Interview of the Week: Andrew Rosenberg, Union of Concerned Scientists

Dr. Andrew Rosenberg is the Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) that is working to stand up for science, and to help scientists and communities work together to find solutions to our common problems.

ODP:  Scientists and scientific integrity in the Trump Administration have been severely challenged. Looking across the government, how bad is it, and what are the long term ramifications of their war on science?
AR:  In a word–horrendous.  We have chronicled on our website more than 120 times this administration has censored, manipulated and sidelined scientific evidence or targeted the scientists themselves.  It crosses the government from the Department of the Interior to NOAA, USDA, EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services.  These attacks on science result in real impacts on public health, safety and environmental protection. They can be reversed but it will take a huge effort. In some cases, science and other agency programs will essentially need to be rebuilt.  That’s a challenge but also an opportunity.
ODP:  Last week, the latest stunning climate denial came from the head of NOAA’s fisheries service. You have hypothesized that Sharpie-gate had a chilling effect in other parts of NOAA. How damaging was Sharpie-gate in your view to NOAA’s scientists and to scientists in other agencies?
AR:  Of course SharpieGate affected the morale for all NOAA and other government scientists. It was such a blatant example of not only ignoring science but essentially ignoring the mission of NOAA to serve the public.  To now have the head of NOAA Fisheries compound that message by sidestepping a simple question concerning climate change impacts shows that the leadership of NOAA didn’t learn from their mistakes. Scientists will still do their work, but no longer feel their leaders are dedicated to the mission of their agencies. That hurts. The same thing happened with a National Park Service superintendent who was castigated by the Secretary of the Interior for allowing his staff to tweet about climate change. One person becomes the scapegoat, and everyone gets the message that they are supposed to keep their heads down.
ODP: New polling from Yale’s climate communications center shows that most Americans believe in climate change, but also believe that scientists are divided about whether climate change is occurring. Does that surprise you? Why do you think there is a disconnect?
AR:  It doesn’t surprise me because of the extent of the well-funded disinformation campaign that the fossil fuel and other special interests have run of many years to confuse the picture. At the UCS we developed an explanation of the “Disinformation Playbook” used by special interests to obscure scientific evidence.  These are well-developed and tested “plays” stemming from the tobacco industry.  That has confused the public just as intended.  So the disconnect has been manufactured to serve those special interests.  But just as with tobacco, it becomes harder to obscure the science as the impacts of climate change, from heat waves to flooding, are more and more obvious to the public.
ODP:  In a recent blog, you characterized the latest United Nations report on the impact of climate change on oceans as “scary” — how scared should we be, and what is the best-case scenario for oceans if we were to begin to act in 2020 and beyond?
AR:  Yes, I believe the outlook for the oceans is scary because real and fundamental changes are underway on all our coasts, in the open ocean, and at the poles.  Marine life is moving, habitats are changing, the very chemistry of the ocean and its circulation are shifting.  The best-case scenario is we aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as prepare to adapt to the changes. That means infrastructure investment.  It means helping coastal communities and industries like fishing adjust.  And it means getting out of the climate change denial trap.  It’s not too late.
ODP:  What do you think of the Administration’s letters to the state of California recently — is there any basis for the actions they are taking against the state on Clean Cars, Clean Air and Clean Water? How well are they doing at implementing federal environmental laws as compared to other states?
AR:  There is no question all states can improve their efforts to reduce pollution and protect the environment, including California.  But it is ironic that the Administration should target the state for not taking enough action at the same time as the federal government is seeking to roll back those national standards!  Instead, they should be supporting California’s efforts to protect public health and safety and set a strong example for other states.  These letters are clearly a political attack, not a call for good public policy.
Thanks, Andy, for sharing your wisdom with us and helping our readers to understand the threat to sound science this administration poses.

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