Self-Censoring, Fear, and the Environment


The Trump cabinet. (Artist: Viktor Vasnetsov.)

The problem is what Trump and his anti-environment goons will stop good people from doing. 


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention canceled a climate change and health summit months in the making without offering an official explanation, multiple news outlets reported Monday.

One summit co-sponsor reportedly claimed that the CDC had canceled the event in anticipation of political uncertainties posed by the new Trump administration.

When thinking about climate change and its impact on our lives, you might just be thinking about banal things like wars for scarce resources, refugee crises, the desiccation of arable land, the flooding of our coastal cities, starvation, immiseration, and chaos. But, with your rose-tinted glasses, you might be forgetting about disease.

There’s a reason the CDC would study climate change. As the WHO says, “Changes in infectious disease patterns are a likely major consequence of climate change.” More diseases will spread, aided of course by the human migration disruptions caused by the Anthropocene. So it seems like this is the sort of thing that the CDC should study. And they clearly agree.

So why would they cancel a conference? It isn’t that the incoming Administration canceled the conference; they’ve been too busy disputing the nature of counting and the existence of verifiable facts (though it’s all related, of course).

But Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, which was a co-sponsor on the summit, told the Associated Press that he was told CDC officials canceled in order to avoid a clash with the incoming Trump administration.

Rather than face conflict from the Trump administration, or a last minute cancellation, Benjamin said the CDC opted for a “strategic retreat.”

“They decided the better part of valor was to stop and regroup” he told the AP.

This might not strike you as particularly valorous, but it makes sense. Everything can come under review, especially with an administration as clearly vindictive and erratic as this. The CDC clearly feels that in order to help mitigate the impacts of disease, they need funding. And they don’t want to have their funding come into question by being so, you know, open about believing in climate change.

Because it is clear that one of the guiding principles of this administration is going to be to roll back any progress we’ve made on having clean air and water and on reversing the tentative steps taken to save the human species from self-inflicted doom.

Axios got their hands on some planning documents, notably Myron Ebell’s plan for overhauling the EPA (part of which is placing it in the hands of the execrable Scott Pruitt). Now, with the caveat that these are planning documents, and can’t be done exclusively by fiat, it is somewhat troubling. Daily Intelligencer sums it up.

They include the complete elimination of climate-change programs; a half-billion-dollars in funding cuts for EPA grants to state and local governments; an immediate halt to Clean Air Act regulations affecting new and existing power plants; an about-face on auto emissions standards; and a general defanging of EPA’s crucial ability to overrule federal and state regulations that pose environmental dangers.

None of this is a done deal, but it will be very hard to stop. That’s why you see actions like the CDC. They know that climate change is real. They know that it will bring about a terrifying wave of disease. They understand reality. And they understand the reality of an administration composed of people who fiercely deny that reality, whether for financial reasons, insane ideology, professional loyalty to a bonkers boss, a matter of hippie-punching habit, or (as is often the case) some combination of everything.

So they know that, as a former EPA head explained to TPM, the agency has to “self-censor” and stay away from controversial topics, and climate change is always at the head of the list. That doesn’t mean they won’t work to combat it how they can, but they know that if they want to live to fight, they have to keep their head down and not upset the cart.

It’s hard to overstate how insane this is. These are not partisan ideologues; they are scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying these issues. But because one of our parties is divorced from the real world, they have to hedge and shy away from the truth, or else have their funds cut. The kicker, of course, is that they are accused of “politicizing science. (“EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science,” according to Ebell’s document).

That’s scary. You have a government so antithetical to reality, and so clinically dishonest that they can accuse scientists of being political if the scientists refuse to accede to the government’s political ideology. Climate science has only been politicized by the right wing; it should be non-partisan. By its nature, it is non-partisan. But with their slobbering insistence, they’ve made it a partisan issue, and so if you say that you believe in it, and if your organization works to understand and combat, you are somehow political. They’re the ones who are rising above, and just want to protect science. So if you don’t fall in line, well brother, they sadly have no choice. Here comes the ax.

It’s why you see the CDC self-censoring. They know the score. They know they’ll have to eke out a very meager existence, doing what they can in the face of fluttered-bat hollow-headed lunacy. Other organizations will similarly fall in line, or be destroyed (in the case of the EPA, both). There will need to be a fierce resistance to bolster professionals who are under the attack of politicians.

And there should be. Trump voters do like clean air, and clean water. They might not like regulations, but they don’t want disease either. All of this is tied into the right’s overarching goal, which is to remove all environmental and worker-rights regulations to let corporations do whatever they want (including buying national parks). Fighting this very small clique of the wealthy and their goony fetchservants is the real populism.


3 thoughts on “Self-Censoring, Fear, and the Environment

  1. Pingback: Pipelines in the Great Lakes: The Tenous State of Oil in Mackinac and The Power of Great Journalism | Shooting Irrelevance

  2. Pingback: Reminder to GOP Senators In Re: Pruitt Vote: We Live On The Earth | Shooting Irrelevance

  3. Pingback: Surprise! Scott Pruitt’s EPA Uses Bad Economics on the Clean Water Rule – Shooting Irrelevance

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