The withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, announced by Donald Trump more than a week ago, is only the latest bit of evidence that a profoundly dangerous fear of science is afflicting our country.
Coverage of Trump’s habitual lying and the strong possibility that he’s guilty of obstruction of justice has seized the last few news cycles, but the science crisis is still very much gripping the federal government.
This is on the heels of revelations that the administration intends to gut scientific endeavors of our government across the spectrum, including the budgets of the National Institute of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Health and Human Services and the hundreds of the programs and agencies these include.
It’s terrifying. Trump proposes to cut the National Institutes of Health from $31.8 billion to $26 billion a year. The National Cancer Institute would sustain a $1 billion cut and the National Science Foundation $776 million. The Centers for Disease Control would take a $1.2 billion hit and it’s an agency that, even if you don’t know its name, helps keep all of us safe and healthy.
You probably aren’t aware that a federal agency called the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a Kauai office. It runs a program called the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which helps promote island-based research and businesses. It would be wiped out entirely.
Then there’s the $250 million reduction for coastal research and $1.5 billion for the Department of Commerce, which has a strong Kauai presence — much broader than one of its components we all know, the National Weather Service. Good timing, Trump. Hurricane season is on us again.
Looked at from Kauai, this might all seem distant, boring and irrelevant. But to think so is to ignore the reality that our island is a hotbed of scientific activity — much of which could be crippled by the Trump quest to gut the government.
That ignores, of course, that Kauai — and all of the Hawaiian Islands — are the front line in the international battle to offset, delay or prevent climate change. This directly affects everyone on Kauai, from surfers and fishermen to students and professionals.
Our island is home to at least 50 entities — government, nonprofit and commercial — that are directly involved in the business of science. Some you know. Many you don’t. A list of those 50 organizations appears with this column. I don’t pretend it’s complete, and my apologies if your organization isn’t listed.
But the fact remains that if there are a minimum of 50 organizations in the science business on Kauai, science means a great deal more than most of us may have thought.
They are a wide range of groups, companies and agencies, and run the gamut from the four seed companies with operations here — and I defy you to say these companies and the hundreds of people they employ are not in the science business — to nonprofits and public agencies. Not surprisingly, the list of 50 tilts heavily toward conservation and resource preservation programs, ranging from the Hanalei Watershed Hui and Island Conservation to PlantPono and the Kauai Monk Seal Conservation Hui.
There are some obvious entries on the list, like Kauai Community College, Hawaii Pacific Health, the National Tropical Botanical Garden and the Pacific Missile Range Facility. But my bet is you probably have not even heard of half the entities on this list, yet they are working here beside us every day.
Fortunately, there is evidence that Kauai people get it. When the local version of the March for Science events held all over the world occurred a couple of months ago, we turned out nearly 400 people for a sign-waving event at the airport intersection. That gave Kauai a greater participation rate per capita than places like Chicago and Los Angeles.
There is a crisis for the country and for Kauai. It means that science-denial and the flat Earth notion that facts aren’t facts and scientific methods aren’t scientific endanger us all.
But is also means something else here. It is beyond time for us to move on from our preoccupation with genetically engineered crops and the pesticide controversy and realize that there is a far broader and more fundamental threat to science in general and science on Kauai that should preoccupy everyone on island.
There is plenty of evidence that the island has started to move on from this controversy, which has torn our social fabric and divided us so unnecessarily.
The looming science crisis has far worse and broader ramifications for us than what we’ve spent the last years fighting with one another about. It challenges us, but at the same time it creates opportunities for common cause concerning scientific endeavors that many of us may not realize exist.
I include myself in this group. Anyone who reads this column knows I have views on the GMO/pesticide controversy diametrically opposite of those of many anti-GMO activists. To them, I can only say that I suspect we may never agree on this issue.
That’s not the point, though. We must all come together to fight a broader battle, against the gutting of the basic scientific process and the applications that science has for us all.
Tell you what. I’ll shut up about GMOs and pesticides if the two sides of this controversy will declare a truce — or at least a cease fire — and work to bring everyone together to battle a real threat to all of us.
Allan Parachini is a former journalist and PR executive. He is a Kilauea resident.