Monday, January 30, 2017

Oppose Scott Pruitt for EPA

I have opposed and still oppose Donald Trump on many levels--and for a host of reasons.  I exercise my rights as an ordinary citizen as best I can.  But in some things I have the special responsibility that comes from expertise.

 I am a science teacher trained in the biological sciences, and so know more about the workings of science in general and living things in particular than the average Joe.  I plainly know more about them than Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  Granted that it might be difficult to find an environmental scientist willing to take the job.  But whoever leads EPA ought to be conversant with the philosophy and methods of science, and able to apply scientific findings to the writing and modification of environmental safeguards.  And of course he or should be committed to the protection of our environment.

I will take these two issues in reverse order.  As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt fought EPA safeguards on behalf of fossil fuel companies.  Notice: he did not fight ill-considered or overreaching regulations on behalf of the citizens of Oklahoma, whom he supposedly serves!  There might be rational arguments on both sides regarding the cost/benefit ratio for any given safeguard, but that cost/benefit ratio should be costs and benefits to the community, not to companies or industry.  In one case Pruitt sent a letter in support of legislation to ease regulations--which was actually an industry letter on which Pruitt slapped his own letter head.  Questioned about this in his Senate confirmation hearing, Pruitt justified this because he felt that industry and citizens interests were identical!

Plainly, Pruitt is being installed at EPA in order to diminish or destroy it, as the president plainly wants to do.  The point is often made that a little pollution isn't so bad if it means keeping jobs.  But jobs are always temporary, while the damage done to preserve them is much more permanent, and borne by our children and grandchildren.  Pruitt himself has commented that the EPA is no longer needed since its job is done.  He bases this, I suppose, on his belief that our air and water are adequately protected.  This is wildly at odds with the facts, since our environment continues to be degraded by development and habitat destruction, fossil fuel use, industry and its pollution, and of course climate change.  The result is an ongoing mass extinction that, if continued, may become comparable to that which wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.  

I am firmly convinced that driving a species to extinction is morally wrong (and we have done so many, many times), but I also know that humanity depends for its survival on functioning ecosystems for the "ecosystem services" that supply our breathable air, drinkable water, and food, to name a few.  And those ecosystems in turn are made up of many species of uncertain importance to the functioning of those ecosystems.  In other words, as species decline and become extinct, ecosystems become unstable; if loss of a species causes an ecosystem to change radically or collapse we belatedly recognize that species as a "keystone."  (And then mutter, "oopsie!")  A practical case of species decline directly affecting us: honeybee populations have been collapsing catastrophically for more than a decade.  There are many contributing causes, one of which is nicotinoid insecticides.  Because we depend on honeybees for much of crop pollination, this decline will cost big bucks--maybe that will get people's attention, and we will ban these insecticides!

I've saved the most serious issue for last.  Even a cynical industry shill like Pruitt might become convinced he had to act on behalf of citizens if science clearly said so--if in fact he believed in science.  Pruitt had a reputation as a climate-change denier, and  showed a complete lack of conviction in discussing climate change during his confirmation hearing, looking like a man only saying the right things in order to get the job.  Scott Pruitt's reluctance to credit the science of climate change shows a profound lack or understanding of how science works.  An anti-science feeling seems to have pervaded a large part--perhaps even the majority--of the Republican Party, and this is very very, scary to the rest of the world.  These people seem to believe that science is arrived at by scientists debating their opinions--probably opinions informed by political positions.

In fact, science proceeds on the basis of objective evidence, corroborated (or refuted) by the work of many other researchers, and built into the strong, dynamic structure that is our understanding--built up over decades and centuries--of how the universe works.  

It is true that scientists are human, have their own opinions and failings.  That's why the conclusions reached by workers in one lab are not taken very seriously until the same results can be replicated in other labs.  The "scientific consensus" that climate change is occurring and that human activity is at least partly responsible is the result of a great many measurements and experiments done by highly-trained scientists all over the world over decades.  That consensus is the surest and most reliable information we have about climate change.  The very idea that any person put his opinion up against knowledge arrived at so rigorously is ludicrous.  It would be as if you disputed the verdict of the dealership on what was wrong with your car--when you know nothing at all about cars.  (In fact, that example doesn't begin to be strong enough.)  The only way Pruitt would not look so ludicrous in his own eyes is if he simply didn't understand how science works.  No one with that depth of ignorance can be put in charge of an agency so important in protecting us all--not to mention millions of our fellow species.

As I have said before, science is the surest way we have of knowing anything, since it is far more rigorous than any other department of knowledge.  

For all these reasons, Scott Pruitt must be opposed for EPA chief when he is up for a vote by the full Senate on Wednesday.  PLEASE call your Senators and register your disapproval today!

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