September 26, 2021

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The Exodus of Expertise Under Trump – The New York Times

4 min read

Former President Donald J. Trump’s contempt for climate science continues to reverberate, six months into the Biden administration.

Mr. Trump’s political appointees undermined federal studies, fired scientists and drove many experts to quit or retire. Now, as a result, hundreds of jobs in climate and environmental science across the federal government remain vacant as President Biden attempts to push through ambitious climate action.

Scientists and policy experts who quit have not returned. Recruitment is suffering, according to federal employees, because government science jobs are no longer viewed as insulated from politics. And money from Congress to replenish the ranks could be years away.

That brain drain is turning out to be a big problem for Biden’s efforts to confront climate change. For the details, please read the article I wrote this week with my Climate Team colleagues Lisa Friedman and Christopher Flavelle.

The numbers: At the Environmental Protection Agency, the number of environmental protection specialists dropped by 24 percent under Trump, according to a House science committee report. The number of scientists and technical experts at the United States Geological Survey, an agency of the Interior Department and one of the nation’s premier climate science research institutions, fell about 8 percent.

Quotable: “The attacks on science have a much longer lifetime than just the lifetime of the Trump administration,” said John Holdren, a professor of environmental science and policy at Harvard.


Our colleagues at The Daily podcast talked to Somini Sengupta, the international correspondent on Team Climate, about the extreme, devastating weather patterns we’re seeing around the world. She reminded everyone that climate chaos is still avoidable.


Firefighters struggled to contain the flames this week amid record breaking temperatures in Northern California.


The Times’s California Today newsletter has a new writer, Soumya Karlamangla, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, and she’ll be talking about climate change. You can sign up here.


Congress made climate history this week, as senators from both parties agreed to the largest-ever investment in disaster resilience — tens of billions of dollars to protect against floods and wildfires, develop new sources of drinking water in drought-prone areas, and even relocate entire communities away from vulnerable places.

The bill, which could pass the Senate this week and still faces uncertainty in the House, is notable for another reason: For the first time, both parties have acknowledged — by their actions, if not their words — that the United States is unprepared for the worsening effects of climate change and requires an enormous and urgent infusion of money and effort to get ready.

Spending more to adapt to a changing climate is no substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But as disasters continue to break records, the new money would at least help find ways to reduce the damage, and buy the most at-risk communities a little more time. You can read the details in this story.

It’s a lot of money: Funding for one flood-mitigation program would triple; a coastal protection program at NOAA would see its money increase fivefold. The Bureau of Reclamation, which now gets $20 million a year for desalination projects, would get $250 million over five years.


Across the United States, power companies are struggling to keep the lights on in the face of increasingly extreme weather fueled by climate change. Record-breaking heat waves are causing widespread blackouts in places like California. Electric utilities in places like Oregon have recently started shutting off power lines to avoid sparking wildfires, a once-rare tactic that is becoming more widespread throughout the West.

The problem is only expected to get worse in the years ahead. As my colleague Ivan Penn and I wrote recently, many utilities nationwide have been slow to prepare for the effects of climate change, and are now scrambling to address the threat.

It’s not all bad news: There are a number of power companies that are starting to seriously plan for the dangers of a warming world. But as we describe in the article, adaptation can be a slow, costly and difficult endeavor that could ultimately mean higher electricity bills for many Americans. And if the brutal heat, drought and wildfires this summer are any indication, the clock is ticking fast.

Quotable: “It’s fair to say there was this widespread assumption that the impacts of climate change and extreme weather would unfold more gradually, and there would be more time to prepare,” said Alison Silverstein, an energy consultant based in Austin, Texas. “But in the past few years, the entire industry has really been smacked upside the head.”

What is the cost of our carbon footprint in lives?

According to new research, it is soberingly high. The new paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, draws on multiple areas of research to find out how many future lives will be lost as a result of rising temperatures if humanity keeps producing greenhouse gas emissions at high rates — and how many lives could be saved by cutting those emissions.

Most of the deaths, according to the paper, will occur in regions that tend to be hotter and poorer than the United States. These areas are typically less responsible for global emissions but more heavily affected by the resulting climate disasters. For more, you can read the article here.


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