In late February, the White House announced plans to put together a panel to see if climate change is really a threat. The fact that this is even a question for the administration is bad — though not surprising — but even worse is the fact that the president picked a fervent climate science denier to lead the panel.
A sham of a panel
Said climate science denier William Happer is not a climate scientist, but has long been an outspoken skeptic, going as far as to advocate for the benefits of carbon dioxide. He is tied to numerous climate denial organizations, and has received funding from the fossil fuel industry for his testimonies on carbon dioxide.
This is just the Trump administration’s latest attempt to cast doubt on the threat of climate change. There’s little hope a panel led by William Happer would come away with the real and broadly-accepted conclusion that climate change is happening, it is caused by humans, and if swift and sweeping action isn’t taken it will have irreversible and disastrous impacts on our planet, including the food and agriculture systems we depend on.
Another name on the roster
With all that has been happening on the U.S. and global political stage in the past few months, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t the first time this administration has placed (or attempted to place) our food and farming systems in the hands of unqualified people:
- Scott Pruitt, the administration’s (now-removed) appointment to EPA Administrator was nominated to lead the agency tasked with keeping our air, water and soil clean. An inappropriate choice given his cozy relationship with Dow Chemical (now Corteva), one of his first acts as Administrator was to reverse the planned ban on the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos.
- Sonny Perdue, the administration’s Secretary of Agriculture, is concerning given his extensive ties to agribusiness companies as former head of an agribusiness trading company — and he's also a climate science denier.
- Trump attempted to place Sam Clovis in a lead scientist position at USDA, and he isn’t even a scientist. He was a conservative talk show radio host with no scientific experience in food and agriculture. Thankfully his nomination was withdrawn before he made it to the agency.
- But then the administration picked a less-than-qualified nominee for the chief scientist at USDA, Scott Hutchins. While actually a scientist this time, Hutchins is a 30-year veteran of Dow Agrosciences. Hutchins is the third high-level appointment to USDA from the corporation’s pesticide/seed division.
Too much at stake
The science is clear; we are at a critical crossroads for climate change. Agencies must serve the interests of farmers, rural communities and the general public, not pesticide, seed, and fossil fuel industries. Now more than ever, we need reasonable, qualified and forward-thinking scientists and policymakers working toward climate solutions.
Public outcry was successful in removing Scott Pruitt from the head of EPA, and moved Sam Clovis to withdraw his name from consideration for the position at USDA. Let’s continue calling for the leadership we really need in these positions of power.