We Asked 6 STEM Professors Their Thoughts On Climate Change Under Trump

President Trump is known for making confusing remarks about the topic of climate change. He has called global warming a “hoax” and climate change a “joke”. With lawmakers and scientists clashing, it’s more important than ever to seek out expert opinions.

I asked 7 STEM professors from schools across the country about the debate on climate change. Their responses were very clear, there should be no debate at all. Climate change is real, and we must create legislation around it.

Professor of Biology, Salve Regina University

“There is no controversy.  Climate change is real and it is completely irresponsible for us to ignore that data, especially for the sake of the generations that come after us.  

Science works by looking and evaluating all of the data and trying to prove yourself wrong.  If I had data that showed climate change was not real, I would be most likely the most famous scientist on the planet.   Unfortunately the real peer reviewed data is currently pointing to the fact that climate change is happening. “

Professor of Planetary Science, California Institute of Technology

“Ongoing climate change has not changed one iota with a change in political administration. So it remains important to take steps to both minimize future climate change and adapt to the changes that are happening now.”

Professor of Engineering, Roger Williams University

“Climate change is a current and rising threat to engineering goals to provide society safe, efficient, and dependable infrastructure and technology. As an engineer and scientist, I am concerned by the current political debates about these threats and their scientific merit, since there is no legitimate scientific debate about the reality of climate change among those in the scientific profession.

Engineering professionals are actively engaged in tackling the challenges that climate changes poses to societies and are involved in research and development, as well as advocating for policies that address this issue. For example, the American Society of Civil Engineers, a national professional organization, has a Committee on Adaptation to a Changing Climate, formed in 2011 to evaluate the technical requirements and civil engineering challenges for adaptation to climate change.

We have observed the impacts of climate change locally in Rhode Island with increasingly intense storms as well as with rising sea levels impacting ground water levels and flooding, for example. My hope is that the new administration will recognize the great long-term economic burden that climate change presents at both a local state level and also at the national level. The current administration should consider these economic impacts and  take a long-term and sustainable approach to energy generation and consumption in this country. For example, increased funding and support for green infrastructure present great opportunities for jobs and meet these long-term goals, keeping the United States in a position of leadership in the global fight against climate change.”

Professor of Aerospace Engineering, University of Michigan

“First, it is important to offer perspective on science and the world.  Scientists devote their lives to learning as much background as they can so they extend rather than repeat past experiments and analyses. Once equipped with this background, the scientist strives to improve our understanding through incremental advances.  A scientist’s process is guided by the “scientific method” which stresses the careful statement of “hypothesis” and acquisition of “empirical evidence” that can either support or refute the hypothesis.  This training makes the scientist a skeptic of unsupported claims, whereas many people today seem to rely on “light web reading” rather than the scientific method to draw conclusions.

Weather data has been directly recorded for well over a century.  Trends in earlier times have been extrapolated from sources such as ice cores and tree rings.  This data has enabled scientists to build long-term climate models.  Confidence in long-term models showing a “global warming” trend is high.  Models regarding the specific sources of warming have somewhat less confidence as global measurements of warming sources are challenging to acquire in a comprehensive manner.  There are several major questions:  How much warming is due to natural heating from solar activity, geothermal sources, etc. versus due to human-produced warming due to sources such as greenhouse gas emissions?   Further, how does human activity such as deforestation impact our planet’s ability to store/scrub greenhouse gases from the air, thereby reducing atmospheric warming?  Major international scientific organizations have concluded from the best data we have today that humans are indeed contributing to global warming.  These organizations appear to be well-meaning; they do not appear to be involved in any sort of “conspiracy” to the best of my knowledge.

Countries of the world tend to compete for resources and power.  While the evidence for human-fueled global warming suggests countries across the planet prioritize environmental protection, the burden for environmental protection has largely been placed on first-world countries.  We in the United States are gradually migrating to hybrid or small cars as well as public transit.  However, we also enjoy such a high standard of living that we still consume substantial resources, perhaps more than “our share”.  Indeed, pollution in Asia is in part due to the high demand for products consumed by the US, not only lack of government-enforced emissions restrictions.  It is unclear anyone in a first-world country is ready to stop purchasing new phones or laptops every couple of years, and most of us purchase a substantial quantity of durable and disposable goods each year.  This leads to the biggest question for us all.  What lifestyle compromises are we willing to make to reduce our environmental footprint?  This is a hard question to answer for everyone, even those who are convinced humans have an appreciable impact on climate change.

