the NWS) massive organizing on the part of the atmospheric science community. But in the event of a Trump presidency, the stability of these science agencies would be wholly dependent on the ability of Democrats to keep such bills from reaching the floor and on decent, moderate Republicans to not vote for them. (It is exceedingly unlikely at the time of this writing, with the orangeman having less than a 10% chance of being elected, but if that should happen, Republicans would hold Congress.)
On Oct. 22, Trump, who has infamously tweeted that he thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax, also announced that he would freeze federal hiring across the board. This would affect young scientists the most of anyone. Postdoctoral scientists typically are not federal employees, but are instead funded by research grants that pay for their salaries—but most of the time, after completing a postdoctoral fellowship, a scientist will seek to be fully and officially employed at the agency that sponsored them or a closely collaborating one. That wouldn’t happen with Trump’s plan. This would mean that these postdocs would either “age out” of their jobs, or that the sponsoring agencies would avoid taking on new postdocs because they were loyal to their current ones and did not want to throw them to the wolves. The next generation of science graduates, people with Ph. D.s, the most highly educated workers in the country, would find themselves unemployed and with limited opportunities in their field. So much for job creation and America as a global leader. This might even make part of Trump’s ignorant tweet about China true: If American climate science is decimated, as it would be, somebody would fill the void.
The War on Advocacy and Policy Wonkery
Trump also proposed “reforming” lobbying, redefining it to include many activities that are currently not defined as such, and imposing an even longer ban on former members of Congress and Congressional staff from engaging in it. This is the clearest shot yet in the ongoing anti-intellectual war on policy experts. This sort of proposal would disproportionately hurt the nonprofit sector and issue advocacy, because corporate lobbyists can always come from within corporations. It is incomprehensible to me why so many people want to prevent the most knowledgeable and informed people in a subject—legislation and advocacy, in this case—from doing it. The reason we’re in this state is because of a glaring disregard for knowledgeable people.
Trump has also displayed a tendency to want to sue anyone who criticizes him, and the aforementioned Rep. Lamar Smith has abused his power in the House of Representatives to issue subpoenas to environmental advocacy groups with whom he has political disagreements. Taken as a whole, this sort of climate would be profoundly chilling to scientists who wish to be involved in policy. I think there should be more scientists involved in policy, not fewer, and a Trump administration would take us back even further. This would be far worse than the days of the Bush administration in which scientists were pressured politically on climate change research.
You Don’t Have To Like Her
Many environmentalists, I’ve learned, have a profound dislike and distrust of Hillary Clinton for her comparatively moderate-liberal positions, a distrust which has only been reinforced by WikiLeaks documents. Honestly, I’m more inclined toward Hillary’s moderate pragmatic liberalism myself than I am towards more leftist approaches to policy problems, so I may not be the best person to speak about this. However, that said, there can be no choice for climate scientists and geoscientists in general this election. One major party candidate would decimate the field. The other, you might not agree with or trust on some environmental causes, but she won’t put you out of a job. She might consider some environmentalists counterproductive radicals, but she won’t harass anyone over the content of their research.
This election is not a choice between the lesser of two evils, because Hillary Clinton is not evil, and it baffles me that anyone on the left side of center could think she is. You don’t have to agree with her on everything, and no one with a mic is saying that you should. But disagreement on policy details or tactics does not make her evil. Hillary Clinton probably isn’t going to be your personal friend, either, but that is also beside the point: Most of us can be friends with people and still not agree with them about every single detail of politics. (And if you really think you can’t be friends with someone unless you and that person agree 100% about everything, then the problem is you, not them.) The bottom line is that of the major party candidates in this election, the people who stand a measurable chance of becoming president, one of them is a declared enemy of atmospheric science who would set this country’s research leadership back immeasurably, and the other is a friend (or at a bare minimum, an ally) who would Keep American Science Great. There is no choice here.