How Climate Whistleblowers Have Helped Our Planet

Emily Folk

The stories of dedicated and talented scientists and administrators demoted, devalued, their life's work disparaged, buried, defaced. It is up to all of us to see that their work does not disappear.

The Trump administration has openly opposed investing in the climate crisis, but that is only the beginning. Climate scientists are coming forward to voice their stories. From working with native Alaskan groups to the National Parks Service, these individuals believe the Trump administration is pulling strings behind the scenes to stop their climate work.

A whistleblower is someone who exposes activity or information that's secretive, illegal and unethical within a specific organization. Those who are coming forward are environmental whistleblowers, meaning they're raising issues related to the government violating ecological laws or retaliating against them for their work.

This information is critical for shedding light on two things. First, it displays the length the Trump administration is willing to go to cover up climate issues. Second, it shows the extent of the climate crisis, which requires immediate action. Now more than ever, these whistleblowers refuse to stay quiet.

The Whistleblowers

Meet the environmental whistleblowers that refuse to back down against the Trump administration:

Jeff Alson

Alson was an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee. Under the Obama administration, he helped focus efforts towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. However, once Trump took office, the administration put a freeze on his mission.

The halt in his work sped his decision for retirement. Alson holds the sentiment that his and his colleague's work dropped into irrelevance just as they were making progress.

Betsy Southerland

Southerland was also an EPA employee, working on clean water programs for states across the U.S. Like Olson, the changes that came with the Trump administration lead to her retirement. During this public retirement, she spoke on how she felt the EPA's entire mission had been subverted. Like Alson, Southerland also feels that EPA scientists have become irrelevant due to internal decision-making.

Jacob Carter

Carter worked on Superfund sites, or areas that require toxic cleanup, for the EPA. He knew during the 2016 campaign that if Trump were to take the presidency, he'd be out — which is what happened soon afterward. He also spoke on the fear of climate scientists being made irrelevant and added that the administration wants to diminish the pressing effects of global warming.

Carter, like many other whistleblowers, has specific protections under federal and state law, which gives him a measure of defense against threats to his wellbeing or livelihood. Such precautions are necessary when dealing with federal-level issues.

Chris Frey

Frey was a chairman at the EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. He worked on issues like vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and clean water. After the current administration was instated, officials told him his services were no longer necessary.

He discussed how — though this case is frustrating for him as an individual — it's also a loss for the American people. From his perspective, the EPA is no longer the respectable science-based organization it once was.

Joel Clement

Clement worked as an expert in climate impacts in the Arctic region for the Department of Interior. He studied ways to help native groups who live there adapt to and prepare for climate change. Clement then received a letter of involuntary reassignment after the new presidency unfolded. He later voiced how he felt the current administration retaliated against him for speaking out on the effects global warming has on indigenous communities.

Maria Caffrey

Caffrey studied climate change at the National Parks Service (NPS). She worked on a project regarding coastal parks for years until the assignment halted after Trump took office. Then, after coming back from maternity leave, she returned to find her work had significant edits omitting any mentions of climate change.

The government rescinded her funding for the job and demoted her position. She is now attempting to speak out because she believes the current presidency is responsible for this chain of events.

Why It Matters

These specific whistleblowers weren't necessarily exposing anything illegal or unethical in their work, but what they are now revealing is the government's retaliation because of their job duties. These stories bring to light a level of government corruption within the Trump administration. They show the lengths the government will go to stop all things related to climate change and its possible solutions.

The Trump administration and EPA have both worked to delegitimize backlash from these former employees. This situation demonstrates why whistleblowers are so monumental. They counter this federal authority and raise awareness about the pressing issues at hand, holding those in power accountable. Climate change is not going anywhere without immediate action or resources to understand its causes and effects. The current administration is working against that urgency, but we don't have to let it continue.

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Thomas Schueneman