Trump Administration’s Climate-change Skeptics Worry Researchers, Advocates

Nov 30, 2016

There’s growing concern among the scientific community that President-elect Trump will reduce or eliminate support and funding for studying climate change. That includes scientists and researchers who study its impact on the Arctic.


President-elect Trump made it clear throughout his campaign that he’s a climate change skeptic, as in this exchange with Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly a year ago.

President-elect Trump often voiced doubt about climate change during the campaign, as in this Dec. 3, 2015 interview with Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly.
Credit Fox News screengrab

O’Reilly: “Do you believe in global warming – climate change?”

Trump: “It’ll get a little cooler, get a little warmer, like it always has, for millions of years … It’s called weather.”

Statements like that, and Trump’s appointments to transition teams and cabinet posts, have rattled many Alaskans who research climate change and its impact on the Arctic.

“There’s a general fear within the scientific community about where this new administration will lead,” says Rick Steiner, a former University of Alaska marine sciences professor who now works as an environmental activist.

Activist and former University of Alaska marine conservation professor Rick Steiner says the scientific and academic communities must advocate for continued research on climate change and its impact on the Arctic.
Credit KUAC file photo

Steiner says that fear is shared by many of his former colleagues. But he says most won’t speak out for fear it’ll hurt their careers or the academic programs they’re working on.

“The scientific community and university community are traditionally quite timid about raising concerns and issues publicly,” he said.

Steiner knows a bit about the backlash that can come from voicing concerns publicly. He quit his job as a marine conservation biologist with the university in 2010 because of a dispute with administrators over his outspoken concerns about the impact of offshore oil development. He now heads up an Anchorage-based environmental organization. And he says it’s essential for scientists and researchers to confront what he calls Trump’s “anti-science” agenda.

UAF Assistant Professor of Sustainable Energy Tom Marsik says he's "deeply concerned" about the prospect of reduced federal support and funding for research on climate science and renewable-energy technology.
Credit UAF

“Now, more than ever, people in the scientific community and university community need to stand up and speak up,” he said. “This is not a time to be timid.”

Tom Marsik is a UAF assistant professor of sustainable energy, and he has decided to speak out. He believes the new administration’s climate-change skepticism and its focus on promoting fossil fuels and de-emphasizing renewable energy sources will make it much harder to slow or reverse the buildup of atmospheric greenhouses gases – the main cause of the warming climate.

“Yes, I am deeply concerned about the possible actions of the Trump administration that I think can have really catastrophic consequences for the current and, especially, future generations,” he said.

International Arctic Research Center Chief Scientist John Walsh: “It’s too early to tell how this new administration is going to pan out with respect to Arctic science.”
Credit UAF

Others say there’s not enough evidence yet to conclude the Trump administration won’t support continued research on climate change and its impacts on the Arctic.

“It’s too early to tell how this new administration is going to pan out with respect to Arctic science,” says John Walsh, chief scientist with UAF’s International Arctic Research Center.

Walsh says it’s also hard to parse Trump’s beliefs on climate change and the need to research it. Because some recent statements suggest his views on the issue are evolving.

“I want to see what the President-elect actually follows through on. That’s still up in the air, as far as I can tell,” he said. “It’s an unknown.”

U.S. Arctic Research Commission Chairwoman Fran Ulmer also believes it’s too soon to draw conclusions, because Trump has said little if anything specifically about the Arctic or research on changes under way in the region.

“I am not aware of President-elect Trump making any comments about the Arctic, or issues that may arise during his administration in terms of Arctic research, Arctic policy,” Ulmer said.

U.S. Arctic Research Commission Chairwoman Fran Ulmer: “The science on how rapidly the Arctic is changing, and why it’s changing, and why it matters, is pretty clear-cut, at this point."
Credit Radio Canada International

But Steiner says Trump’s actions speak louder than words. He cites the appointment of Myron Ebell, a longtime climate-change skeptic, to head the new administration’s EPA transition team.

“He’s a devout anti-science, anti-climate change individual, with no scientific background whatsoever,” Steiner said. “How could you possibly appoint somebody like that to head the transition for an important federal agency like the Environmental Protection Agency?”

Steiner says climate-change research has been essential in helping Alaskans understand how it’s affecting the state and how it can adapt to it. On that, Ulmer agrees. And she says that research provides compelling evidence of how and why the region is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the planet.

“The science on how rapidly the Arctic is changing, and why it’s changing, and why it matters, is pretty clear-cut, at this point,” she said.

Ulmer says it’ll probably take a few months for the Trump administration to develop an Arctic policy and begin issuing statements about it. She says she’ll be listening – closely.