Trump Administration Cuts Could Stymie Climate Change Research

By Williams, Lauren | Pasadena Star-News, July 4, 2017 | Go to article overview

Trump Administration Cuts Could Stymie Climate Change Research


Williams, Lauren, Pasadena Star-News


Researchers working on climate-oriented science at UC Irvine are cutting or scaling back their programs in anticipation of budget cuts that reflect the Trump administration’s skeptical views about global warming.

The changes are coming as the school, as well as researchers at other institutions in Southern California, prepares to receive fewer federal dollars once aimed at research and innovations connected to greenhouse gases and the effects of a warming planet.

The researchers said the new dynamic also could affect climate-oriented research in the future, as they’ve noticed a drop in the number of undergraduate and graduate students applying to work on their projects since the election.

“It’s really putting a damper on training the next generation of scientists,” said Jim Randerson, a UCI professor whose lab uses remote sensing imagery to study biogeochemical cycles to research how climate affects fire dynamics using satellites and field observations.

Last month Randerson saw one proposed project nixed by NASA because of the expected elimination of the Carbon Monitoring System. That project would measure greenhouse gases emitted by wildfires.

“It’s going to be difficult if the department across the board sees these kinds of cuts,” Randerson said. “I do think earth system science is in the crosshairs.”

Despite the grim outlook, there are mixed signs on whether the de-funding will actually happen.

On the one hand, it’s clear the Trump administration wants to spend less on many types of science research, particularly that related to climate change. In May, the White House released its proposed budget that spelled out cuts. They included axing 31 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s total budget, eliminating some of NASA’s climate missions and an 18 percent cut in energy research at the Department of Energy, among other federal agencies that fund science research. Though it still requires congressional approval, some professors are already finding resistance from agencies that are clamping down in anticipation of cuts.

In June, Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, a move that, among other things, could push American researchers and companies away from innovations related to global warming and energy technology.

On the other hand, Congress so far doesn’t seem to share Trump’s goal for science cuts. The Office of Science at the Department of Energy will keep its 2017 budget of $5.39 billion, despite a proposed 17 percent cut by the Trump administration, according to a report in Science magazine. Likewise, the National Science Foundation will cut 1.8 percent of its $7.47 billion budget, compared with an 11 percent cut proposed by Trump.

Still, professors like Randerson are already feeling the affects of the White House’s proposed cuts, as schools and organizations pull back funding just on the belief that money might go away. And others point out that even modest cuts in research money could force them to lay off paid graduate students.

“A lot of faculty are concerned about the future of their program particularly those that work in the field of climate change or climate science,” said Pramod Khargonekar, the vice chancellor for research at UC Irvine, who is also a member of the senior leadership and management team at the National Science Foundation. …

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