Opinion

White House says former Cal Poly professor peddles ‘junk science.’ Don’t believe it

Here’s irony for you: In attempting to keep a lid on an alarming report about climate change, the Trump administration has drawn even more attention to congressional testimony from former Cal Poly Professor Rod Schoonover.

Schoonover, who now works for the U.S. State Department, appeared before the House Intelligence Committee last week to talk about national security concerns relating to climate change.

That testimony would likely have registered as a mere blip in the news cycle, if not for the heavy-handed intervention by the Trump administration.

According to news first reported by The Washington Post, the White House first tried heavily editing and then ultimately blocked his written testimony from being entered into the record because it didn’t “jibe” with the administration’s position on climate change.

Now, the story has legs.

It’s been covered by several major media outlets, and links to Schoonover’s written testimony — which was obtained by The Post — have been widely circulated on line.

Also, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Shiff has written to the State Department, saying he is deeply concerned about reports that the Trump administration blocked Schoonover’s written testimony “for political reasons” and asking a senior State Department official to respond.

This, of course, isn’t the first time the Trump administration has tried to silence experts it doesn’t agree with, particularly in the area of climate science.

But in this instance, it hits close to home.

Cal Poly has a stellar reputation, and the White House has essentially called one of its most respected and dedicated former professors a quack.

That’s an attack not only on Professor Schoonover and his credibility, but also on Cal Poly, its students and its alumni.

Consider Schoonover’s qualifications: He has a doctorate in chemical physics from the University of Michigan. He taught in Cal Poly’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Department for 20 years, retiring in 2013 before joining the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research as a senior analyst. He’s also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

Yet in the leaked copy of his edited testimony, White House officials attempt to discredit his work by describing it as “propaganda,” “nonsense” and “junk science,” and by implying that he is “scientifically illiterate” because he used the term “tipping point.”

Here’s one typical criticism: “This testimony religiously assumes that any climate change will certainly be bad. But this assumption is not based on science.”

There’s also this sarcastic comment: “Wow, climate change must be the first example in human history of an ill wind that blows no good.”

Those criticisms are false; the written testimony does include some positive effects of climate change.

It notes that “glacier melt could lessen water stress for perhaps a billion Asians over the next few decades, and most plants grow better under increased levels of carbon dioxide under optimal conditions.”

It also points out that retreating glaciers will open up the Arctic region for more tourism, national resource extraction and fishing.

But Schoonover concludes that “net negative effects will overwhelm the positive benefits.”

Those include food and water scarcity, threats to human health, poverty, declines in farmland, and political unrest.

These warnings aren’t new, or even particularly shocking. The vast majority of the scientific community, as well as leaders in business and industry, have been saying this for decades.

What’s new — and frightening — is the length the current administration will go to to stifle and discredit those who disagree with the president on climate change.

It’s not climate experts like Professor Schoonover who are peddling “nonsense” and “junk science.” It’s the current administration.

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