Climate Scientists Prevented from Speaking at US Environmental Conference

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On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew three climate change scientists sets to speak at an environmental conference in Rhode Island.

The event in question is the ‘State of Narragansett Bay and Watershed’ event in Providence. It was held by the ‘Narragansett Bay Estuary Programme’, a programme which received a grant of $600,000 last month from the EPA.  The conference draws attention to factors affecting the future of the estuary by looking at 24 indicators. These include climate change’s impact on air and water temperature, precipitation, sea level and fish in and around the estuary.

Autumn Oczkowski, a research ecologist at EPA, was scheduled to give the keynote address, which would address climate change in amongst other factors affecting the estuary. Two other scientists, Rose Martin and Emily Schumchenia were prevented from appearing on a panel entitled ‘Present and Future Biological Implications of Climate Change’. All three of the scientists contributed heavily to the 500 page report being presented at the conference, which has been years in the making.

The unexpected removal of these scientists from proceedings came via a phone call to Tom Borden the programme director for the event from Wayne Munns, who works at the EPA’s environmental effects research lab. Borden said he was “not provided with a clear explanation” for the decision but understood that it had come from the Washington HQ of the EPA.

The action confirms fears that the EPA, under Trump’s administration, would silence scientists speaking publicly and conducting climate change work. “It’s a blatant example of scientific censorship we all suspected was going to start being enforced at EPA,” John King, Chair of the science advisory committee at NBCP revealed. “They don’t believe in climate change so I think what they’re trying to do is stifle discussions of the impacts of climate change.”

The new, proposed budget of the EPA has eliminated all funding to the National Estuary Programme responsible for the report. Previously they were providing $26 million to programmes in 28 states focused on preventing environmental impacts to estuaries. Web site tracking has also noticed the near removal of the word “climate change” from across the EPA website. Their supposed message of ‘protecting public health and the environment’ is much more subtle, replaced by a website-wide heralding of the new administrator liable for these changes, Scott Pruitt.

Scott Pruitt, has a notorious opposition to climate change. He has previously sued the EPA 14 times, attempting to halt Obama’s Clean Power Plan. In a statement to the CNBC he denied carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of global warming, saying the issue has not yet been subject to a “robust and meaningful debate.”.Pruitt’s predecessor as EPA chief Gina McCarthy condemned this stance saying, “I cannot imagine what additional information the administrator might want from scientists.

Pruitt was appointed by Trump, having campaigned for the new president in the lead up to the election. Supressing these scientists is one of a series of anti-climate change moves since Trump’s inauguration. Alongside dramatic cuts to EPA funding under the White House budget, the US has withdrawn form the Paris Climate Agreeement and Obama’s Clean Power Plan has been scrapped. Trump has famously decreed climate change as a ‘hoax’ on multiple occasions.

Jack Reed, Democratic senator, spoke out against EPA’s move.

Muzzling EPA scientists won’t do anything to address climate change. While the Trump administration tries to suppress the facts, the American people are seeing and feeling the real world impacts. We need to work on a bipartisan basis to reduce pollution and emissions, and this hostility towards science inhibits rather than furthers discussion and action.

The censorship of climate scientists and dismissal of their concerns by Trump is one of a number of things that have prompted co-ordination from lower down the administrative hierarchy to tackle environmental issues. For example, recently 7400 worldwide cities and councils have come together to create targets and share tactics for mitigating climate change. The mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed was involved in the programme’s creation. He remains optimistic saying, “We should not be discouraged, we should be upbeat, we should be passionate, we should roll up our sleeves and get to it.”

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Marine Biology with Oceanography student | Interested in the environment and sustainability

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