On the day President Donald Trump was sworn in, all references to climate change disappeared from the White House website. The Trump administration’s proposed budget would reduce funding for NOAA’s science and weather satellites and eliminate the Sea Grant program. Why does this matter? Sea Grant is to the fishing industry what the Cooperative Extension is to the farming industry.
In 2015, the lobster fishery was the most valuable wild-caught fishery in the U.S. Yet we receive very little help from Maine or the U.S. government to support research, marketing or enforcement. Fortunately, we receive some research assistance from Maine Sea Grant. Maine Sea Grant has supported many lobster research projects over the years, including funding to monitor newly settled lobsters, a program to predict future landings and the impacts of warmer ocean temperatures on the fishery. This information is vitally important to lobstermen.
Cutting funding for NOAA is very short-sighted, considering the volatility of the weather and severity of recent storms. Fishermen depend on the agency, which oversees the National Weather Service, for accurate forecasts. This is a matter of safety for the thousands of people who work on the ocean for their livelihoods.
The NOAA satellite program also is important for our understanding of environmental trends. Satellite imagery tells us many important things, such as surface water temperatures over time, areas of cool or warm water and how freshwater runoff from major rivers affects the marine ecosystem. Satellites also have shown how fast the Gulf of Maine is warming, which is at an alarming rate.
One might wonder why anyone would propose to cut funding for such valuable scientific programs. The answer might be that if the current administration doesn’t want to admit that climate change is real — and what better way to do that than to make the science that points out that it is real go away. If the federal government doesn’t pay for the satellites that show how fast the environment is changing, then the data are not available to scientists or to anyone else.
It is clear that the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, does not believe in climate change. He rejects the science behind climate change research, and he said earlier this month that “ there’s tremendous disagreement [on the science] about the degree of [human] impact” on the warming climate. We cannot allow the personal views of government leaders to set our country back by blocking funding for good programs and good science.
There seems to be a disconnect between what is science and what is a belief. Science is based on facts and evidence gathered in an unbiased fashion. Beliefs are based on what you hear or want to believe. When I was growing up, science was king. It was based on facts, and it was not debatable. Now if you don’t like the science, you hire a so-called “expert” to argue about its validity and cast doubt on the facts.
Climate change has been the poster child for this practice. When nearly every country concurs that human actions have changed our climate and that those actions are having negative effects on the planet’s future, we are still debating whether that’s true, despite the fact that a strong consensus exists among the scientific community that human activities have made the planet warmer.
Who are the doubters? For the most part, it is the fossil fuel industry that has spent millions of dollars to question the role of carbon emissions in climate change. Carbon dioxide is the byproduct of burning fossil fuels. So if the world starts turning to renewable energy, then the fossil fuel industry will no longer have a monopoly on the world’s energy needs.
I’m not impressed with the total disregard for proven science and lack of respect for our environment shown by the new administration. As someone who depends on a clean environment to make a living, I’m worried we are trading the long-term health of our planet for short-term economic gains.
David Cousens is president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. He lives in South Thomaston.