Science in a ‘post-fact’ world

We are now living in a country in which our head of state is clearly lying to us about even mundane things — about things that can’t possibly have happened the way he says they did. How are we supposed to carry on as normal? This is the theme of today’s conversation.

We were planning to take a longer break before starting season 2. But it’s clear we need to respond to the whirlwind first week of Donald Trump’s presidency — specifically what it means for science and climate change.

Listen to the full conversation, and read on below for Eric’s emotional intro to the show.

Eric: For the first time in my personal memory — except perhaps in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks — there’s a tangible and terrifying sense of uncertainty that pervades daily life.

There’s a renewed urgency to watching the news — not just out of a morbid curiosity for whatever bold new action or restriction was announced that morning — but as part of an effort to assemble our own personal response strategies.

Close friends are checking into what they need to do to liquidate bank accounts and travel abroad at short notice, other friends are attending protests for the first time and making daily calls to their members of congress. People are re-reading George Orwell and Sinclair Lewis, and defriending lifelong friends on Facebook. People are talking, forming communities, processing our rapidly changing reality together.

At risk is the very idea of our country’s decades-long commitment to upholding things like scientific progress and human rights and democracy itself. In his first statement as a former president, Barack Obama went even a bit further on Monday — just the 10th full day of the Trump presidency — saying that “American values are at stake.”

It all feels surreal, but it is actually happening. For me, the thing I keep coming back to that makes me think “yes, you’re not just imagining things” is the administration’s insistence — even in the face of incontrovertible objective evidence — that their reality, that their truth, is the real truth.

From photos of the crowds on inauguration day to this weekend’s outpouring of emotion at airports nationwide — the White House has continued to insist things are proceeding smoothly, that Trump is “winning,” whatever that means. The Washington Post even had an amazing piece about how Trump insisted that the clouds parted and the sun came out during his inauguration speech — when video, and radar, and satellite imagery clearly showed it was cloudy and raining. As a scientist and journalist and someone who has dedicated my life to pursuing truth, it is deeply, deeply offensive to me that the idea of truth itself is being called into question. How are we supposed to carry on as normal?

For those of us who’ve dealt with the phenomenon of climate denial for decades, this all seems too familiar. Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, after all, is Rex Tillerson — the former CEO of ExxonMobil, and a master of saying one thing and doing another when it comes to climate. It now seems the United States, under Trump’s direction, is officially hostile to the scientific pursuit of truth — a foundational bedrock for an effective government. Trump’s first week has been filled with reports of censorship of government science agencies, funding cuts to the EPA, and intimidation of academics and the press. Like everyone else, I’m not quite sure what will happen next, but perhaps unlike most everyone else, I’m encouraged by my grounding in science. There is an objective reality out there. Each of us do have a voice and a very important role to play. I’m just a little nervous about what happens next.

In this week’s episode, we detail the different ways that the Trump Administration may be systematically undermining climate science. There are a lot of bad signs. But there’s still a lot we don’t know.

As normal, the episode features dialogue between Eric Holthaus, Jacquelyn Gill and Andy Revkin.

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A podcast about life on the warming planet. Hosted by @JacquelynGill and @DrRamBio. Produced by @612to651