Concerns of an American coastal scientist under a Trump presidency

Years ago I had the privilege of undertaking my PhD studies at the Coastal Studies Institute of Louisiana State University. It was at a time when US federal agencies actively sponsored environmental research within and outside the USA. On returning to Australia in 1971 to a position at ANU, the Institute sent one of their bright young coastal scientists to work with me on the Ord River. Don Wright is his name and later in the 70s we encouraged him to spent a period at Sydney University researching coastal processes and environmental change. He later returned to the US to a senior position at the College of William and Mary and established himself as one of the preeminent coastal and ocean scientists in the US. He has long been associated with science policy issues and in recent years has been a leader in science education from his base in Florida.

Following the election of Donald Trump as President-elect, he has published letters in the Florida media (Citrus County Chronicle) expressing his concerns. While it is not the New York Times, the Citrus County Chronicle has a circulation amongst citizens of a part of the US that supported Trump as their President. As a concerned scientist fearful of what lies ahead, he is championing peaceful protests by individuals and organisations; in his words there is a need for protests and rallies similar to those in the 60s to defend liberal values involving prominent national leaders noting “Passive acceptance of this frightening reality as the new world order should not be an option for thinking and caring people”.  And to reflect this view he participated in a large and peaceful pro-science/anti-Trump rally at the recent American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.

The context for these sentiments is the fear by many in the US that the Trump administration will be not just anti-science, but will promote policies and actions that will further damage fragile global negotiations seeking to constrain greenhouse gas emissions and hence the adverse impacts of climate change. Already steps have been taken to secure data to sites that are not dependent on federal agency support. Of course, we do not know if such fears will be realised, but the fact that many scientists perceive the worse is cause for concern.

Scientists such as Don Wright with their experience of science administration, education and funding will do their best to alert the broader public to the potential consequences of actions that will reduce the levels of excellence in research in fields such as environmental change that we have come to expect from US federal agencies, research institutions and universities.

Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect Bruce Thom’s thoughts and reference where appropriately: (c) ACS, 2017, posted 11th January 2017, for correspondence about this blog post please email