By John J. O’Grady
The Environmental Protection Agency has long been considered one of the world’s leading environmental and human health research organizations. But it is being financially undermined and having its workforce decimated by the Trump administration as it changes the priorities and role science plays.
Since the EPA was established in 1970, scientific integrity has provided the foundation for its policies and decisions made on behalf of the American people. The Agency research was guided by scientific ethics, along with a stringent peer-review process designed to ensure that all decisions were founded on credible research, quality data and the sound application of facts, law and science.
Today, most citizens do not know the degree to which science is under siege in the United States. The Trump administration is scrubbing scientific data from all federal government websites. The American Association for the Advancement of Science and other scientific and engineering groups have urged, unsuccessfully, President Trump to authorize the role of scientific advisory boards and respect the importance of accurate data in compliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. We must remind elected officials what founding father Thomas Jefferson meant when he said, “Science is my passion, politics is my duty.”
The recent efforts of the Trump administration to remove scientists from the Science Advisory Board indicates a move to ‘stack the deck’ with industry-inclined experts who deny climate change. This administration has not only released many of the expert scientists, but has also proposed slashing funding for the Board by up to 84 percent. Integrity and leadership begins at the top.
These changes should not take anyone by surprise since it is well-known that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt denies climate science and the impact of carbon dioxide on global climate change—or at least the fact that humans are causing the increase in CO2. Consequently, we are now in a position of not only undermining the role of science at the EPA, but also doubting the world’s number one environmental concern: global climate change.
Anyone who has ever used a microwave oven can understand the basics of climate change science. Microwaves work by causing the water molecules in food to vibrate intensely, causing friction. The heat generated by the vibration of the water molecules is what cooks the food.
The sun does the same thing to greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a concern because it constitutes about 82 percent of the atmospheric GHGs. There are, of course, both natural and human sources of carbon dioxide, but the only rational explanation for the rapid increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is the rapid industrialization of the world since the mid-1700s. Since then, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by over 40 percent.
Although methane and nitrous oxide have a greater global climate change potential, carbon dioxide is of such interest because it has a lifetime of almost 100 years once introduced into the atmosphere, and we add ever increasing amounts daily. While it is true that plants, along with some other organisms, use carbon dioxide and water, along with the energy of the sun to produce sugars and release oxygen into the atmosphere, there are fewer and fewer trees to capture the carbon dioxide. Scientists report that we have already lost almost half of the earth’s original forests, and each year we lose an additional 32 million acres.
Scientists also estimate that carbon pollution is causing oceans to change faster today than they have in the past 300 million years. Although oceans “store” carbon dioxide, the absorbed CO2 changes basic marine chemistry. The result is that corals, crabs, lobsters, mollusks and other shelled creatures have an even more difficult time forming their shells. Because of global climate change, coral reefs are being degraded. Many are so stressed that we are seeing what is called “coral bleaching,” which eventually kills the reefs.
The bottom line is that global climate change is occurring due to human activity and the science is spot on. The 800,000 years’ worth of ice core records demonstrate the rapid increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere since the mid-1700s global industrialization. Since then, humans have removed tons of fossil fuels from the earth and transferred the carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Science proves that human activity has increased atmospheric CO2 levels by over 40 percent. There can be no doubt that human activity is the driver of CO2 levels.
If there weren’t any natural GHGs in the atmosphere, we would be experiencing an ice age. However, when there are too many GHGs introduced through human processes, the balance of nature is upset. Up until 1750, the earth’s carbon cycle was in balance for about 10,000 years. We are fooling ourselves if we continue to deny the science behind global climate change and fail to act to promptly and properly address it.
By downgrading science at the Environmental Protection Agency, denying the basic tenets of the global climate change problem, and cutting the annual budget of the EPA by more than 30 percent, the Trump administration is putting all of us at risk—especially our children and grandchildren. Science-based research continues to save lives and keeps Americans safe. Science matters, Mr. Pruitt.