President Donald Trump’s administration is systematically launching one of the most insidious efforts in American history aimed at not merely ruining our children’s health, but at literally erasing their future entirely.
Over the past week, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made several moves to discount or undermine the threat its policy decisions will incur on the country’s youngest generations.
This includes the announcement that the agency will start taking the position that air pollution does not harm children the way science says it does. At the same time, it is cutting 13 research centers aimed at reducing environmental threats to our children.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the New York Times reported that the White House appointee running the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) — James Reilly, a former petroleum geologist — is mandating that the agency’s scientific assessments of climate change will only examine climate impacts that may occur between now and 2040. The agency’s standard practice is to look as far ahead as the year 2100.
Since the worst climate change impacts on our health and well-being will all come after the year 2040 — the same time a child born today will be reaching young adulthood — the Trump administration is literally erasing the future of our children.
These moves are just the latest attempt by the administration to change the way it accounts for risk — by altering its math — in an effort to bolster its anti-climate agenda. But how will parents fulfill their primary duty of ensuring the future health and welfare of America’s children if the Trump administration simply refuses to analyze the future harm to children caused by its policies?
Responding to the latest news about USGS’s limited climate calculations, Katharine Hayhoe, director of Texas Tech University Climate Science Center, described the administration’s justifications for undermining well-established scientific methods of projecting and modeling climate change as “mis-statements and falsehoods.”
Nevertheless, Trump’s assault on a livable climate has been cheered by conservatives.
For instance, Myron Ebell, the climate science denier who oversaw the transition team for Trump’s EPA, told the Times that trying to accurately assess what Trump’s anti-climate policies would mean for our children was “silly.”
Since Trump took office, he has launched an unprecedented and concerted effort to target rules specifically tied to protecting children’s health and climate action.
Early in his tenure, Trump began rolling back Obama-era clean air rules and jump-started the process of pulling America out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which saw over 190 nations unanimously agree to work together to slash carbon pollution.
In December 2018, Trump proposed a new rule that would boost coal-plant emissions of mercury, arsenic, and toxic air pollution. Then this March, leading experts on healthy brain development warned that Trump’s EPA policies would likely lead to more tiny particles of air pollution (PM2.5), which experts warn would inevitably lead to more children being diagnosed with autism.
Last week, the Trump EPA said it would stop funding the network of Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers. As PBS noted, these centers are “credited with pivotal discoveries about the harm that pesticides, air pollution, and other hazards pose to children.”
Also last week, it was reported that the EPA is planning to change the way it calculates the risks of its proposed repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan; changes to the agency’s methodology would drastically reduce the number of lives at risk, ignoring millions of asthma attacks suffered by children along with thousands of millions of premature deaths.
The new methodology, as the New York Times wrote at the time, “would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires.” But science has shown that many toxic air pollutants — particularly the smallest particles — still harm our children and others at levels allowed by current law. This includes impacting the brains of unborn children.
On top of all of this, the Trump Administration is taking aim at the U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA), the congressionally mandated report due every four years reviewing the latest science on what dangers climate change poses to human health and well-being.
In November, the White House signed off on an NCA report that revealed Trump’s do-nothing climate policy will end up costing Americans more than a half-trillion dollars per year in increased sickness and death, coastal property damages, loss of worker productivity, and other damages.
When the White House released the NCA, it falsely claimed the report was “largely based on the most extreme scenario.” As it happens, the most extreme scenario is simply what will occur if Trump’s efforts to undo domestic and global climate action succeed.
Scientists who worked on the NCA also examined a much more manageable “Lower Scenario.” But this scenario would require both the nation, and the world, to far exceed the Paris emissions reduction goals — something the Trump administration is working to ensure never happens.
Now, as the Times reported Monday, the Trump Administration is trying to restrict agencies from looking at impacts past 2040 and from considering the high emissions scenarios that Trump’s policies are making more likely.
By restricting analysis to 2040 and to rosy scenarios that do not reflect reality, the Trump administration is adopting an Orwellian approach that sets a dangerous precedent for other federal agencies. All of this will put our children’s futures at risk.