President Trump may have lost the election, but he's still committed to do whatever it takes to eliminate science from the White House. On Monday, the Trump administration removed the executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), Dr. Michael Kuperberg, and announced plans to replace him with a climate change denier. Dr. Kuperberg, who was in charge of the government's climate change studies, was expected to stay with the department until the release of the fifth edition of the annual National Climate Assessment.
According to Dr. Kuperberg, he will be returning to his previous position as a scientist for the Department of Energy.
The National Climate Assessment (NCA) is an extremely detailed report card created by scientists that discusses the U.S.'s strategy on handling climate-related issues. It covers current and imminent problems the nation will face, our ability to adapt to these problems, and how well we can mitigate the impact of environmental changes. The NCA is submitted to congress every four years; the latest report, released in 2018, was 1,500 pages long and took about two years to complete.
There's a good reason why climate change deniers like President Trump and his ilk wouldn't want the USGCRP to release another report. The 2018 report didn't mince words about the impact of human activities, such as increasing greenhouse gases, on the planet's rising temperatures. It also found that Americans remained vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and that the impacts would harm people's health, leading to billions of dollars in additional costs.
Another report like this would hurt the Trump Administration and all their fossil fuel friends. The potential replacement, David Legates, is a deputy assistant secretary with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — another department the president is trying to sabotage. Legates has a reputation for working with climate change denying groups.
Experts fear he could step in and fudge the NCA, giving more ammo to fossil fuel companies that would be bolstered by an official government document that doesn't blame them for the climate crisis. It could also make it harder to enforce environmental regulations by underplaying the harm climate change causes to humans.
News of the executive director's removal is aggravating for conservationists, but also befuddling. President Trump will be out the door come January, whether he likes it or not. What's the point of trying to damage the NCA when President-elect Biden can reverse it?
"I can only speculate they want to see if they can manipulate the Fifth National Climate Assessment before the next administration comes in," climate scientist Don Wuebbles told the Washington Post. "Why they want to do that, I don't understand."
Kathy Jacobs, the director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions, added, "I would be more concerned if Trump had won the election. If USGCRP is rudderless for a few months, I don't consider that a devastating situation."
Still, there are lingering suspicions that the president is planning to mess things up as much as possible before he leaves. "The question is," said Jacobs, "what are they going to do in the interim?"