In the USA, the poor urban air quality (smog) introduced soon after the industrial revolution led to federally-mandated environmental protection regulations.  Smog is visible so people can easily see that it exists, and they can smell an unpleasant odor from older factories and cars. Smog was a clear and present risk so people were willing to follow some rules to reduce emissions particularly in and near urban areas.  We now point to countries like China and suggest they “clean up their act”, or else suggest “they are prosperous through manufacturing and we want to bring it home so we (the USA) can again be prosperous/great”.  We (in the USA) do need to employ our citizens, but we need to figure out how to achieve this goal without compromising environmental standards.  

Figuring out how to employ our citizens while protecting the environment doesn’t seem to be a high priority of the Trump administration.  In the USA, expanded fracking, new pipelines, and reduced regulations on coal mining and burning will indeed make energy even cheaper than it is right now, for awhile. It is likely these activities will increase during the Trump administration.  Cheaper energy means increased energy consumption because most people are focused day-to-day by dollars not climate change.  Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind with less greenhouse gas emissions will still be pursued, but it will be important for environment-conscious states and investors to recognize the increased need to support renewable energy industries as they both see reductions in federal support as well as further reduction in sales price per kW-hour of energy produced.  

We as ‘citizens of Earth’ must continually strive to resist the allure of short-term profits and comforts made possible by abandoning environmental protection policies.  Despite the average citizen’s efforts, I expect the USA, under the Trump Administration, will need to rely on other countries particularly in Europe to “carry the ball” with respect to global leadership in environmental protection.  The USA may also need to rely on other countries to acquire and analyze climate data as our government funding in climate science is likely to be slashed.  I suspect other countries recognize this need, and I can only hope they will fill these gaps during this time of need.”

Professor of Biology, Boston University

“My answer is simple: The climate does not care about Mr Trump and will continue to change with all the powerful consequences of having too much heat to be smoothly dissipated (leading to rapidly increasing natural disasters), and Mr Trump has unfathomable perspectives on everything from world upheaval to personal peeves.

The “inconvenient truth” is apt indeed for everyone and politicians in particular.”

Professor of Engineering, Roger Williams University

“So far under this administration little has actually changed in practice in regards to climate change, although rhetoric on the topic has increased.  The current administration seems interested in promoting energy resources that are non-renewable, but also produce measureable emissions, which are believed to cause climate change.  What I fail to see is an effort to boost renewable energy resources, which often require federal subsidies or tax breaks to be viable in their development.  It is frustrating that the enthusiasm for renewable energy (and the significantly lower emissions produced) has waned with the current administration.

Even if there is a disagreement with the significant scientific evidence that points to emissions as a cause of climate change, it is still prudent to invest in renewable and sustainable energy sources.  The amount of fuel available in forms of coal, oil, and natural gas is finite, and it is far better to prepare for the future than to arrive at a shortage unprepared.

The argument for reducing emissions and preparing for climate change is straightforward: if we prepare and climate change is does not lead to significant environmental catastrophe, then we’ve still made a significant positive change to our environment by yielding cleaner air and not wasting the planet’s resources.  At the worst, we spend significant money, at the best, we slow the creep of climate change.

The flip side is that if climate change does lead to environmental catastrophe and we have done nothing to abate this, human and animal life could be significantly affected.  I don’t have to play out the other scenarios for you.

As you can read, I am a proponent of being a good steward of our environment.  If the administration is unwilling to devote resources to this task, the burden falls upon private entities to work on research and development of renewable energy sources and methods of reducing emissions.  In a way, this is similar to the state of manned space exploration in this country.  My hope is that there will be a similar development in terms of clean, renewable energy and reduced emissions.” 

Featured image via Cameron Smith

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