The importance of standing up for truth

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President & Executive Director Philip B. Duffy

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prevented three of its scientists from speaking at an event in Providence that dealt extensively with climate change. EPA refused to explain this action, which was widely interpreted as an act of scientific censorship. This lack of justification deepens suspicion, since if there were a benign explanation EPA had every reason to offer it.

This step fits a wider pattern in EPA and other federal agencies of trying to pretend that climate change is not happening. Webpages at EPA, Interior, and other agencies that deal with climate change have been modified, removed entirely, or “archived” in difficult to find locations. The Washington Post reported that in EPA a political operative now reviews all funding decisions, with the specific intent of eliminating grants related to climate change (among other taboo subjects). The Atlantic magazine reports that Interior’s draft strategic plan not only makes no mention of climate change, but seeks to “achieve and maintain America’s ‘energy dominance’ by tapping into the ‘vast amounts of untapped domestic energy reserves on public lands.’” I am beginning to see a pattern here.

All of this makes our national government one of very few that questions the obvious reality of human-caused climate change, and, if we withdraw as planned from the Paris climate agreement, one of only two countries that will not be party to humanity’s road-map for addressing the challenge. Instead of propping up a doomed fossil fuel industry, our government should be helping US companies to develop and profit from solutions to climate change. By failing to do this, we are needlessly ceding these opportunities to others, notably China.

The head-in-the-sand approach to climate change is distressing because it will slow progress on this critical issue, in the United States at least. More than that, though, it is a repudiation of a world-view that believes that progress and problem-solving must be based upon evidence, understanding, and rational thought, i.e. on a scientific process. An approach that puts politics above policy by reinventing truth invites – if not guarantees – an ugly collision with reality. Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

Sadly, this clash of world-views extends to areas well beyond climate change. The recent resurgence of climate change denial is part of a pervasive pattern by this administration of obscuring, denying, and manufacturing truth. Taken together, the falsehoods emanating from the White House, untrue accusations of fake news, and attacks on journalists, scientists, and other agents of truth, amount to an attempt to distort, obscure, or deny reality, and ultimately to misinform voters. This is the tactic of totalitarian states: to create their own “reality” by denying some facts, making up others, and rewriting history.

Luckily, we have institutions that can stand up for truth. These include journalists, the Congress, courts, advocacy groups, and independent scientific institutions like WHRC. These institutions need our support, though, because they are vulnerable to a hostile executive branch and in some cases to the corrupting influence of dark money. If these institutions are badly damaged, and if the federal government becomes a purveyor of party-line propaganda, it will become very difficult to reestablish a truth-based policy paradigm. The next few years will be a severe test, which for the sake of our children and their children, I hope that we pass.

Thanks as always for your interest and support.