'It has been hard to watch science and facts become optional'
Last week, we published a piece musing about what the election meant for us and the environment. We invited readers to offer their thoughts.
Dozens of you did:
Rebuilding trust in science
It has been hard to watch science and facts become optional, and both this administration and the pandemic have reinforced my belief that we need to make certain that the next generation of scientists is better trained to talk to the public. And even more importantly, that generation must consider communication a vital part of their job.
Anthony Fauci has demonstrated the power of a scientist who can make research findings accessible, and we need to make him the norm, not the exception.
The election brought all of this home with a vengeance. I felt physically ill election night. How could so many of my fellow Americans vote for more chaos, more Covid and less science? We probably can't convince those for whom Fox News is the sole source of information of the importance of science. But if we work on their kids, we can change the world.
In short, the election has given me hope for the first time in four years. It also has made it painfully clear just how much work lies ahead. I am rolling up my sleeves!
– Patricia Hunt, Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.
I'm cautiously optimistic, after hearing Joe and Kamala putting science, data and truth front and center in their vision for our country. Perhaps our beleaguered scientific and regulatory agencies will finally be given the respect and resources needed to move the public health agenda forward in meaningful ways that can slow, or even reverse, the declines we are experiencing in human and global environmental health.
– Shanna Swan, author of "Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race" (to be published Feb 2021), New York, N.Y.
I am very concerned about what the election results say about Americans' views on science. So much misinformation was widely believed. I think that creates a huge challenge. If half of the country gets erroneous information, and doesn't believe unbiased news sources, it will be hard to gain wide support for testing, masks, contact tracing and other public health measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. A significant number of people will not accept the findings of climate change scientists. It means that acceptance of science as a basis for decisions will face skepticism.
I think we are going to have a tough time rebuilding trust in experts, and that will need to be a strong focus: finding ways to gain support and understanding of society's challenges, and how science and technology can help us manage threats.
- Jo Anne Shatkin, Boston, Mass.
This election means, once again, a chance to move forward on climate change. Every time we seem to have a chance, the elections have given us presidents who will delay and even push back the timeline to take action.
President George W. Bush and his stolen election (thanks to Roger Stone and his lawyer thugs in Florida) and President Trump's and Mitch McConnell's recalcitrance mean we have lost more valuable time. Why the voters saw this as acceptable comes back to how this information is presented or politicized. I am hoping this election gives us the Senate and House so progress can begin.
I wish it had something to say about the politicized education system that cannot teach science that will save the very students it teaches. I wish it had a way to turn back the time on social media. Mark Zuckerberg has come to his senses too late to prevent the awfulness that he has wrought. People are the only creatures susceptible to such craziness. And from what I heard in an interview with a researcher on NPR, 40% of Republicans who answered their questionnaires were susceptible to autocrats.
At least the cult of Trump should begin to fade away or, if we are really cursed, he will get a show on Fox and continue spreading this insanity. I do hope not, because a megaphone for Trump is the death knell for humanity.
- Linda Blossom, Ithaca, N.Y.
Reflecting on humanity
Congrats to President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris!
I am asked how I feel after the election. The giant sigh of relief is already over and I am looking at you two. Do you really have what it takes to steer America in healthy and inspiring directions? And if so, will they let you?
Our biggest challenges are political monsters. A grotesque lack of charity in health care, rising wealth and income inequity, and unaddressed racial injustice are smothering the sublime American spirit.
But even more deadly demons are herding us toward oblivion:
- The low dose adverse effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals are making us sick and sterile. Do you understand this fastest-acting of existential threats to our civilization? If you don't, Europe's leaders are starting to get it right, and you can join them.
- Worsening climate change is wreaking havoc on us. Our apparent lack of concern for poor, badly impacted countries is foul and loathsome. Your green energy ideas bring optimism.
- Self-inflicted trade imbalances are making us paupers—that "buy American" idea you floated looks to have major corrective potential.
