Mary O'Brien

It’s truly inconvenient. It’s a local and worldwide threat.

Be assured, though, Trump and Company are not going to let this threat go unchallenged.

What threat? Climate change? Naw. Trump and most of his appointees and most of Congress are fine with unleashing climate change.

It’s science that’s inconvenient, unsettling, threatening. Well, to be fair, not all science. Science is OK when it’s being used to develop a cure for cancer or a Mother of All Bombs. It’s OK to shareholders when it’s used to develop robots, each industrial use of which has been found to eliminate an average of six jobs.

But science that reports oceans are rising and aquifers are lowering is truly inconvenient to lots of people. Science that says for every ton of coal burned, the emitted carbon dioxide causes environmental and economic costs (i.e., social costs) of around $31, is threatening to the coal industry and to some (not all) miners.

It isn’t just climate change science that is inconvenient. Over $1 billion has been spent on sage grouse restoration in the West – for instance, restoring sagebrush and the understory plants sage grouse need, counting sage grouse males at their leks, fighting fires that threaten sagebrush and developing seeds. That has required science. But not one science study has ever been undertaken measuring how different intensities of cattle grazing of food plants and cover under sagebrush affect sage grouse survival, for instance hen mortality or brood success.

It isn’t, then, that science is inconvenient. It isn’t that the findings of scientists are always threatening, or threatening to everyone.

It’s that certain science questions are threatening to some people, industries, or religious or political groups. And certain answers derived from using the scientific method are threatening to certain groups.

So, stop asking those questions. Stop public funding of scientists that would study questions of life-and-death importance to the public. And bury answers.

Recently President Trump, through executive orders, withdrew the federal guidance that had been provided to all federal agencies (for instance, the Department of the Army and the Forest Service) for considering climate change when they analyze the pros and cons of alternative courses of action. Just stop factoring that science into national security or public lands management.

President Trump recently disbanded the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases and withdrew the group’s scientific reports on the social cost of carbon, methane and nitrous oxide. Just don’t consider the damage these pollutants wreak on our health, environment or future economy.

Two years ago (Hmm. Pre-Trump), the Forest Service Chief ordered the Intermountain Regional Forester to withdraw a public report on damage to springs, riparian areas, aspen and sagebrush communities caused by current livestock grazing on the three national forests in southern Utah. The report had been prepared by the forests’ staff, who see the problems every day, but certain county commissioners found the truth threatening.

For 20 years, Congress has silenced gun violence research at the federal Centers for Disease Control as promoting gun control after a CDC-funded research study found that having a gun in a home increases by three times the risk of homicide by an intimate.

What to do, when certain science questions aren’t being asked? What to do when the books are being burned? What to do when some facts are being hidden and others aren’t being discovered?

Stand up for science. Stand up for public interest science. Refuse to cover up facts. Stop seeking the answers you want, and seek the answers you need. Be willing to change your mind in the face of facts. Help get facts.

Think about the 5-year-olds in Beijing who have to wear face masks outdoors because coal is being burned. Think about the flocks of birds that drop dead out of the sky in Australia from extreme heat. Think about the islanders who are having to migrate from their ancestral homes because the ocean has risen. Change how you use the world.

Join non-governmental groups that take action on the basis of inconvenient science, because it’s better than sitting at home alone, feeling terrible about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Get updates and action alerts. Use your skills and position to generate, use and share scientific information. Propose solutions. Call your Senator and other representatives and tell them to stand up for inconvenient science because your life and others’ lives depend on it. Run for office.

The process of science is a means of getting, checking and challenging information about the world. It’s how we can eventually come together over facts, across other differences. It’s how we can challenge short-sighted government. It’s how we can prevent tyranny.

Mary O’Brien lives in Castle Valley, works for Grand Canyon Trust and will march for science in Moab on April 22.