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Trump Defunded a Climate Advisory Group, So It Went Independent

President Trump stopped funding a climate change advisory committee in 2017. The group just released its first report today as an independent group.

by Caroline Haskins
Apr 4 2019, 6:32pm

More than ten million people were placed under flood warnings in recent weeks due to the catastrophic flooding of the Missouri and Mississippi river basins. Now, communities are facing crop failure and even threats of radioactive waste.

Disastrous events like these are made more likely by climate change, and the federal government is supposed to help communities prepare. But in 2017, President Trump halted federal funding to the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment (ACSNCA), a group of experts charged with giving practical, local recommendations to states and communities to adapt to climate change.

Instead of disbanding, the advisory committee went independent with help and funding from Columbia University, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Now known as Science for Climate Action Network, or SCAN, the group released its first report on Thursday.

The report outlines a framework for applying recommendations from the National Climate Assessment—a macro-level, federally-funded climate change report—on a local level. This is the same report that the ACSNCA was originally tasked with publishing by the Obama administration in 2015.

“This effort is aimed at giving the information and the tools to people who need it on the ground,” Alice Hill, an original ACSNCA advisor and a SCAN volunteer, told Motherboard in a phone call. “In the absence of that, what happens is we don’t make the decisions. We just do it in exactly the same way as we’ve done it in the past.”

Hill said that SCAN was launched because the need for local, actionable climate recommendations is extremely urgent, regardless of whether the federal government funds it.

For instance, climate change threatens cities around the country with extreme flooding. Depending on the region, SCAN suggests different approaches for addressing that threat. For Chicago, Illinois, SCAN recommends creating a “fundable strategy to reduce basement flooding,” and for northern Virginia, SCAN recommends creating new regional stormwater systems.

Richard Moss—one of SCAN’s Convening Committee members and an original ACSNCA advisor—told Motherboard in a phone call that after Trump halted funding to the advisory committee and allowed it to expire in 2017, he was approached by organizations that offered funding to help the committee finish its recommendation report.

Twelve of the original fifteen committee members decided to give their time—mostly on a volunteer basis—to finish the report, and eight additional researchers came aboard. Columbia University offered Moss a year-long grant as a research fellow. The NYSERDA gave the now-independent group a research grant, and the AMS provided office space.

Now that the research paper is published, SCAN isn’t done. The group now has a slightly smaller “Convening Committee” of eleven people, who will act as managers and recruit researchers for specific, community-level projects. For instance, in a hypothetical project for researching wildfire adaptation in California, these members would recruit wildfire experts to advise local leaders in California.

“Virtually everything that we have in our communities that we’ve built to date, we’ve built based on the assumption of risks that we’ve seen in the past,” Hill said. “The past is no longer a safe guide, given the changing nature of climate impact. This effort will help us to understand how that threat has changed, and what we can do about it.”

Still, Hill told Motherboard that the loss of federal funding was “significant,” not just for monetary reasons. Federal support helps researchers tap into existing connections with local governments and research facilities around the country. Private funding won’t provide those connections.

It’s unclear if SCAN will be absorbed by a larger organization, or if it’ll remain independent. But the need for climate change advisement is a life or death issue, regardless of who’s in the White House.

“We’ve created a new normal with climate change,” Moss said. “We have to help people get the best information to adapt.”