For now, you make me happy! But as reality sets in, only brilliant follow-though manifested by you both and allowed by all can free my spirit from its present internment so well captured in the closing lines of Robert Burns great poem, "To a mouse:"
But, Oh! I backward cast my eye.
On prospects drear!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!
At the end of the day, I am comforted by knowing you want to get it. You referenced Josh Groban's hymn, "On Eagle's Wings," in your address to the nation Saturday, Mr. Biden. He has words for you and the Vice President-Elect, too:
"May God make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His Hand."
–Terrence J. Collins, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.
At least the election results kept alive a small hope that civilization might avoid a collapse – or at least the United States might eventually start working in the right direction.
But we can't help wondering how we're going to get existential problems like climate disruption solved when a big portion of the population seems ready to take up arms against those who would ask us to surrender our liberty by wearing masks. Next thing you know they'll be removing our freedom to drive 100 mph in school zones!
In any case we can now imagine our socio-ecological complex adaptive system can drop into an unforeseen basin of attraction. 'Growthmania' will fade, 'stop at one' child will become the norm, equity will increase, and humanity might have a chance.
– Anne and Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
How could ANYONE do a worse job than President Donald Trump?? Thanks FOX News for providing a never-lower bar on a simple CON MAN!
What else can explain the total lack of moral judgement in this country? Fox News Owner Rupert Murdoch smiles all the way to whatever bank he owns by now.
Sickened by the lack of morality in the masses.
- Diane Birmingham
Shattering the glass ceiling
I am relieved. I can take a moment to rest my worries. But not much more than a moment, as there is much more work to be done.
But for the first time, a woman, a woman of color, is in the office of the vice president. This is momentous. And though significant, it is also shitty that it has taken this long. But as the Biden administration works towards responses and resilience to this climate crisis, diversifying representation is critical.
- Madeleine Bavley, MA candidate, University of Utah
Redirecting our focus
TIME TO SAVE THE WORLD'S BIODIVERSITY…START BY THINKING SMALL…MAKE AMERICA MEEK AGAIN
- J. R. Ball, Inglewood, Calif.
Although the Green New Deal may not happen with President-elect Biden, I think he will move us in the right direction. President Trump was very busy dismantling previous environmental achievements and it hardly got any news. I can't help wonder if some of his crazy communications were more about distraction from more important things.
I'm not sure how feasible it would be; but could Environmental Health Sciences start a list of laws and policies that help protect the environment and the health and safety of all U.S. residents that were altered or dismantled during the Trump administration?
- Gail M., Portland, Ore.
Editor's note: Gail, check out this list compiled by the Brookings Institution. You can filter by environmental policies to see what occurred under the Trump administration.
Back on track with environmental efforts
Assuming Joe Biden wins the Presidential election, we will be back in the Paris Accord and participate more fully in other international initiatives on climate science, biodiversity, environmental justice, and so on. Biden will reverse many of Trump's executive orders, and the EPA policies, that did tremendous damage to the environment. Of course if Trump wins, we are in for four more years of devastation.
Locally, on Maine's Blue Hill Peninsula where I live, conservation groups are strong and growing. The elections will have no effect on that. What will have more effect is the influx of people fleeing cities to live in sparsely populated rural areas like this one, with its attractive natural resources and active conservation infrastructure, on account of the pandemic. Most of the newcomers are college-educated, able to work from home, and supportive of environmentalist and conservation efforts. The major environmental problem for this area will be what to do after the lobster fishery (the major industry) moves further down east and into Canada.
- Jeff Todd Titon, Professor of Music, Emeritus, Brown University
The enormous disappointment of the outcome of Senate and House races in many places is tempered by the knowledge that President Biden will reverse many of the policies imposed by Trump. We can remain in the Paris Accord and lead new efforts to bring the world to act. We can incentivize the transition to renewable energy and efficient transportation. There is at least some hope that, if we stay the course, we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change and avoid a cataclysmic outcome for our fragile civilization.
- Robert Connors, Lake Wales, Fla.
The climate change and environmental impacts we currently face and the outcome of the 2020 election is on the forefront of my mind.
