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MINK: Climate research must continue in face of opposition

Despite denial of climate change by federal officials, it is critical to protect funding for climate research

President Donald Trump has never been shy about his views on the legitimacy of climate change, labeling it a fraud and an invention by the Chinese. Now that he’s firmly planted in the White House, it’s clear not only have his views remained unchanged, but he is intent on applying them toward budgetary decisions. His budget planning has revealed his intent to cut huge sums from agencies at the forefront of climate change research, a move which will have dangerous consequences. To help soften the blow, the University community and colleges nationwide must be prepared to take the burden of climate research.

The first target for budgetary trimming is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is facing cuts between 17 and 26 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency’s research office is facing an even more serious crisis — sources indicate its Office of Research and Development could have its budget slashed by more than 40 percent. Both of these organizations are key players in climate change research. Though the battle over this budget will happen on Capitol Hill, the University community can and should act now to make sure its research projects are protected.

These cuts will have effects which radiate far beyond the agencies themselves. Already both the NOAA and the EPA provide grants which support thousands of research projects at universities. Most troubling is the news that the NOAA’s satellite division may face a significant drop in funding, a critical issue given that these satellites are the source of data needed to draw conclusions about changes in the climate. This information isn’t just used in the United States, as professor Piers Forster of Leeds University notes, the international science community “urgently needs these data sets to monitor and understand climate change.”

Even if climate change is discounted as a hoax, these agencies still have critical roles in American society. Chris McEntee of the American Geophysical Union pointed out that a large portion of the American economy makes heavy use of the weather, climate and natural hazard data provided by these federal organizations. The agriculture, real estate and energy industries rely on NOAA satellite information about storm warnings and basic weather preparation. For the United States to maintain its supremacy in these fields of research, state governments and universities will have to step in to shoulder the financial responsibilities.

The University already plays an important role in climate change research, a role which must be protected from the likely evaporation of federal dollars. For example, Commerce Prof. Thomas Bateman conducts research on the leadership and behavior necessary to confront long-term problems like climate change. Environmental Science Prof. James Galloway, an expert on nitrogen cycles at the University, has encouraged further research on the relationship between animal products and sources of greenhouse gases. A pair of Ph.D. candidates have even begun a project examining the language used when discussing climate change.

The University administration as well as the Virginia General Assembly should be ready to support researchers should they lose federal backing. Harvard University set a fantastic example when it announced its plans to pour $1 million into climate change research. Medical School Prof. Dean Kedes laid out the consequences of suppressing science, pointing out that actions which strike at scientific principles also strike at innovation and the economy.

Luckily, the Board of Visitors is aware of the importance of this issue and fast-tracked a budget proposal which includes a $64 million increase in research funding. The Virginia General Assembly has also approved a budget for the 2016-18 biennium which increases funding for research initiatives and infrastructure projects. While it’s clear we are headed in the right direction, an uncertain future means we have to stay vigilant and ensure research continues to confront the problems which we face.

Alex Mink is an Opinion columnist for the Cavalier Daily. She may be reached at