An Administration That Is Choosing Silence Over Science

There is a reason why Obama chose to visit Alaska as a way to highlight the need for action on climate change. Joel Clement, who was the director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Interior Department explains.

The Alaska Native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean. In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens’ homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves. As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans and potentially costing lives. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country.

Dealing with that threat was Clement’s job at the Interior Department…until last week.

I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government.

I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.

Nearly seven years ago, I came to work for the Interior Department, where, among other things, I’ve helped endangered communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. But on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to “improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,” the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies…

I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.

Clement’s story isn’t important because he was reassigned to a position that doesn’t utilize his skills. It is important because those Alaska Native communities—along with the rest of the globe—don’t have time to waste on an administration that is choosing silence over science when it comes to climate change. Villages like Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are on the brink of disaster and represent the proverbial canary in the coal mine for what is coming our way.

Clement deserves some credit (and attention) for speaking out on this.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.