A responsible president, who believes in science-based data about the world of hurt our nation and globe are in, is the only way to start the slow arduous process of correcting some of the wrongs we have done. I believe Joe Biden, with Kamala Harris working beside him, will choose environmentally-minded and responsible individuals to lead sorely needed organizations to start the process. I believe a Biden-Harris administration will get the USA back in the Paris Climate Accord ASAP.
The election has shown how divided our America has become, not only politically but environmentally. The act of beginning to close some of these divides, through education, empathy and hard work (often at the grassroots level), can begin to help and heal Mother Earth.
I believe the leadership of an American president is the only way to tackle the pollution and scores of environmental problems we must tackle, and I believe the outcome of this 2020 Election will provide us with that badly needed leadership.
- Barbara Turpin, Waterford, N.Y.
To answer your question about my optimism regarding the 2020 presidential election, I'm ecstatic. Science will once again prevail. It's been a rough four years, to say the least. I look forward to an aggressive environmental agenda from the Biden administration.
- Gabe R., Houston, Texas
A clear message
Throughout this historic election cycle, voters were absolutely clear that Pennsylvania natural gas is critically important to their communities.
We congratulate President-Elect Biden and look forward to working closely with his administration to leverage American natural gas – which supports hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs across the Commonwealth – through bipartisan solutions that positively impact our country's biggest challenges.
- David Spigelmyer, president, Marcellus Shale Coalition, Pittsburgh, Pa.
This should be a time for optimism, especially if we choose to work with each other, not against each other. We can have an energy future in which our economy, our environment and our sense of social and racial equality are all served by access to safe and sustainable energy—for all.
If we set aside political differences, listen to the data, respect the science, and pool our resources, together we are enough to shift the future. Let's start by finding the common ground we agree on. Let's talk about how we can accelerate carbon emission reductions. Let's discuss the role innovation can play in creating a sustainable energy future, and how we can collaborate on inclusive innovation projects. It's also important to recognize the level of commitment and expertise across the oil and gas industry committing to working on these shared challenges.
– Kevin Slagle, Western States Petroleum Assoc., Sacramento, Calif.
About the election process
The "I want to know now" group seeking the election results only speaks to the instant gratification desired by many in our society. Anything of value is worth waiting & working for & that includes the results of the election. There is a process in place & it takes time. Please, let the process work.
We can only hope with diligence & participation, we can move sound environmental practices & laws forward. It has been such a difficult time to be an environmentalist for the last 4 years & many years previous.
Hang in there everyone.
- Linda A Eastman
The good news is that the election system is honest and it worked. Also, LOTS of people voted.
The bad news is that many of our voting methods are unnecessarily slow and cumbersome. If every state voted as Colorado does, we would have known the results Tuesday night. Election-wise, it seems as if we have perfected the hardest way to do it.
- James Hunter, Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Supreme threat
Perhaps the greatest threat right now is the Supreme Court. At least two justices stand to make the climate crisis worse.
Not that Amy Barrett and Neil Gorsuch are in denial. After all, Wall Street and big money like Wellington and Blackstone are leaping into fossil fuel free options and Florida real estate may tank without insurance after a convincing hurricane and flood.
The justices will likely rule against our greatest future solution to global warming: a reduced population.
With Roe preserved and abortion legal, and over-the-counter contraception, mandatory education about choice, and discreet dispensers of pills and condoms in even the poorest school, we will have a chance.
Thank you and science for recognizing how we are over the limits of "carrying capacity."
- Merloyd Ludington, Boston, Mass.
The necessity of education
A friend provided a link to an excellent piece in Nov. 4 Politico magazine, "Democrats Look at Trump Voters and Wonder, 'What the Hell is Your Problem?'"
It's hard to avoid reverting to a gallows sense of humor as the Trump administration and his enablers loot, whistle and cluelessly skip along past looming ecological disasters. Their ignorant behavior and greed may seem humorous, but the fate of our life support systems is deadly serious.
All attempts at humor aside, the next Administration and all citizens will need to search for common safe paths through this minefield in which we stand in gridlock.
