Yesterday, Joe Biden became the President-Elect of the United States. Today, Ben Sanger, a climate change scientist who was forced out at the Department of Energy earlier this year, wrote an open letter to Biden about the need to restore the primacy of science:
Mr. Biden, assuming your election to the office of President of the United States, is formally certified, you will face two immediate, formidable challenges. The first is “bending the curve” of COVID-19 infections. The second is to bend the curve of greenhouse gas emissions towards a more sustainable pathway—to attain an emissions curve that reduces the risks of significant climate disruption.
An additional important challenge is to restore public trust in science and scientists. You must rebuild public trust in the scientific impartiality of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy, the Centers for Disease Control and many other federal agencies with scientific remits. You must convince the women and men working in these agencies that their new prime directive is not political loyalty to one person—the new directive is “get the science right.” You will have to inspire the disillusioned and disheartened, reverse the loss of critical expertise at key scientific agencies and make public service at these agencies an aspirational goal for the next generation of young scientists. In achieving this restoration of trust, you can count on the help of many thousands of U.S. scientists.Ben Sanger, “An Open Letter to Joe Biden” published by Scientific American, November 8, 2020.
This willingness to disregard science is pervasive in the United States, but not unique. We see it anywhere where people protest against masks and social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19, and among climate change denialists around the world.
But the novel coronavirus doesn’t care what a person feels about masks, and a ton of CO2 is going to have the same effect on the environment no matter where it was emitted.
This project focuses primarily on the issues that are common to every type of innovation programs, especially those obstacles that are preventable if teams prepare themselves to make better decisions. Good, data-driven decisions are at the heart of my work, because they lead to better outcomes, for teams, for their companies, for customers and for society.
Public policy makers also need support to make good, data-driven decisions about public health, environmental protection, energy, transportation and food production, so that they can create pull for the innovations that we need in these areas, and encourage their citizens to make good, data-driven decisions of their own.
As an American, I know that we were always going to have more cases than China, because we will never accept the level of government surveillance and interference with freedom of movement that were already part of Chinese society. We don’t even have a national ID Card or a national police force to enforce such orders. Our national leaders have to persuade us, and then align incentives that empower us to make good decisions. That’s how we’ll get action on COVID-19, and that’s how we’ll get action on climate change.
I hope Biden reads this letter, and I hope he invites Ben Sanger and his colleagues to rejoin the federal fight against climate change. And I hope he recognizes that Americans have been subjected to an active campaign to destroy their confidence in science that didn’t start with Trump but must end with him. So it’s not going to be easy, especially when the truth is much harder to accept than a comfortable lie.
We are so large and so influential that we can’t sit on our butts while the rest of the world reduces carbon emissions. And we have it within us to rise to this challenge, if we take everything that’s great about America and focus all that energy on accelerating Net Zero.