by Tanya Harrington
It’s been an odd couple of weeks, to say the least.
Infowars is aiming for White House access. Teen Vogue regularly publishes quality analysis of American politics around pieces about celebrity date nights and Kim Kardashian. Sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have skyrocketed upon the rise of the ‘alternative facts’ catchphrase. The year is 2017, and it’s a strange and tumultuous time for the flow of information as we know it.
Here, we’re focusing on the case of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the short time since taking office, the actions of the Trump administration regarding the EPA have confused both Americans and onlookers from across the globe. Just days after his inauguration, the news broke that Trump had placed a de facto – a phrase which here means ‘not necessarily by legal right’ – gag order on the EPA, preventing employees from “providing updates to social media or to reporters,” according to emails obtained by the Associated Press. As well as this, new grants and contracts within the EPA were frozen “temporarily.” The time frame of how long “temporarily” may last has not yet been made known, although rumours are currently circulating that the strong negative public reaction to these decisions may influence the President to make it sooner rather than later.
Parallel situations were seen from within other agencies which are environmentally concerned, with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, which works heavily around issues involving climate change, also experiencing pressure not to provide information to the press. Badlands National Park faced backlash for tweeting information about climate change, using the hashtag #climate – tweets which were quickly deleted, perhaps reflective of an already tense relationship between the National Park Service and the Trump administration after images comparing the 2017 inauguration to the Obama inauguration of 2008 were posted to a separate Twitter account.
This alleged censorship has spurred the rise of a myriad of ‘rogue’ Twitter accounts, all purportedly run by staff members of state agencies posting in an aim to reveal their version of events. The list of rogue or alt accounts includes @ActualEPAFacts, @RogueNASA and @altUSDA, whose biography reads “truth wins in the end.” Regardless of what your feelings are towards the Trump administration, the existence of these accounts shows that many scientific groups undeniably feel threatened by his actions since taking office.
You may wonder how this relates to us. The goings on in America are important, of course, but why does science censorship all the way over there matter to students of a Welsh university?
The first reason is that the United States already has the second highest level of CO2 emissions in the world, producing around 5334529.74 kt of CO2 in 2014, according to the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR). Since we have to share a planet with the United States, the limiting of at least one of the government bodies tasked with regulating and lowering their emissions may be incredibly damaging for us in the long term, as the result of such limitations will likely be higher carbon emissions from the US. As well as this, the EPA is a huge source of research and information that is often used by scientists globally, providing us with information on topics such as fracking, air quality, and the impact of climate change on human health. The loss of new funding for these resources will have an impact on us, even from far away.
Furthermore, The United States sets a precedent for a number of other countries with regards to attitudes about climate, science, and even censorship. It would be wrong to speculate too greatly about what widespread political effects could potentially occur as a result of a long-lasting ban on funding or press communications for institutions such as the EPA, as we currently lack the information available to do so responsibly. However, it is a duty of the Trump administration to recognise its powerful global position in these matters and act accordingly.
So, what can we do? It may seem somewhat out of our control from our position here in Cardiff, and it’s almost impossible to see the limiting of these institutions as not posing at least some small loss, but perhaps we should also consider this as a chance for people in the UK to step up and do good on a wider scale. There are a multitude of studies being conducted with UK Scientists that we can aim to support – for example, the ICE-ARC – EU FP7 project, which seeks to document and predict ice loss in the Arctic Ocean.
This, as well as many other research studies which the UK takes part in, is EU funded. One thing we can aim to do to continue being able to participate in EU funded studies is to call, email or write to our MPs (especially if they happen to be Conservative), making sure that they’re encouraging Prime Minister Theresa May to maintain good relationships with EU science institutions, so that we may remain as involved in these studies as we are now. A quick and easy way to do this is to visit the website writetothem.com, and fill out the form it provides.
If you’d like to stay informed on and potentially even get involved with climate change initiatives in the UK, consider contacting your local Greenpeace group (for example, Greenpeace Cardiff, which is having its next meeting on the 15th of February), or Friends of the Earth, which also has a Cardiff group. For staying informed, good news outlets for climate and science information include BBC Focus, New Scientist, and the weekly journal Nature.
As a rule, my co-editor and I try to keep the science
section as apolitical as possible – but, as recent events have shown, science is political. Democracy should not
include the suppression of facts. We have the chance to involve
ourselves, demand better, and attempt to draw the best outcome we can from this strange situation. Let’s take it seriously.