Biden's (and former President Obama's) comments about being a President for the "United" States are good signs, especially compared to the combativeness of Trump's scorched earth ideology. The sobering reality of the climate crises, famine, pandemics, economic collapse, military conflict, oligarchies, etc. should be ample motivation to choose prevention over emergency response.
We know it's impossible for children to learn when they're distracted by hunger. Although it's easy for me to say "Helping learners synthesize informed decisions is the essence of education", the distractions of hunger, destitution, illness, oppression etc., effortlessly hijack education.
But I firmly believe that awareness, truthfulness, education and communication are essential for breaking the barriers of common understanding and the question of "What the hell is your problem?"
Unfortunately, when leaders are mentally ill, and are surrounded by morally bankrupt and/or corrupt enablers, education becomes more difficult, and sometimes dangerous. For example, Trump's policy of "opening the states for business as usual" and promoting face-to-face classrooms in a pandemic is foolhardy and dangerous.
- Roger R. Patocka, P.E., Estherville, Iowa
It's become so clear to me now that the constant chipping away of funding for education, particularly science education, is a Republican strategy to dumb down our population so they can be more easily manipulated. There needs to be a strong counter strategy to this as part of Biden's recovery plan. I just hope it doesn't take 4 years to undo all the damage...
- Gail Lee
Finding middle groundPhoto by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash
If we did not have an electoral college (which is really undemocratic, with a small d) and the person who won the popular vote always won the election in the U.S., Donald Trump never would have been president. As president he and Republicans did everything they could to undo everything achieved during the Obama presidency.
Minority rule under Trump was a cruel thing for much of the population – undoing health care initiatives, attempts at immigration reform, and climate and conservation initiatives, some of which had been in place since the 1970s.
Trump was not my president and made no attempt to be my president. His nods to white supremacy and his militaristic actions against, in many cases, peaceful demonstrations only has made the civil unrest worse. He has made no attempt to understand or reconcile with the BLM movement.
I will make no excuse for the looters and arsonists that often co-opt these demonstrations – those acts are criminal and should be punished. But acts by civilians and police against people who are lawfully demonstrating are equally criminal.
The Republicans have done everything in their power to destroy the legitimacy of the 2020 election – from deeming mail-in and absentee voting fraudulent, to naming a political crony to oversee and reduce operations at the U.S. Postal Service; from making it difficult in some states to vote early in person, to suggesting that Republicans who mail in their votes also vote in person (vote twice – now that would be fraud, one easily detected thanks to computers).
The president wanted to totally undo climate action and has largely failed because more and more people – and many corporations – are demanding clean energy, clean air, and clean water. Throughout the country (though not here in Missouri) coal plants are closing at an accelerating rate: Trump's "beautiful clean coal" never materialized. Republicans are seriously talking about supporting technology development to reduce carbon (especially carbon capture). Young people are aware that they are inheriting an environment in trouble; many are pushing for action as well. Even young Republicans are "woke" on climate.
I am a pre-baby boom product of the '60s – I was a Kennedy teen ("ask not....") and was in the streets at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention as a grad student. Young people refused to vote for Vice President Hubert Humphrey then because he wasn't Gene McCarthy – and we believed Richard Nixon was the worst thing that could happen to America. He wasn't. His administration had one of the best records on environmental action (thanks to Love Canal) and he opened up diplomacy with China. Flawed people can still do good things.
Perhaps over time we'll find some good that comes from the Trump Administration. The most important thing we can do as citizens is VOTE – vote our values. I think Joe Biden is committed to righting as best he can the damage done by the current White House and Congress. He will certainly be more responsive to the needs of people.
Yes we are polarized – back in the '50s and '60s conventional wisdom held the parties should become more ideologically uniform (no more conservative Dixiecrat Democrats or liberal Rockefeller Republicans). We got what the pundits wished for, but frankly the old system worked better.
