As president-elect Donald Trump announced his pick of climate-denier Rick Perry to run the Department of Energy, hundreds gathered in San Francisco outside of the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) annual conference. Their rallying cry was simple: support climate science research and evidence-based climate policy.
“We’re getting out of our labs and into the streets!” Beka Economopoulos, co-founder of the Natural History Museum, said to the cheering crowd of scientists, Indigenous leaders and activists. The cheers quickly became boos when Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick for the Environmental Protection Agency, and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, were mentioned.
Trump has stacked his cabinet and surrounded himself with people who want to sweep away environmental protections and promote aggressive drilling and mining practices. He has promised to defund NASA climate science. His transition team sent a 74-item questionnaire to the Energy Department asking for the names of employees who worked on President Barack Obama’s climate initiatives. Thankfully, the Department denied this attempted witch hunt. But many are still anxious.
“I call it a planetary dumpster fire,” Nathan Phillips, an ecologist, professor at Boston University and attendee at the AGU rally, told CleanTechnica. “It’s really, really concerning to me as a parent, as a citizen, and as a scientist.”
Concern among scientists isn’t limited to Trump’s administration. The fossil fuel industry has kindled this dumpster fire for years, if not decades, by mounting a misinformation campaign targeted at climate science. Misinformation has fueled distrust and turned science into a political punching bag. Recently a “professor watchlist” surfaced, created by a conservative youth group known as Turning Point USA. These tactics further intimidate necessary study and research.
ExxonMobil, an oil giant which is currently undergoing litigation and investigation involving climate coverups, has fueled the misinformation campaign. According to the company’s 2014 Worldwide Giving and Community Investments report, it provided substantial donations to organizations that attacked legitimate scientific findings with unsubstantiated claims. The company publicly supports reform while devoting 100 percent of its lobbying efforts to oppose it. Simply put, ExxonMobil cares more about its profits than the planet.
When AGU, the world’s largest association of Earth scientists, made the decision to continue accepting money from ExxonMobil earlier this year, many scientists and policy makers were alarmed.
“You have been fooled,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) wrote in a letter to AGU’s president.
The rally was evidence many scientists are done being deceived and intimidated. The decision to protest at the AGU conference — the first major convening of climate scientists since the election — was a notable escalation of solidarity and resistance from the scientific community. In the past, scientists have come together to sign petitions and write letters. Now they’re taking to the streets and making their voices heard.
While Trump’s climate-denying cabinet was certainly first on people’s mind, speakers and attendees also called for AGU and other scientific institutions to cut financial ties with Exxon, Chevron and other fossil fuel companies that spread misinformation.
“It’s the misinformation campaign mounted by the fossil fuel industry that has caused many scientists and institutions not to stick their necks out on these issues of climate change, evolution, and other controversial issues,” Brant Olson, executive director of ClimateTruth.org, told CleanTechnica. “This is to say that we as scientists and as members of the public care about these issues and we’re going to speak out.”
Scientists will likely have to escalate their momentum even further in the coming years. But the community’s increased vigilance and amplified voice couldn’t come at a better time. This dumpster fire has burned for far too long and received far too little resistance given what’s at stake.