You Can’t Fire the Planet
By George Harvey
Many Americans think of science as beyond the reach of ordinary people or even local government. Where amateurs among our founding fathers enjoyed making exciting scientific discoveries and developing inventions, in our more recent history we came increasingly to regard ourselves as dependent on large organizations, especially the federal government. We thought this was quite proper because much as we appreciated and respected science, we were amateurs.
Now, however, other amateurs who have no respect whatever for science, or even truth, are running the country. Many of us feel there is nothing we can do but stand around and wring our hands.
There is something we can do, however. We can take charge. We can protect and support both science and the scientists. We can do this effectively, as long as we accept truth as truth and facts as facts.
Those who are dismayed at our government abandoning the environmental and climate protections can take heart in an example from California. Governor Jerry Brown, speaking to a group of scientists, addressed a question about what that state could do if Donald Trump delivered on a promise to cut NASA’s funding for climate research. His tone was defiant.
“If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” he told them. “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight.”
It would not be the first time the states – or universities, non-profit organizations, and even ordinary people – took things into their own hands. For example, when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released updated hardiness zone maps in 2005, it was quickly found that they could be used to show that climate change was well under way, simply by comparing them with the 1990 maps. The White House ordered the USDA to withdraw the 2005 maps and replace them with the old ones.
This cover-up did not work, however. The National Arbor Day Foundation (NADF) was one of several organizations that quickly produced accurate maps to replace the ones used by the government to cover up data. Now, the NADF issues up-to-date maps more regularly than the USDA did. (http://bit.ly/arbor-day-zone-changes)
The people, organizations, and states of this country can take on the job of keeping science alive in a day when “alternate truths” are issued from the central government. Even the hard jobs of organizing satellites to do research and getting detailed information to those who need it are within our grasp.
If the amateurs running the show in Washington insist on ignoring the facts, offering alternatives to truth, and silencing scientists, then they will not last long. Reality has a habit of being very present in the real world, and it is not dependent on the wishes of those who find it disagreeable. Reality cannot be trumped.
As more and more businesses and increasing numbers of people see that climate change is causing scores of billions of dollars in damages each year, the political influence of climate-change denial will fall on fewer and fewer attentive ears. Our job is to limit the damage until that time. It is coming very, very soon.