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for people who care about the West

Our political decisions have Earth-wide implications

The facts are in. Now we have to decide what to do about them.


In Idaho, a political battle over climate change education is afoot. Lawmakers there want to scrub information about the subject from statewide science guidelines, veering away from national standards and leaving public-school students in ignorance. After all, the facts are in: Humans add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, thereby trapping the sun’s energy and heating up the planet. That’s not a value judgment; it’s just science. But denying it is akin to denying the existence of gravity.

For now, Idaho’s more sensible teachers and students are pushing back, and it looks like some vestige of reason will be restored to classrooms. However, it is unlikely we’ve heard the last of this sort of thing, as a full-on ideological war on science is underway in our country. Ideas once confined to shock jocks and Twitter trolls have entered national politics, and now the White House.

As the venerable Scientific American recently reported, under President Donald Trump critical science positions in federal agencies have not been filled, science advisory panels are being disbanded, and science-based policies are being undermined. These, too, are facts, verifiable and indisputable, and yet I get letters these days asking me to stop disparaging the president. Believe me, I wish I could. But Trump’s policies are endangering the long-term effectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to name just a few. In other words, this administration is undermining the American institutions that make our water and workplaces safe, cure diseases, and explore and study land, sea and space.

Editor-in-chief, Brian Calvert
Brooke Warren/High Country News

Why? I have no idea. But I do know this: The Earth’s massive systems don’t care a whit about you, me or Donald Trump. They will keep churning, turning, spinning and grinding according to universal laws, no matter what we say or believe. Here on this tiny rock in an infinite cosmos, we are free to extinguish ourselves or not, according to the rational (or irrational) choices we make.

This issue’s cover story helps explain why these choices matter, why science matters. In it, writer J. Madeleine Nash takes us to the Alaskan Arctic, where researchers are trying to understand what will happen when vast stretches of permafrost thaw. Right now, no one knows for sure. What we do know is that, as temperatures rise, ice thaws. (Try denying that.) And when you defrost thousands of miles of muck, thousands of feet thick, something on our planet will change. If only it were the president’s view of what actually makes America great: our power to reason, desire to discover and curiosity about the wonderful world we live in — at least while it lasts.