The Trump administration insisted that all of the climate change scientists move from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City. They had a month to decide whether they would move or leave the government. There were no exceptions, not even for the person undergoing chemo treatment for cancer or the one trying to manage multiple sclerosis (MS). Then, this happened.
A top climate change scientist turned in his resignation from the USDA (Agriculture Department) Agricultural Research Service after 20 years on the job. Lewis Ziska, 62, was protesting the White House trying to bury vital information about rice nutrient loss as the amount of carbon dioxide rises in the atmosphere. This would impact 600 million people who use rice as the main source of calories.
Ziska commented “that’s so sad,” according to POLITICO:
‘You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views. That’s so sad. I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.’
The department released a statement that indicated a disagreement with career officials, not political appointees, regarding his rice study was why Ziska left:
‘This was a joint decision by ARS national program leaders — all career scientists — not to send out a press release on this paper.’
Ziska’s lab had to drop the term “global change” to provide some cover from the Trump administration. He said:
‘That was not something that had ever happened before.’
The scientist said that all of them knew that anything related to climate change was at risk:
‘We were careful. And then it got to the point where language started to change. No one wanted to say climate change, you would say climate uncertainty or you would say extreme events. Or you would use whatever euphemism was available to not draw attention.’
Ziska continued, noting that all of the scientists had been feeling the pressure:
‘There was a sense that if the science agreed with the politics, then the policymakers would consider it to be ‘good science,’ and if it didn’t agree with the politics, then it was something that was flawed and needed to be done again. That was a sea change in how we viewed our role. We’re not a political agency. Our goal is to deal, in a very pragmatic and very cost-effective way, with some of these issues.’
Then, he said he saw that the politicization of climate science risked the future of agriculture here and offshore:
‘You have farmers who are looking at climate and weather that they’ve not seen in their lifetimes. It’s not your father’s climate. It’s changing. What does that mean? Does it mean that I’m screwed, or does it mean I have an opportunity? … What does it mean in terms of soil health? What does it mean in terms of diseases or weeds that might be new to the area? This is a fundamental change across all different aspects. To ignore it. To just dismiss it and say ‘oh that’s political’ … I don’t have the words to describe that. It’s surreal. It feels like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.’
A USDA spokesperson noted that the department leaders simply disagreed with Ziska’s conclusion:
‘The concern was about nutritional claims, not anything relating to climate change or C02 levels. The nutrition program leaders at ARS disagreed with the implication in the paper that 600 million people are at risk of vitamin deficiency. They felt that the data do not support this.’
That was odd given that Ziska’s paper had already made it through the internal clearance processes within the USDA plus an in-depth peer review. It was days from publication. He thought something was wrong after he rebutted the points of concern, and there was no answer:
‘That’s when it occurred to me. This isn’t about the science. It’s about something else, but it’s not about the science. When that happened, I realized it’s not just a question of language,” he said. “It’s not just a question of philosophy. They’re saying we’re not going to support this work. And the reason that they’re not going to support the work is because the science doesn’t suit their — I don’t know what?Ideology?’
Harvard researches confirmed Ziska’s findings:
‘…rice loses vitamins in a carbon-rich environment and flagged concerns about how such a change could affect the health of hundreds of millions of people.’
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