We are six days into the Trump administration in the United States of America and we are seeing clear signs that the Trump intends to keep his campaign promises to roll back environmental protection and federal scientific efforts (among a host of other actions). Hiring freezes, gag orders, spending freezes and more have all been announced already for federal scientific agencies (though some have been temporary). Regulatory roll backs are already underway, two oil pipelines previously stopped have been green-lighted, and there’s more new bad news in this vein every time I check the news. Amidst the news blur, I have also been listening to the voices of Canadian scientists who are frantically trying to tell us that this sounds just like the beginning of the Harper administration and that those of us with tenure (job security) absolutely must speak loudly in protest to stop what we can. I am resolved to do that, and it starts here, with this discussion of jobs, economic costs, and the timescales over which we will collectively be paying for Trump’s actions.
Let the record reflect that it is not just federal and academic scientists who are worried about the news coming out of the early days of the Trump administration. Most of those billions of dollars of EPA contracts and grants go to on-the-ground projects at the city and state level, and effectively support the work people of in city and state government agencies. If the funding for those projects go away, or the federal regulations that are enforced at the city and state levels are loosened, those city and state workers will lose their jobs. And it’s not just public sector workers that will be affected.
I was copied on an email chain this morning populated by folks from the environmental consulting world (i.e., private industry) who are worried about the future of their jobs. I have also heard from several small business owners that they may need to lay off employees or close entirely if their scientific, environmental, and clean energy clients decrease their purchases in response to Trump’s policies. These are all-American, small town businesses worried about going out of business because of the coming changes from the Trump administration.
Lots of “real Americans” are going to lose their jobs if Trump carries through with his plans.
We’ll lose the expertise of people currently working in the environmental and science disciplines and we’ll lose a critical cohort of students who will be deterred from training for science and environmental jobs because of uncertain employment futures. Those that value their scientific careers above their geography will leave the US, and those that can’t or don’t want to leave will find other jobs. Those other jobs will often be lower paying. (I heard “the bike shop” mentioned by a 20+ year career scientist in private industry.) When we eventually get an administration that decides to reverse course and re-prioritize science and environmental protection, we won’t be able to get those seasoned experts or the early career folks back. It’s easy to leave a scientific or technical career, but nearly impossible to get back into one after an absence, but the field moves on and your expertise quickly becomes outdated. Even if many of Trump’s gag orders and freezes end up being temporary, the uncertainty and fear will cause businesses to hesitate in making purchases or hiring staff, working scientists will start looking elsewhere for their next career move, and students will shy away from committing to the rigorous, sometimes decade-long, training it takes to become a scientist or environmental professional.
If Trump carries through with his plans to curtail federal science and loosen environmental regulations, there will be real economic costs that will be felt in nearly every city and state in the country… and those costs will last beyond the end of his administration.
Yes, there may be a short-term economic boost as pipelines are laid and extra smokestacks are built, but that boost needs to have the lost incomes and careers of the scientific and environmental work force deducted from it. Plus, once the pipelines are laid and the smokestacks are built, there will be only a few (often low paying) jobs left.
Of course, the environmental costs of Trump’s plans will be even greater and longer lasting than the direct economic costs. Some industries will take advantage of the looser regulatory environment to do “monstrous” things that will directly impair the public health and ecosystems of the communities in which they are situated. The people most likely to feel the worst effects of increased pollution and land degradation are almost certainly going to be poor and most likely to be non-white. The cumulative effects of many small decisions, even maintaining “business as usual” without malicious intent, will result in poorer air and water quality, more greenhouse gas emissions, and greater climate change impacts than we would have without Trump’s rollbacks. Poor air and water quality and extreme weather and sea level rise fueled by climate change have economic(*) impacts that are increasing every year.
We will live with (and pay for) the consequences of the policy decisions being made right now, for the rest of our lives, and for generations to come.
*I would link to a federal government webpage here as they provide the most definitive data for the US, but government webpages and other communications have a nasty habit of disappearing this week.
(An early version of this post appeared as public Facebook post on my account there on the morning of 25 January 2017.)