Climate scientists recently got some bad news: The White House released a budget Thursday promising $100 million in cuts to NASA’s Earth Science program, and another $100 million in cuts to climate programs at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which does some work on climate science, faces a $900 million cut. And while a full picture of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget hasn’t appeared, the agency would lose its $73 million Sea Grant program, which supports ocean research. An earlier leak of the budget also suggested cuts to the agency’s satellite program.
We haven’t yet seen the details of President Donald Trump’s budget vision for the National Science Foundation, but it probably isn’t good news for climate science either.
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 16, 2017
If Congress passed anything remotely resembling the Trump proposal, it would get much harder for climate scientists to get the data and funding they use to do research.
But the scientists will be fine.
Climate scientist is, broadly speaking, a pretty good job. Even absent summer salaries and other assistance from federal grant funding, a typical climate researcher would still be making a more-than-decent middle class salary with good benefits – a salary not particularly closely tied to the whims of the broader economy.
Still, losing grant funding and data would make it much harder to do the basic work of climate science, which would in turn make it harder to advance or hold down a research job. Many climate scientists work directly for the federal government, in NASA or NOAA programs that could get cut, leaving them unemployed.
But these are people with advanced degrees and highly transferable skills in research and data. They’d be left with a rough road, but most of them would land on their feet sooner or later – at least more often than the typical laid-off American worker.
The real victims of Trump’s climate cuts don’t have PhDs
Both the media and politicians tend to frame climate funding around the dollars that go to scholars poring over satellite data. But of the $100 million in climate cuts at the EPA, not a single dollar will come from the coffers of Harvard and Yale professors.
Instead, those cuts will come from funding that goes to towns, cities, states, and tribes in order to help them anticipate and prepare for the impacts of climate change.
That means money so that Fredericktown, Missouri can protect its drinking water from droughts that keep becoming more common, funds to help New Hampshire gear up for ever-worsening winter storms, grants to build dunes and seawalls across the country to protect flood zones from rising sea levels, and research on keeping poisonous algae out of the great lakes.
If you’re a PhD scientist at a research university and your town gets flooded or its drinking water poisoned, you can always teach and publish papers from an office in an academic building somewhere safer. It won’t be great for your career, but you’ll survive.
But if your job relies on the winter sports tourism economy around Wisconsin’s melting lakes, a robust crab population in a fishery that keeps getting wiped out by toxic algae, or just driving to work on coastal roads that aren’t underwater, you’re likely out of luck.
Uncontrolled, unprepared-for climate change is bad for the economy. That means it’s bad for a whole lot of people beyond the scientists who do climate research.