Wednesday, January 25, 2017

For Science, At Least

I am in that nebulous void between feeling like I need to run a marathon that ends with stripping naked and plunging my bare ass into the north Atlantic, and feeling like I need a several day nap. The weather apparently feels like this as well; it has been an ice rink out there maintained by precipitation that must be hovering somewhere around freezing point. Not really rain, not really snow, but either way, you'll probably slip and fall in the parking lot. I'm in between having no words, and having too many. I am righteously angry for so many reasons, but I think that I really need to write about one of them now. I'll be brief. 

I have slowly been warming up to the realization that I am not coming home.

And no, thanks very much; it is not out of mere disappointment. It's not because I am feeling "whiny" or like a "special snowflake" or whatever term the insecure, privileged few have deigned to assign the organized many who have spoken out over the past several months. 

I am not coming home because I can't come home.

Not if I wish to be a good steward of the lot I've been given. Not if I wish not to negate my life's work, nor if I wish to continue it. I am currently working towards an advanced degree in geophysics, specializing in glaciology; a field that requires me to take climate data and interpret it. A project that needs me to feed that data, taken from actual weather stations at Langjökull glacier, into a numerical model that uses those data sets as initial and boundary conditions in order to solve a complicated (albeit mathematically sound) set of equations which in turn help us understand what the flow dynamics of that glacial ice will look like in ten, fifty, one hundred years. Spoiler alert: the glacier will disappear, but this is another matter.

The point is that I have agreed to take a project that is a climate science project, that is hinged on our ability to fund the maintenance of said weather stations, that directly depends on our freedom as scientists to openly communicate our findings and collaborate with other scientists worldwide. A field that must be fundamentally unbiased and would ideally be largely apolitical.

So, why does the change in administration matter at all in this respect?

First of all, it seems at first that I can sit in my privilege from a relatively safe spot. The POTUS and his tyrannical order to bar the EPA from openly discussing their research findings (in direct violation of the EPA's scientific integrity policy) as well as delivering a devastating blow to EPA research grants (on which, by the way, many graduate students and professional researchers depend) does not necessarily directly affect me in Iceland. It would seem that I dodged an incoming cornucopia of bullets when I moved abroad, however accidental, because I held onto the belief that we would grow out of our embarrassing position as one of the only developed nations that still seems to have an issue placing scientific work and the environmental well being (read: our well being) over profit. 

However idealistic that may have been is irrelevant now, since things are far worse than I had allowed myself to imagine. If you are having trouble mustering up some concern about a slash to the EPA budget, consider this: the budget cuts are not only for services that contain the "climate" buzz word. These are studies involving weather patterns, water table restoration (remember Flint?) air quality data, radon testing, and a wealth of environmental exploration that is critical to the services we use, consciously or not, on the daily. But, I suppose, if you refuse to admit that funding such projects is important while simultaneously demanding the use of your favorite weather app, then you simply cannot be convinced. I wash my hands of trying, and I will be over here, doing the work.

On a more personal note though, where there is no funding, there are no graduate students. There are no researchers, there is no growth, there is very little science that can be done, and there is a lapse in precious time that cannot truly be bought back. I am a graduate student. I am a graduate student who studies science. I am a graduate student who studies climate science; ipso facto, there is no place for me in the USA. The USA, which we so boldly proclaim has provided the world with smoke detectors and ear thermometers (that was NASA, by the way.) The USA, so industrious, so forward-thinking, such a superpower. 

Except we are not. Not when we allow blatant attacks on the resources needed by our forward thinkers. Did you know this? Did you know that if or when you voted for the POTUS, you voted to keep me away from the USA? You voted to drastically reduce my opportunities to come home and find a job within my field. You voted to quench scientific advancement of the two pillars that it needs: funding and communication. You voted with your heart, for whatever reason you had, and maybe that's valid. It is. But I can't in good conscience return, as a scientist, to an environment that does not respect science nor will provide opportunities for the resources that I will need as a working scientist. The unintended consequence of your vote is that it will keep me looking elsewhere, so do not, don't you dare, tell me that you miss me.

You'll just have to get used to it.