Alarms were sounded this week by current and former elite scientists on a government panel advising the Trump administration on environmental policies.
I believe the threats they are warning us about can be traced to the administration’s religious-type thinking — self-serving, tribal and emotional — not fact- and science-based.
The eminent advisors — two-third of the panel’s 44 members were appointed by the president — warn in three of four draft reports posted online Tuesday that the administration soon plans to execute sweeping roll-backs in environmental regulations despite “sharp criticism” of the policies by the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, the Washington Post reported. The panel of experts was created by Congress in 1978 to review the agency’s scientific methods.
The Post reported that EPA Adminstrator Andrew Wheeler has complained that the president is moving ahead with new and revised environmental policies without Advisory Board collaboration because the panel is moving too slowly in its work.
But Steven Hamburg, the chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund who served on the Advisory Board for two terms before departing Sept. 30, told the Post that that excuse is just a smokescreen because the EPA is dragging its feet on responding to the panel’s itemized concerns.
“The board has consistently said there [are] substantive scientific issues related to many of the proposed rules,” Hamburg said. “Slow-walking any response to those requests, and then saying there isn’t time, is a deliberate effort to block any scientific input. … It really calls into question to what degree these suggested changes are fact-based as opposed to politically motivated.”
North Carolina State University professor Christopher Frey, an environmental engineer who served on the Advisory Board from 2012-2018, said EPA’s Wheeler has “effectively marginalized” its work and undercut its mandate.
“In effect, [Wheeler has] said, ‘No, I’m not interested in your advice,’” Frey told the Post. “He’s just sidelining the Scientific Advisory Board. He obviously has an ideological agenda of pursuing regulatory rollbacks, and the science is not always going to be consistent with that ideological agenda.”
The question is, why does Wheeler consider time so of the essence here?
My non-expert assessment is that he, and by extension the president, has far more interest in things other than the environment. This is not a stretch, considering that the president and his administration have clearly positioned themselves as climate-change deniers.
But why would anyone deny worrisome, even potentially cataclysmic effects, of worsening climate change, which is accepted as demonstrable fact by the vast majority of global scientists?
Three terms: Politics. Profits. Magical thinking.
The president has exhaustively shown himself to be an extremely linear thinker who sees his own political survival and the rigor of the nation’s economy as his two overarching and intertwined priorities. He doesn’t read, as he’s oft noted, but instead intuits with his largest-in-history brain. And his intuition tells him that if the economy isn’t booming, he won’t win re-election, and also that anything else at all that threatens his re-election must be destroyed or quickly neutralized. Are people concerned about his impeachment and corruption? Quick, bring our brave soldiers home from Iraq (a popular move with his base) despite requiring him to throw our longtime allies, the Kurds (who sacrified 10,000 lives in a fight on our behalf), under the proverbial bus.
Unlike scientists wrestling with complex hypotheses and fact sets about myriad environmental issues, the president seems to prefer simplicity: Re-election. Booming profits for already rich captains of the economy. The environment be damned (climate-change is a hoax and fake news anyway, right?). After all Christians-cum-Republicans are already comfortable with unsubstantiated magical thinking.
So, it makes sense that delusive people who value their own winning over the nation’s would sacrifice environmental safety for improved profits for American businesses that find government regulations protecting our air, water and children, too costly and obstructive to their capitalistic endeavors. Because titans of business are largely presumably Republican and will probably vote again for Trump (if he shows he’s playing ball).This is the same reason Trump has been happy to throw nonreligious Americans under the bus in terms of “religious freedom,” by enacting regulations and promoting laws that allow conservative Christians to discriminate against them.
It’s a very linear arrangement. Capitalists care mostly, if not only, about profits. Evangelical Christians care only that everyone — believers (of any kind) and heathens alike — should give primary subservience to their faith in the public square and hope it will eventually be the official faith of the land.
This is the nexus of religion and politics. An interesting book titled The Republican Brain (2012), by Chris Mooney, uses research data to show that Republicans, by nature, tend to be far less open-minded and flexible than others regarding new ideas. They instinctively not only cling to what they already believe and eschew complexity, they instinctively vigorously attack any contrary opinion. Certainly, this jealousy of our own ideas is a trait in all human beings, but Mooney’s convincing hypothesis is that it’s a much stronger instinct in Republicans, who, it’s important to point out, are largely conservative Christian.
And this significantly effects the thinking of our lawmakers and law protectors. Note that of 100 U.S. senators, 86 are Christian, most of them Protestant. Over the course of the U.S. Supreme Court’s history, more than 80 percent of justices have been Protestant, but in its latest addition of Brett Kavanaugh, the body has maintained its recent Catholic majority.
If we trust our top government officials to insist on evidence-based thinking in reaching their consequential decisions for the nation, we might reasonably worry a bit. I believe that what’s been happening lately in the Trump administration would give our Founders, who emphatically insisted on separation of church and state, the willies.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is joyously waiting for the Rapture (when Jesus will allegedly return), and Attorney General Bill Barr, who believes Judeo-Christian doctrine and tradition is literally the only thing that will save America, have been spouting a lot of religious nonsense in official public speeches of late.
They don’t want complexity, where everyone has their own ideas about our existence, and prefer the freedom and agency to choose their own path. For true-believers it’s only: the God of Christianity, good. Secularism, evil. Profit, best. It’s so much harder entertaining everyone else’s opinions.
Therefore, I see Trump supporters looking to him as a kind of savior — indeed, many, many evangelists literally believe he was “sent by God” to save our nation. They don’t have to think, just follow whatever the dear leader proposes. No need for consensus, compromise or good faith. The only truth for all is clear.
When I see government scientists ignored, I see Christians preferring received ignorance to the much harder work of analyzing and interpreting substantive facts for the most realistic and fair-minded outcome for everyone in a diverse society.
Much like faith itself.
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