Joe Biden has friends across the aisle. He can't bring us together but maybe he can get all of us talking about the big stuff, not just the smaller bills. The view that Dems and Reps never work together is false, though Trump made bipartisan action difficult. I will patiently await President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and keep my fingers crossed for much less fraught times ahead.
- Libby Y., St. Louis, Mo.
I wanted to see a tremendous rebuke of Trump.
As in 2016, what is most upsetting is that fellow citizens feel he personally, or his policies, are acceptable, and have nearly given him a second term. I really thought I would lose my mind if he remained in power for four more years. Now I know that we HAVE to figure out how to talk to each other and how to find the common ground. I really don't believe Trumpists want their grandkids to burn up or drown so we have to find the language and the policies that allow us to save ourselves.
We have to be able to talk "science" without whatever it is about expertise and education that turns people off. As a physician, I know that people DO want the benefits of medicine to improve or save their lives or the lives of their kids. I think we have to start on some small piece of common ground and build from there.
- Dr. Susan A Miller, Richmond, Va.
While I'm heartened, I also realize our country's soul is torn apart. In order to heal the planet, we need to heal our relationships with those who don't see things the same way as we do. Braver Angels, a citizens' organization uniting red and blue Americans to depolarize America, had this quote to share on Election Day:
"Regardless of how the election turns out, I will not hold hate, disdain, or ridicule for those who voted differently from me. Whether I am pleased or upset about the outcome, I will seek to understand the concerns and aspirations of those who voted differently and will look for opportunities to work with people with whom I disagree."
- Lisa Sadleir-Hart, Sitka, Alaska
A stagnant Senate
Very optimistic about Biden/Harris winning.
Disappointed that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got re-elected. He is the main reason for the divisive and stagnant Senate.
- Don Bogner
It is good that Trump will no longer be president. He is incompetent and dishonest. I doubt that many Republicans will be sorry to see him gone.
On the other hand, Republicans should be quite pleased that they may well continue to control the Senate, that they gained seats in the House (where an 80-year-old Speaker is nearing the end of her tenure), and gained/held control in enough states that they will lay out many congressional districts for the next decade.
No one should think that an old, middle-of-the-road ex-senator will move very far to the left. President-elect Biden will govern from the center, and in order to get his cabinet confirmed, he will have to select moderates. Sen. Mitch McConnell is and will remain the most powerful person in the federal system. He will continue to control which bills are brought to the Senate floor and which judges are confirmed.
The country will continue to be deeply and sharply divided. This is not good for the Republic.
- James Hunter, Colorado Springs, Colo.
While cautiously optimistic and greatly relieved by Joe Biden's victory, I feel there are major obstacles ahead. I have a hard time understanding the support of so many for the lying, racist, anti-science con man Donald Trump is. And we still have Mitch McConnell and the Republican senators to bargain with. I fear difficult sailing ahead.
- Barry Pendergrass, Albany, N.Y.
No faith in the parties
Not optimistic. Neither of the two oligarchic parties gives a damn about people or the planet. We need to build a people's party to recreate a democracy that honors the Earth and all beings. With so much division we must build confidence in each other to make the big changes from the present death cult – to peace and cooperation.
- Eric Meyer, Austin, Texas
Let the healing begin
For the USA and the world, I see this election as producing a potentially stabilizing bridge. It could provide an opportunity for the upcoming generation, which will live in this deeply scarred world, to develop political and practical skills to work cooperatively toward ecological balance and economic justice.
In healing the Earth, we heal ourselves. So may we be blessed.
- Lesley McLaughlin, Cumberland, R.I.
This was an election like no other. Say what you will about Trump, he motivated people to vote. Our democracy has weathered the storm and emerged intact. Now may the healing begin.
On another note, thank you for all you do to educate people on environmental issues. As a retired professor of environmental health, I share your concerns that the health of our environment and the health of people are two sides of the same coin.
May you be inspired to continue your work. I know it can be discouraging, but we must believe that the light of truth will conquer the darkness of ignorance and prejudice.
- Betty Dabney, San Antonio, Texas
Banner photo: Wikimedia Commons