The Environmental Protection Agency has restored and relaunched its climate change pages. This is no small thing. A free society depends on an informed citizenry. The decision by the previous administration to remove climate science information and interfere with the flow of new science was a deliberate attempt to undermine the wellbeing and sovereignty of the American people.
In its final days, the Trump administration sought to enact rules limiting even EPA’s own access to science and evidence. The move was an attempt to give industry greater control over the consideration of evidence of how safe or harmful its own practices are. It was modeled on tactics used to protect tobacco companies from liability for the death and disease they knowingly caused.
Deep partisan and ideological division that has overtaken American politics in recent years has had the tragic (but intended) effect of sowing deep distrust among millions of people in the value of scientific evidence. This is the result of an unprecedented campaign of disinformation that seems to operate on nearly every front.
In Episode 9 of Earth Intelligence, we explored the question of whether science is a human right. We put forward three keys questions to determine whether an infringement of basic rights was taking place when access to science is denied:
Are people denied acccess to practical applications of the best known science?
Can people find science-based information?
Do institutions treat some people as less worthy of the investment?
In that podcast, Myra Jackson made the vital observation that the coordinated interference with scientific information is actually an attack on the public—“controlling how people will respond to messaging”. Political interference with the flow of evidence-based scientific information is intended to limit people’s freedom and safety, and to reduce their access to redress for wrongdoing.
On the question of science as a right, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) cites Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which requires nations to:
recognize the right of everyone to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications
conserve, develop, and diffuse science
respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research, and
recognize the benefits of international contacts and co-operation in the scientific field
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Interference with the flow of scientific evidence, and with reports on the consensus view of scientists, abridges the freedom of speech and of the press, and “the right of the people… to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Blocking access to science also violates the principle of informed moral freedom outlined by James Madison in this suggested First Amendment text:
nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.
Access to scientific information and to the benefits of the application of best available science—including the protection of health, safety, and opportunity—is a right of all people. The EPA’s restoration of basic information about existing and emerging climate science is a direct contribution to the improvement of conditions, and personal liberties, for all Americans.
With world leaders now considering the direct and pervasive security threats emerging from unchecked climate disruption, the ability to access evidence-based climate science information is also a national security imperative.