On Monday, millions of people donned special glasses or peered through cardboard boxes to get a glimpse of the solar eclipse. People from around the globe flocked to spots in Oregon, Wyoming, Kentucky and other states to be in the best place to see the total eclipse. They were ready at the precise time that NASA said the eclipse would happen.
No one doubted that there would be an eclipse. No one said the scientists couldn’t possibly predict the path of the sun and moon and precisely know when they would overlap. No one said that the path of totality, derived from scientific models, was a hoax.
Instead, people, including President Donald Trump, gathered at the time designated by scientists to see the moon cover all or, as was the case in Maine, a portion of the sun. It was the first time since 1918 that a total solar eclipse was visible in a swath that stretched from coast to coast in the United States. People described the eclipse as amazing and incredible.
Yet, when it comes to vaccines, climate change, pollution and other areas where there is a scientific consensus, people are quick to cast doubt on science.
This is especially true of the Trump administration and climate change, where 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and that human activities are a major contributor. Trump’s actions — such as withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and appointing former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the very agency he sued numerous times to negate climate change-related rules — show that his administration is hostile to reducing emissions to ease climate change in favor of the fossil fuel industry.
Just days before the eclipse, the Trump administration disbanded a climate change advisory panel. The panel, made up of scientists, industry representatives and local officials, was responsible for translating complex scientific reports into usable and understandable information for government agencies. Members of the committee fear that a forthcoming climate assessment done by 13 federal agencies, which is currently being reviewed by the administration, will be shelved or released without the necessary context for it to be useful.
The administration has not said why it ended the Advisory Committee for the National Climate Assessment.
Jessica Whitehead, a coastal communities hazards adaptation specialist in North Carolina, who also sat on the committee, told CNN, “We helped the science make sense.”
“It’s now going to be a big challenge for government entities to easily understand how to use the science when making decisions on things like land use and infrastructure,” she said. “If states or towns, for example, need to install new storm-water pipes, those pipes won’t be very effective if they make those decisions without a good understanding of the science of climate change and how it’s impacting that community.”
Trump made this problem worse last week by signing an executive order eliminating requirements that projects built in flood zones, and financed with federal money, take into consideration the consequences of climate change, such as increased flood risk, when designing projects. The Obama administration put the standards in place to better shield taxpayers from costly flood insurance claims.
Last week, the Trump administration also ended a policy encouraging national parks to stop selling bottled water. The policy was meant to curb plastic waste.
The administration also is ending a study of the health effects of mountaintop removal. The study of the coal mining method, which is being done by the National Academy of Sciences, had been requested by the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health and Department of Environmental Protection. Previous studies raised concerns about increased risk of cancer, birth defects and premature death among residents living near large surface coal-mining operations.
These are dangerous and short-sighted actions that will leave the U.S. more vulnerable to the changing climate, which, just like a solar eclipse, can’t be stopped because some don’t agree with the science.