Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 26, 2019
Scientific methodology is quite simple, really: You start with a problem, come up with a tentative explanation, test for it, and re-test until you come up with verification. Then you draw conclusions.
At the White House, you apparently start with the conclusion and then work backward.
Consider this entry from The Washington Post over a new White House effort to undercut climate change:
“The White House plans to create an ad hoc group of select federal scientists to reassess the government’s analysis of climate science and counter conclusions that the continued burning of fossil fuels is harming the planet, according to three senior administration officials.
The panel is being formed by the National Security Council to include scientists who question the severity of climate impacts and the extent to which humans contribute to the problem, according to these individuals,” including William Happer, an NSC senior director and a physicist who has challenged the idea that carbon dioxide could damage the planet.
One senior administration official said the president was looking for “a mixture of opinions” and disputed the National Climate Assessment, a massive interagency report, in November that described intensifying climate change as a threat. “The president wants people to be able to decide for themselves,” the aide said.
Hey, I’d like a vote on whether my body should be aging, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.
As I have said before, I don’t fully understand why the Trump administration wants to deny the effects of climate change, rather than, say, what to do about it. We don’t have to march in total step about what comes next, but we can understand the same problem. I do understand this announcement to be an affirmative effort to trash the science behind climate change rather than a search for some kind of universal truth.
Then again, Trump has done much the same in pressing for “middle class” tax cuts that cut taxes for the rich instead, for “America First” international relations that are leading to American isolationism.
Indeed, the Post said, “The move would represent the Trump administration’s most forceful effort to date to challenge the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are helping drive global warming and that the world could face dire consequences unless countries curb their carbon output over the next few decades.”
Maybe while we’re at it, we can get a White House panel to declare that cancer is not a serious illness or that the moon actually is made of green cheese.
Further, this working group of select anti-climate scientists is being assembled in such a way would be protected from the usual trappings of a “federal advisory committee,” including being subject to public records requests or reflecting a representative membership.
Instead, the NSC will hand-pick researchers within the government. They will not be asked to review recent intelligence community assessments of climate change.
So, we have an anti-science group of people being selected to meet out of public sight to take down any notions that climate change is real.
What’s the problem?
The only problem for me is that the announcement itself draws the conclusions that any columnist might try to point out. What happened to Science? What happened to reality? How will we be better prepared in two years, four years, another decade to deal with the coming environmental crises?
Deputy National Security Adviser Charles Kupperman said President Trump was upset that his administration had issued in November the National Climate Assessment, which must be published regularly under federal law. Kupperman added that congressional Democrats had seized upon the report, which is the product of more than a dozen agencies, to bolster their case for cutting carbon emissions as part of the proposed Green New Deal.
According to the Post, Happer, who headed an advocacy group called the CO2 Coalition before joining the administration in the fall, has challenged the scientific consensus on climate change inside and outside of government.
Public records show the coalition, which describes its mission as informing policymakers and the public of the “important contribution made by carbon dioxide to our lives and the economy,” has received money from far-right organizations and donors with fossil fuel interests, including $170,000 from the Mercer Family Foundation and more than $33,000 from the Charles Koch Institute.
Several scientists, however, said the federal government’s recent findings on climate change had received intense scrutiny from other researchers in the field before they became public. Government researchers in a range of disciplines have identified climate change as a serious threat for the past two decades, under Republican and Democratic administrations.
Since 2003, the Pentagon has been reporting that changes in climate represent security threats to this country. Last year, a military-funded study warned sea level rise and other climate impacts could make more than a thousand low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean “uninhabitable” by midcentury, including an atoll where a missile defense site is located.
Just last month, the national intelligence director delivered a worldwide threat assessment that “climate hazards” including extreme weather, wildfires, droughts and acidifying oceans are worsening, “threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.”
The recovery of actual scientific methods ought to be a top-level debate for the 2020 election.