George Luber is a national award winner for his work on climate change and health questions. He also is an internationally recognized epidemiologist, and until last year he headed the climate and health program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Then Donald Trump and his administration's preoccupation with erasing the words "climate change" from the vocabulary of government offices all but erased Luber, as well.
"These days, Luber lives in a professional limbo," wrote Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty on May 22.
Apparently Luber, a researcher with CDC for 17 years, is a victim of his own celebrity. In his work, he focused on how a hotter planet will affect human health — including the potential for long heat waves that could kill tens of thousands and the likely spread of mosquito-borne diseases as waters where the insects breed grow warmer. He has appeared with Matt Damon in Showtime's "Years of Living Dangerously" series and has been frequently sought for media interviews and speeches.
But shortly after Trump's inauguration, Luber's planned CDC-sponsored, three-day summit on the public-health implications of climate change was canceled. The keynote speaker, former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore, persuaded CNN founder Ted Turner to donate $100,000 to fund a scaled-back gathering in February 2017, and former president Jimmy Carter offered to hold it in the nonprofit center he runs alongside his presidential library.
But that was just the beginning of Trump's war on science. And just the beginning of Luber's erasure.
Within moments of Trump taking office, references to confronting "climate change" disappeared from the White House website, and Luber told the Post's columnist that the stifling effect became apparent at the CDC when one of his bosses asked him to refrain from using the phrase "climate change." Luber refused — after all, he headed the climate and health program, for which Congress had appropriated funds specifically for climate study.
He was terminated, based on anonymous — and, he says, fabricated — charges, including allegedly falsified timecards, writing a book without authorization, and showing up late and hung over for a speech. The CDC backed off the termination after the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility came to his defense, and The New York Times started looking into the effort to fire him, Tumulty wrote.
Now the CDC allows Luber to work only from home and not on climate projects. His 18-person climate and health program was folded into a larger section of the agency that studies asthma, and the name was changed to Asthma and Community Health Branch. Luber told Tumulty he's been stuck "in some dark corner of the agency, which is hoping I will eventually go away. I will not."
The CDC wouldn't comment on Luber or his job change, but told Tumulty in a statement that its climate program "remains fully funded and supported," and plans for reorganization pre-dated Trump's election.
Luber isn't alone
But Luber is just one example. Just last week, new U.S. Geological Survey boss James Reilly — a former astronaut and petroleum geologist — told the USGS to limit the timespan of computer-generated climate models from the end of the century to just 2040, according to The New York Times. That conveniently means models will not show the most significant impacts of today's emissions since the worst is likely to be experienced from 2050 to the end of the century.
We told you a bit about this last Wednesday. It's part of Trump's effort to target the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment, produced by an interagency task force about every four years since 2000. Government scientists have used computer-generated models in their most recent report to project that if fossil fuel emissions continue unchecked, the earth's atmosphere could warm by as much as eight degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, leading to drastically higher sea levels, more devastating storms and droughts, crop failures, food losses and severe health consequences.
Work on the next report, expected to be released in 2021 or 2022, has already begun, but from now on "worst-case scenario projections" will not automatically be included in the assessment or in some other scientific reports produced by the government.
Columbia Law School's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law keeps a running online database of government actions targeting scientific research and education on climate change. The Climate Deregulation Tracker and The Silencing Science Tracker is available at http://columbiaclimatelaw.com/resources/.
The Union of Concerned Scientists also is watching. In a report titled "Sidelining Science Since Day One," the group chronicled the administration's record just from its first six months. That review found dozens of cases where science was ignored, denied, distorted, silenced or hidden from public view. And those actions including weakening federal advisory committees that provide scientific advice, appointing conflicted individuals with little science background but strong ties to the very industries they regulate, and signing 13 congressional resolutions to roll back science-based protections such as safe drinking water standards and worker chemical safeguards.
This administration is too stupid to govern.