It’s been an extremely busy August for the White House. There have been riots in Charlottesville, extreme flooding in Texas, a game of nuclear chicken with North Korea and, of course, the usual carousel of resignations and appointments. But those are just the stories that have hit the headlines. Earlier this month, the Office of Management and Budget released a memo outlining the government’s spending priorities for scientific research – and (surprise, surprise) climate research barely gets a mention.
The government spends billions of dollars in scientific research and development every year, so how they choose to allocate this money can have a huge impact on science for years to come. This year’s spending proposal won’t come into action until 2019, but it does tell us a lot about what we can expect from the administration when it comes to their science policy.
In a lot of ways, it’s very predictable. Military innovation and national security are top priorities, which is exactly what you would expect from a Republican White House. Prosperity, energy, and health are the three other priority areas. Under health, the memo emphasizes aging and drug addiction – the latter no doubt a response to the opioid epidemic. Still, it’s worth mentioning that the President himself still sees this as a law and order issue, when experts have clearly pointed out that, for the most part, it’s a healthcare issue.
In any case, this does mark a significant shift from Obama’s White House, which listed climate change, clean energy, and Earth sciences as its scientific priorities.
The refusal to include climate research on the memo is not all that surprising given the amount of climate change skepticism in the current administration, but that’s disappointing when it’s considered one of, if not the, biggest threat facing the planet right now. The closest it comes to mentioning global warming is under energy, where it encourages the development of a “clean energy portfolio composed of fossil, nuclear and renewable energy sources.” (Note: Fossil fuels can hypothetically be cleaner, but they certainly cannot be clean.)
Then again, it’s not all bad. John Holdren, Obama’s former science advisor, told Scientific American the memo is “better than [he] feared.” While he is concerned by the climate change oversight, he told the magazine, perhaps surprisingly, “there is much more to praise to in this document than to complain about”. Aside from the priority areas, the memo highlights a commitment to STEM fields as well as early stage research and interagency coordination, which was “a big theme for us under the Obama administration,” Holdren said.
Whatever happens, we can also be grateful that, despite Trump’s efforts, science funding is up on last year.