Science, Now + Beyond

Scientists brace for impact from new presidency

Humans will survive four, even eight years, of a Trump presidency. The environment might not be so lucky.

Adhering to his promises to “drain the swamp” president-elect Donald Trump is tapping persons with little to no experience in government, or people with directly opposing views from the previous administration, to head agencies.

Prepping for this “drain”, scientists are acting now to preserve important work, as Trump’s cabinet selections do not bode well for the environment. Trump recently named Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana his Secretary of the Interior, which manages more than 500 acres of federal public land. Zinke has a record of voting along party-lines on environmental issues like mining and the climate.

And environmentalists are still reeling from Trump’s selection to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt. The selection forces an unlikely alliance. The Oklahoma Attorney General staunchly opposes regulations in his oil-rich state, and has sued the EPA in the past over enforcement. Pruitt has spent much of his energy as Attorney General fighting the very agency he is being nominated to lead.

Humans will survive four, even eight years, of a Trump presidency. The environment might not be so lucky.

If Pruitt is confirmed, the agency responsible for protecting the environment will be run by a man who questions climate change’s existence. The people who want to Make America Great Again “are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations,” says Pruitt.

So what are scientists doing?

Many environmentalists fear that the progress made under the Obama administration will be lost. This is a code red for scientists, and they’re trying to preserve as much as they can before the new administration takes over. These scientists fear Trump’s administration will remove the information from public record or delete it altogether. They are responding by frantically copying U.S. climate data onto independent servers.

A “guerrilla archiving” event headed by a San Francisco-based nonprofit, for example, is scheduled for December 17th in Toronto. Involved parties are scourging EPA and other environmental sites prior to the event, identifying records likely to be targeted for deletion by the Trump administration and copying them. This includes information on everything from rising sea levels to forest fires. Ongoing meetings are being held at the University of Pennsylvania determining how to best download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks. Environmentalists and database experts are collaborating nationwide as they brace for the worst.

“Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that,” says Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis. Santos, who’s already spent time copying data onto a nongovernmental service, is one of many environmentalists currently taking precautionary measures.

And if Trump’s campaign and the records of his administration picks are indicators of what’s to come, scientists have every right to be paranoid.

  • Corinne Osnos

    Corinne Osnos is an aspiring journalist with a BA from the University of Southern California. She'd list off her major(s) and minor(s) but that's too much of a mouthful and Humanities pretty much covers it. Corinne loves engaging in philosophical debates about everything Freud to Foucault but spends more time with cats than humans on a daily basis.