Dear Trump: Science deserves 'critical role' in future of United States

Prominent members of the scientific community hope to impart the importance of scientific understanding in policy decisions, especially concerning topics such as climate change, in an open letter to the president-elect and the 155th Congress.

David Goldman/AP
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at UNLV in Las Vegas on Oct. 19.

Dozens of prominent scientists, including 22 Nobel winners, released an open letter to Donald Trump and the 155th Congress Wednesday, setting out a standard for making science a backbone of US policy under the next administration.

During the campaign, President-elect Trump's critics bemoaned his stance on climate change, including past claims such as that global warming "was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive," as he tweeted in 2012. But now that he will be taking the highest office in the United States, the scientists' letter argues, Mr. Trump can no longer ignore the scientific facts behind policy issues. 

With this letter, 87 scientists hope to convince Trump and the Republican Congress of the importance of accepting the scientific evidence for climate change in order to reverse the potentially catastrophic effects of ignoring the problem. The letter also argues that science should be a guiding principle in general for the leaders of the most powerful country on Earth.

"Scientific knowledge has played a critical role in making the United States a powerful and prosperous nation and improving the health and well-being of Americans and people around the world," reads the letter. "From disease outbreaks to climate change to national security to technology innovation, people benefit when our nation’s policies are informed by science unfettered by inappropriate political or corporate influence."

The scientists argue that a "strong and open culture of science begins at the top," advocating that the leaders of federal agencies have a strong track record of respecting science, in an apparent critique of Trump's pick of Myron Ebell to lead his Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

Mr. Ebell, like Trump, is a notorious skeptic when in comes to human-caused climate change. Despite a near-consensus in the scientific community that human activity contributes to climate change, Trump has repeatedly ignored the scientific evidence of climate change in favor of appealing to workers in the coal and natural gas sectors. Trump has also proposed eliminating federal funding for clean energy, and that he would withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, a historic international climate change agreement that went into force earlier this month. The consequences of the world's second-largest carbon emitter leaving the international deal to reduce worldwide carbon emissions could have far-reaching environmental and political consequences, as the Christian Science Monitor's Zack Colman previously reported:

What's certain is that change is coming at the top. The US under President Obama is a leader on climate. The outgoing president’s bilateral negotiation to help bring a long-reluctant China into the global climate order in 2014 was seen as the tipping point for reaching the global agreement that had eluded nations for decades until last year in Paris.

Under Trump, the US role is all but certain to shrink. One risk has to do with America’s own emissions, and a wider fear is that a US pullback could also pull other countries out of the deal....

"I doubt that a Trump presidency will kill the Paris process – too many other countries are too invested in its success. But it will shift the intellectual and political leadership of the process from the United States to other countries, most notably China," David Victor, co-chair of the energy and climate initiative at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, wrote Thursday [Nov. 17].

Beyond climate change, the scientists' letter also encourages Trump and Congress to welcome "scientists regardless of religious background, race, gender, or sexual orientation," and emphasizes the importance of allowing them to "develop and share their findings free from censorship or manipulation based on politics or ideology."

The scientists also tell Trump that providing federal funding for scientific, public research is essential in order to ensure the continued functionality of public health legislation, as well as environmental laws.

"These steps are necessary to create a thriving scientific enterprise that will strengthen our democracy and bring the full fruits of science to all Americans and the world," concludes the letter. "The scientific community is fully prepared to constructively engage with and closely monitor the actions of the Trump administration and Congress. We will continue to champion efforts that strengthen the role of science in policy making and stand ready to hold accountable any who might seek to undermine it."

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