March 2020Opinion2020

Science is Ignored in American Politics

Judy Koren
Opinion Editor

Since Donald Trump came into office, there has been a common phrase used among journalists and media outlets: Science is under attack. Today, this is seen in three major areas: climate action, budget requests for science, health and the environment, and the handling of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the United States.

Since the Trump administration began the process of removing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords, EPA policies—such as the 50-year foundational clean air and clean water bills—have been limited or overturned in their entirety. As of December 2019, The New York Times reported that there are 95 total rollbacks to major EPA policies. Policies like water pollution regulations for fracking on federal and Indian lands have been completely rescinded. The science that fracking pollutes ground water exists, or else the policies would not have been set up in the first place. CNN reported that the EPA’s rate of deregulation is so high that an internal watchdog said the agency “exceeded” its self-established goals.

It is bad leadership, not overstepped authority, that has hindered the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse emissions. The Trump administration appointed Scott Pruitt, a self-proclaimed “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” as the fourteenth Administrator of the EPA. It is assumed that as director, Pruitt would take protecting the environment seriously, especially since contemporary politics almost certainly requires the EPA to possess strong non-partisan leadership. Instead, Pruitt is responsible for the aforementioned 95 rollbacks to environmental protection policies.

According to CNN, the Obama-era Clean Power Plan required states to not exceed certain greenhouse gas emission targets. Under President Trump, the administration replaced this policy by allowing states to set their own greenhouse gas emissions standards. This allows states to put little to no limitations on their emissions and effectively fall weak to the short-term economic profits. According to CNN, this new policy could result in 1,400 more premature deaths by 2030.

Science has proven time and time again that the harmful release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is in direct correlation with the global rise in temperature, and ultimately, the climate crisis. This data has been available for decades, but we have seen no substantial change in the habits of U.S. state and companies. This is one of the reasons why the federally administered Clean Power Plan was necessary. If actors would regulate themselves to put the environment first, then the drastic rise of carbon in the atmosphere would not be reality. Instead, the EPA annual budget has been drastically cut since President Trump took office. The 2018 budget request included a nearly one-third funding cut to the EPA, says The Washington Post. The new 2021 budget request included another 26 percent cut to the EPA, according to The Washington Post.

The EPA budget is not the only one that is facing significant cuts. The 2018 budget request included: a $1 billion cut to The National Cancer Institute, The National Science Foundation (NSF) to be cut 11 percent, an $838 million slash to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) faced a $1.2 billion, 17 percent cut. This trend continued in the 2021 budget request: a 10 percent cut to Health and Human Services, NSF would shrink from $8.3 billion to $7.7 billion, and outside the nuclear stockpile program the Energy Department faces a $1 billion, 28.7 percent cut to its funding.

In response to the major cuts, now-former director of Office Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney said “Look, yeah, we want to do some climate science. But we’re not going to do some of the crazy stuff the previous administration did.” However, if curbing carbon emissions and protecting federally protected lands from mining is “crazy stuff,” then yes, crazy stuff is warranted and even encouraged.

Even the Center of Disease Control is not immune to these cuts. Most recently, during COVID-19 hysteria, the CDC was faced with another 16 percent cut in addition to a $35 million funding decrease to the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, The Hill reported. Acting director of the White House OMB Russ Vought assured “this figure reflects that the administration is prioritizing funding for infectious disease and emergency preparedness efforts at CDC, compared to non-infectious activities….”

Although this funding decrease to the CDC will not impact COVID-19 action, the other $1.2 billion plus cuts during the Trump Administration will. An ABC News analysis reported the CDC funding was not slashed once each budget proposal was reviewed by Congress; in fact, CDC funding has steadily increased because of congressional edits. Nonetheless, science is still under fire by the leader of this country. There should be no debate about whether science is accurately represented and properly funded.

This is not the time to attack the numbers and the facts. A “hunch” about the true death rate of COVID-19, as mentioned by the President, is no match for the true numbers. Science cannot and should not be politicized—especially when it impacts the lives of Americans and global citizens. The numbers might not be favored or preferable, but at least we know the facts so everyday habits can be altered in order to secure health and safety in the long-term.

“The President’s proposed budget is a severe disappointment for science and ignores the many ways in which science fuels our economy, safeguards our security, improves our health and well-being, and is critical for a thriving future,” said chief executive and executive director of the American Geophysical Union Chris McEntee, to The Washington Post.

The new coronavirus task force also faces questionable leadership and censorship obstacles. Despite his “disastrous” public health record when dealing with the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana state history, The Guardian reports, Vice President Mike Pence was appointed to lead the task force. Under his leadership, members of the task force and top infectious disease experts require clearance by the task force before reporting COVID-19 updates. What makes this so worrisome is it encourages a potential for withholding science and information about COVID-19 from the American people. For Vice President Pence, someone who doubts the connection between smoking and disease, he should be the last person responsible for a task force that requires trust and transparency with the evolving data.

Most Hollywood end-of-the-world movies start with a scientist being ignored by politicians, resulting with the human civilization facing near extinction. Will Hollywood fiction become reality? Will not the severity of COVID-19 and the lack of government action and leadership around preventing the spread of the virus be our downfall? Or will it be the rising sea-levels, extreme drought seasons, and the continuation of the sixth mass extinction that effectively wipes out biodiversity, the earth’s major ecosystems, and finally the human race?

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