In the two decades since Ben Santer helped write a landmark international report linking global warming and human activity, he's been criticized by politicians, accused of falsifying his data and rewarded with a dead rat on his doorstep. He describes it as "background noise," and he tries to tune it out as he presses forward with his research from a dim office the size of a walk-in closet at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory east of San Francisco. But the presidential election could crank up the volume for Santer and his colleagues: As federal government scientists, their new boss will be President-elect Donald Trump, who once described global warming as a hoax. "Imagine, if you will, that you devoted your entire career to doing one thing. Doing it as well as you possibly can," Santer said.
Like many scientists, Aaron Parsons doesn't have a history of political engagement. Instead of focusing on earthly concerns, the UC Berkeley radio astronomer spent most of his time scanning the outer reaches of the cosmos, searching for the earliest stars in the universe. "We're looking for when the lights turned on," he said. But after Donald Trump became the leading Republican candidate for president, Parsons turned his attention closer to home. As someone who has lectured about the atmospheres of distant planets, he was dismayed by Trump's dismissive attitude toward climate change and his claim that the science on global warming was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
As California's top energy regulator, Michael Picker has an absurdly busy job. So it was a little surprising to find him recently near a Washington, D.C., metro stop, randomly handing out help-wanted fliers in the middle of a workday. But with morale plummeting at the Environmental Protection Agency since President Trump took office, Picker saw in that patch of sidewalk near its headquarters an opportunity -- and perhaps a publicity stunt -- to lure top-shelf talent that never before would have considered bolting from the agency. The dim outlook at the EPA is weighing heavily on its 15,000 scientists, engineers, investigators and other employees, many of whom perceive their life's work to be under assault from within. The Trump administration is moving as quickly as it can to diminish the place, with plans to cripple the EPA science office, stop the agency's climate change work, cut its Superfund program in half and outright eliminate 50 programs, down to the voluntary Energy Star stickers that help consumers locate efficient appliances.